to focus attention on abortion and hold pro-choice politicians -
especially Catholics - accountable.
"They have become false prophets," the Rev. Frank Pavone, head of the Dongan
Hills-based Priests For Life, said at a press conference here, where he was
joined by some two dozen Catholic clergymen from around the country.
Father Pavone stressed the campaign would stop short of denouncing specific
elected officials and challengers.
"We are not naming names ... we are not taking part in any partisan
[activities]," Father Pavone said.
But he acknowledged that individual pro-choice politicians would feel
pressure anyway. Having heard the message, "we can trust the voters to put two
and two together," Father Pavone explained.
He indicated that the purpose of the campaign would be to challenge
politicians who, by running for office as "pro-choice Catholics," convey the
impression that support for abortion rights is acceptable for members of the
church. There is not more than one Catholic teaching on abortion," he said.
"Furthermore, this is not just a Catholic issue, but one of fundamental human
"To supporters of abortion who profess Christianity, we say, 'Stop being a
scandal to the gospel of Jesus Christ,'" added the Dongan Hills priest.
The Priests for Life effort immediately drew fire from Americans United for
the Separation of Church and State.
"I believe this is a tainted campaign," said Barry Lynn, director of the
Lynn said Father Pavone's group was "very close to falling over the forbidden
line" that restricts tax-exempt religious organizations from taking part in
partisan politics, "I believe that it is clear that they are targeting specific
races," he said.
As evidence, he cited news reports that members of Priests for Life had
sought meetings recently with a number of prominent pro-choice elected
officials, including members of Congress and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who is
reportedly under consideration to be GOP presidential contender George W. Bush's
With an eye toward filing a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, Lynn
said Americans United would be "watching very closely the placement of ads"
produced by the group over the next few months.
Father Pavone denied seeing Ridge, but said his group was "ready to talk to
Rep. Vito Fossella, a pro-life Republican, said he saw nothing objectionable
about the campaign.
"It is a free country ... If that is what they want to do, all the more power
to them," Fossella said.
But he said that although it was his "personal view" abortion was wrong, in
the end "it is up to the voters to decide what is material." Moreover, said
Fossella, other issues will matter in voters' decisions on which candidates to
Father Pavone said his group's campaign will feature three television
commercials, to be made later this month and aired at the end of August. One
will reportedly feature Father Pavone quoting from a recent bishops' statement
that warned pro-choice lawmakers to "consider the consequences for their own
spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk."
Aimed at voters in general, another ad will seek to raise the profile of
abortion in the elections by labeling it "the most important issue."
"Abortion is the most frequently performed operation in America today and yet
it has never been seen on television," he said.
Now the full-time director of Priests for Life, Father Pavone started forming
the group in the early 1990s at the direction of the late Cardinal John J.
The group currently has about 6,000 priests and 40,000 lay people as members.
It is also supported by a number of pro-life Protestant and Jewish
The group will also spend $250,000 for print advertising and the
establishment of a telephone bank to encourage priests across the country to use
their pulpits for the anti-abortion cause and to discuss the issue with local
elected officials, Father Pavone explained.
He said his group was prepared to spend more than the $1 million currently
allocated for the crusade, and that it would be financed from contributions sent
in by backers, including viewers of its regular cable television program,
Father Pavone indicated the campaign would also seek to awaken Catholic
voters to the vehemence of the church's opposition to abortion. He said they
"had an obligation to vote" and did "not cease to be believers when they enter
the voting booth."
"The hands lifted up to God to say 'amen'... are the same hands that push the
lever down in the voting booth," Father Pavone said. "We don't have four hands,
a pair for the church and a pair for the voting booth."