Pro-life group begins first discernment
Saturday, June 25, 2005
By BRANDI DEAN
The first discernment retreat for the
Missionaries of the Gospel of Life began Friday, bringing to town 35
potential priests looking to decide if they want to dedicate their life to
The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life is a new religious order founded by
the Roman Catholic Church. It will be the first religious order devoted
exclusively to promoting pro-life issues, and Amarillo will be its home - a
cause for celebration by the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo and concern for the
local Planned Parenthood.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, founder of the order and director of Priests for Life,
said the men will spend the weekend in intense prayer, daily Masses and seminars
by Pavone and other members of the Priests for Life pastoral team on what the
life of a member of the missionaries would involve. That life consists of
everything from teaching and preaching at churches across the country to
mobilizing pro-life activities to pressing people to vote in accordance with
"That's about teaching the people of the church that they don't cease to be
Christians when they go into the voting booth," Pavone said. "The work will
involve sensitizing people to their responsibilities in the political realms -
in other words, good Christians are good citizens."
So far, Pavone said, he's gotten hundreds of inquiries into the group. The
retreat was capped at 35 to maintain its intimacy, he said, but with time he
expects it to grow.
"Eventually it could become very big," Pavone said. "Some of these societies
have hundreds or thousands of members."
But Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle isn't waiting for
that to step up security. The local clinic began building a security fence,
which is now being protested in Amarillo City Council meetings by diocese
representatives and others, around the facility in preparation for this
weekend's meeting, even though Pavone says the group has no intention of
"Notwithstanding his personal desires for no conflict, (Pavone) is clear that
he cannot be responsible for the behaviors of others," said Claudia Stravato,
executive director of the local Planned Parenthood. Stravato said she had a
two-hour conversation with Pavone on the subject, that, although it was cordial,
did not allay her fears.
"From our point of view, when you accelerate the size of the protest to
include many more people and people outside of Amarillo, we just think the
mathematical possibilities (for violence) go up," she said.
Although none of the Texas Panhandle Planned Parenthoods offer abortions,
Stravato said the local clinic is already protested every Friday and Saturday,
and the Tulia clinic has had problems with people looking in the clinic windows,
taking pictures of patients' cars and reporting patients to their parents.
But Pavone still thought Stravato had little cause to expect violence - less
cause, even, than she has now. Violent protesters, he said, would be less likely
to do anything that might hurt the peaceful protestors in the vicinity. And now
that he's had the opportunity to explain as much to her, he doesn't understand
why she's still worried.
"It's bordering on the paranoid now," he said. "Initially she didn't know
much about us. She knows more now. She knows full well that we're a peaceful
He said her protests represented less a fear of the group's actions - or
those of anyone they might attract - than a fear of their message.
"If they have anything to be afraid of, it's the truth of the message,"
"When people hear it and understand it, they're not going to want anything to
do with Planned Parenthood. They know full well their buildings are not going to
be destroyed, but their message will be destroyed."
And Stravato readily admits that she is anything but a fan of their message.
"I'm concerned about their goals," she said.
"They were very clear. This will be a decidedly political group. They will
not be contemplative. They are radically opposed to Planned Parenthood in any
shape and form. They're extremist in that they have one issue, and they will do
anything to achieve it."
The next discernment retreat, which will be for ordained priests, will be
July 19, and Pavone said, factoring in time to process any applications they get
following the retreat, he expects the order to be up and running in September.
The group is currently being housed in the diocese's old Alamo Catholic High
School, and is in the process of planning additional buildings.