Terry Mattingly: Pro-life view more than opposition to
Scripps Howard News Service
Sacramento Bee - Sacramento, CA
January 25, 2006
(SH) - The Catholic Diocese of Amarillo is not
the kind of place that makes national news very often.
Yet the bishop of the Texas
high plains did precisely that in 1981 when he took an idealistic - some said
foolhardy - stand to defend the sanctity of life. Bishop Leroy Matthiesen urged workers at the nearby
plant to walk away from their jobs assembling nuclear weapons.
Peace activists cheered. Big-league
journalists rushed to cover the story.
A quarter of a century later, the tiny Diocese
of Amarillo is back in the news and, once again, its leaders are speaking out on
the sanctity of life. This time, the conservative Bishop John
is providing a home for a new Catholic society dedicated to activism against
abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and other symptoms of what the late Pope
John Paul II called the "culture of death."
The priest who leads the new
Missionaries of the Gospel of Life
society isn't expecting media cheers this time, although he believes there is a
connection between these life-and-death issues, from nuclear bombs to unborn
"All human life is sacred and whatever the
threat to it is, the church must be there speaking out," said Father Frank
Pavone, director of the existing Priests For Life Network and founder of the new
organization for priests, deacons and laity. "Silence is not an option when
lives are at stake."
It may seem odd for this project to be based
in such a remote location, in a 26-county diocese with only 49 parishes spread
across 25,800 square miles. Amarillo certainly
represents a change for Pavone, who grew up near New York City and was ordained by the late
Cardinal John O'Connor into that powerful 397-parish archdiocese.
has given the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life approval to train and direct
the ministries of its own priests. The society hopes to claim Mother Teresa and
John Paul II, author of the Evangelium
("Gospel of Life") encyclical, as its patron saints.
"The idea of a new religious community founded
for the purpose of working to protect human life may seem like a sign of
contradiction - but it may just be what the world of today needs," wrote
Cardinal Renato Martino of the Pontifical Council for Justice and
Peace. "The call to protect life is ... the very basis of our recognition of
Pavone said 50 men have already attended
retreats to learn more about the society, while 300 have inquired by email.
Meanwhile, 15 priests are talking to their bishops about joining.
"I do not know how large we will be. It could
be 40 priests or it could be 400. There will also be deacons and lay people
involved," said Pavone.
While some of these priests may be based in
parishes, most will travel nationwide taking part in protests and teaching
clergy and laity how to lead demonstrations and to counsel women who have had
abortions. In effect, they will do what Pavone has done with Priests
Life, including his high-profile work with the parents of
Terri Schiavo, who died last March in Florida after her feeding tube was removed.
This is precisely what worries Planned
Parenthood leaders, who have circulated an Institute for Democracy Studies
report claiming that Pavone and his associates have consistently presented a
"moderate" face to the public while supporting clinic blockades and other
illegal protest activities. "Priests for Life say they oppose violence, but their actions send a different message," according to the
The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life will
continue to be committed to public marches and prayer vigils, with a renewed
emphasis on nonviolence, order and the leadership of trained clergy, said
Pavone, during a visit to Washington, D.C., for last week's annual March For Life.
"If a priest or a bishop comes out and leads a
protest or a prayer service, then you don't have a leadership vacuum that can
lead to trouble," he said.
"People are going to protest against abortion.
This issue is that central to our faith. Would you rather have protests by
trained people who are well organized and have responsible leaders or would you
rather have protests that are random and chaotic? That's the question people on
the other side need to be asking."
(www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington
at the Council for Christian
Colleges & Universities.
Note: Priests for Life has always taken a
strong stand against all violence.
Click here for more information.
Clippings from 2006