Right to Life Dialogues Beginning
Peter Finney, Jr.
NEW ORLEANS (CNS) Although it sometimes is difficult for passionate pro-life advocates to avoid condemning those who favor abortion rights, the best way to advance the cause of life is to treat opponents with Christian respect and dignity, the founder Priests for Life told a New Orleans gathering.
Father Frank Pavone told 500 pro-life supporters at an annual Proudly Pro-Life Dinner Jan. 16 that his stance has prompted criticism from some pro-lifers for "collaborating" with evil, but he believes beginning a dialogue with activists who support keeping abortion legal will reap dividends for those who believe in the sanctity of life.
The priest, a New York archdiocesan priest who is national director of Priests For Life, said he and Bill Baird, a prominent abortion advocate, recently agreed to disagree on the issues but to avoid mean-spirited attacks.
"There is no room for compromise on our positions about, in our case, the right to life and, in his case, reproductive rights," Father Pavone told the audience at the dinner sponsored by the New Orleans Right to Life Educational Foundation.
"But although we do not seek some kind of middle ground or compromise or halfway point, we acknowledge (that) as we pursue our respective causes, we must recognize the dignity of the human person who opposes us on the other side of this division," he continued.
"We must resolve that anything we say about the person on the other side of this cause is rooted in truth, is accurate and that we do not provide any deliberate insult to those on the other side. One of the conclusions we've come to is that our opponent is our brother and we must get to know him."
Father Pavone urged those involved in sidewalk prayer ministry in front of abortion clinics "to get to know those people who work there and try to enter into some kind of a relationship with them so you can sit down face-to-face and talk and listen."
He said one of the most challenging statements in the U.S. bishops' 1998 document "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" was the call for "the humility to listen well to both friend and opponent, learning from one another and forgetting ourselves."
"The hardest word in the phrase 'the sanctity of every human life' is the little word 'every,"' the priest said. "As our Holy Father said in 'Evangelium Vitae' ('The Gospel of Life'), not even the murderer loses his personal dignity. He tramples it down, he contradicts it, but he doesn't lose it. Do you know how the people of this nation who are now promoting the culture of death are going to be converted? They are going to be converted when they see someone reflect back to them the dignity of their own life."
Father Pavone said 12 former abortionists attended a recent pro-life retreat and committed themselves upon leaving to contacting the women on whom they had performed abortions, to offer an apology and ask if they needed any medical treatment or counseling.
"This is repentance, this is purpose of amendment, this is a sign of hope," he said. "This is going to be the future of this movement."
Father Pavone said despite abortion being legal for 30 years there were hopeful signs.
The good news, which is "traveling slowly," is that 40 percent of abortion clinics have closed in the last 10 years and there are fewer doctors than ever willing to perform abortions, he said.
Father Pavone said women who have had abortions were planning to give silent but powerful witness at pro-life rallies across the nation in commemoration of the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
They were to carry signs that read: "I regret my abortion."
"They want to encourage one another and encourage the masses of people who suffer in silence who are made to feel silly for feeling sad about their abortions," Father Pavone said. "They want to say to their sisters throughout the world and to the men who are suffering post-abortion grief, 'You have a reason to grieve. Your grief is valid. You are not alone in your grief, but there is also hope."'