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How priests can do more for life: A conversation with Fr. Frank Pavone


James McCoy

The Pittsburgh Catholic - Pittsburgh, PA


One day, a priest overheard a woman picking up a bulletin as she went into Mass say, "I'll take this in case they talk about abortion." That priest was Father Frank Pavone, and he preached about abortion anyway.

A few days later he received a letter from two teenagers thanking him: "We did not fully understand what goes on in abortion, till your homily ... We both would like to get on the mailing list of pro-life organizations."

A New York Archdiocesan priest, Father Pavone has served on New York's respect life committee by coordinating Catholic parishes' and schools' pro- life work. He's taught moral theology on TV, and has authored widely distributed pro-life leaflets.

In September of 1993, he became National Director of Priests for Life, which by networking, homiletic and bulletin materials provides pro-life resources for priests. Its newsletter reaches over half of U.S. priests.

Father Pavone will speak at Sacred Heart, Shadyside in the school activities building this Wed., Sept. 21, at 7:30 p.m., and in Monsignor Kraus Hall at St. Scholastica. Aspinwall, Thurs., Sept. 22, at 1:30 p.m.

Q: How did you get involved in pro-life work?

A: I've been involved in pro-life since high school. When I became a priest I was able to begin visibly preaching and teaching on abortion. I joined Priests for Life, met [its founder] Father Lee Kaylor, and he thought of me as a possible successor. When he called me, I had already decided that I had wanted to do pro-life work all the time. It was really amazing. Last September Cardinal O'Connor gave me permission to do this as my full-time work.

Q: How did Priests for Life begin?

A: Father Lee, a priest of the San Francisco archdiocese, started it back in 1990 as an association of priests who would make a special commitment to life issues, focusing on abortion and euthanasia. Every priest and deacon is charged to preach and teach about these things. But it was to help them to carry out their duty. Priests for Life was approved as a private association of the faithful by Archbishop John Quinn in 1991.

Q: Pope John Paul II often speaks about "the culture of death." What does that mean?

A: It refers to the pervasive mentality that human life is disposable. Abortion is so critical because the question at issue is not "When does life begin?" We know when life begins. The question is, "What is the value of life?" And the culture of death answers: "It's disposable if it becomes more trouble than it's worth." This breeds violence and contempt for life. Once you accept that abortion mentality, it automatically leads to other things like euthanasia. As Mother Teresa said, if a mother can kill her child, how can you tell anybody else that they can't kill another person?

Q: You have written about priests' homiletic silence on abortion. Why are some silent?

A: The reasons are varied. Sometimes it's a lack of awareness of how serious the problem is. If the clergy do not have firsthand contact with the pro-life movement and the warfare that is going on, it's easy to lose sight of how incredibly urgent this matter is. If we rely on what we hear from the media, we are going to be way off-base.

If we were to spend more time with these pro-life counselors who are out in front of the abortion mills… we would see that they are not violent, extremist people. The priest needs to know the movement's resources and strategies in order to build it up.

One of the fears is the reaction of women in the congregation who have had an abortion. The fact is, women who have had an abortion are suffering ... Many of them are in denial. The only way these women will be healed is if we preach the truth.

The post-abortion woman has been told by society that what she has done is no big deal. The Church tells her that it is a big deal, but God's mercy is a big deal, too. The sacrament of Confession is a moment for both of those truths to be known.

That moment of truth -- that what I have done is a terrible thing -- is also a moment to come to know the mercy of Christ. The abortion is evil; she herself is not evil. Part of the healing is for her to know that her life can go on. Confession is going to help her to get on with her life with some degree of peace.

Q: What should priests do to help women who are thinking about having an abortion?

A: There are in this country the resources necessary to help women who are pregnant and in need. The Church is constantly pleading, "We will help you with everything you need." The priest should have the phone numbers at his finger tips so he can help.

He has to call his people to respond to this need with works of mercy and of charity. There is nothing more contradictory than to preach love and service, and then do nothing for these women.

The priest really depends on the active involvement of the laity. The Second Vatican Council makes that crystal clear. Working with the laity is not an option; it's a necessity.

Certainly there should be a pro-life committee in every parish, and the priest should be involved in it. The pro-lifers are not looking for the priest's work so much as for his okay in their projects.

Let us call our people to sidewalk counseling -- it's not as hard as people think. I'd like to see the priests lead their people out on the streets because peaceful activity does work, it does save babies.


Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 •