SIOUX CITY | When Pope Francis remarked last week that the Catholic Church has become too focused on hot-button issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraceptives, some pundits expected words of protest from the nation’s pro-life leaders, men like the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, headquartered in New York. But that wasn’t the case.
Pavone, who will be the featured speaker at the Prayer and Celebration Events at Trinity Heights, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sioux City Convention Center, applauded the pontiff’s remarks.
“I wasn’t at all alarmed by what the pope was saying because it’s an approach he has taken before,” Pavone said, in a phone interview this week. “He’s not saying that we’re not supposed to be giving as much attention to abortion as we are. He’s saying it’s not supposed to be disconnected.”
He explained that if someone simply says the church says you can’t have an abortion, that’s just a negative which also begs the question, well why not? Is it because the church is against women’s rights or women’s health or women’s equality?
Not so, said Pavone.
“What the pope is saying, he’s trying to protect he church’s teaching on this topic and gay marriage and really any other moral issue. By saying this, he says, look, it flows from what we believe. In other words, a moral imperative is not just a rule – you can’t do this, you can’t do that. It’s a conclusion drawn from the faith,” he said.”
When Pavone was first asked about the pope’s speech, he said he was actually with the pope in Rome at the time. A member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, Pavone had just spoken at a conference co-sponsored by the Vatican about what the church has said in various documents about the primacy of the right to life and the fundamental urgency of dealing with abortion.
Pavone noted that back in June, the pope had a worldwide Day of Life as part of the Year of Faith and in a sermon he did not use the word abortion. When someone mentioned this , Pavoneresponded that the pope did indeed speak of it.
“He started out by saying, we believe in God, a God who is life. And then he went on to say, if we reject life, if we block the way to life, then we’re blocking out God and we’re giving way to idolatry,” he said. “In other words, the pope didn’t just put it in terms of the Fifth Commandment, you shall not kill, he put it in terms of the First Commandment, there’s only one god and you can’t have idols. By showing these connections to all the other dimensions of the faith, he’s actually strengthening the teaching.”
Pope Francis is not changing the church’s teachings, something he can’t do, Pavone said. Instead, he is simply saying that too many people never draw the connections between these teachings and other aspects of the faith.
Some people also fail to take into account what the pope and Pavone’s organization, through its Rachel’s Vineyard ministry, are doing by showing mercy and compassion to women who are both considering abortion and those who have already done so, he noted.
“We have as much concern for them as for the babies. So it’s an emphasis the pope very much wants to make,” Pavone said.
At his Sunday speech in Sioux City, Pavone said he will to bring a message of solidarity and encouragement. “It’s always a message of deep persevering, and that’s the message I will bring to Iowa,” he said.
The Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion is 40 years old this year. But Pavone said he is not discouraged by that.
“We have to keep a strong historical perspective,” he said. “It took longer than 40 years for the change in public policy on segregation. The Civil Rights Movement had to fight for decades. So historically, we’re doing OK. And even though Roe V. Wade is not yet formally overturned, the courts in all their subsequent abortion rulings have been weakening it. And those on the other side of the issue will often complain about that.