By JAMES McCOY
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.