By Barb Ernster
Many people are unaware that only 1 percent of abortions are for the victims
of rape or incest, said Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests
"Most people don't know that an abortion can be obtained up to the ninth
month," he said during an address at Nativity Church in St. Paul. "Most women
don't go to an abortion clinic because of freedom of choice. Ironically, they go
because they feel they have NO choice." Fr. Pavone was invited to the Twin
Cities last month to speak at Nativity's Masses, and several pro-life
gatherings. As a usual practice when traveling, he also attended a prayer vigil
in front of an abortion clinic.
Priests for Life is a private association of the faithful that was officially
approved by the Church in 1991. It was started by Father Lee Kaylor of the San
Francisco Archdiocese who saw the need to establish an association of priests
and deacons who would give special emphasis to the teachings of the Church on
human life, namely abortion, contraception and euthanasia. He also felt that a
formal association would help priests support each other in addressing these
issues, provide a network to share resources and exchange ideas, and help spark
other priests to get more involved.
Chapters were formed in various states, and a national newsletter was
started, which now is mailed to 45,000 members. Lay persons also can join as
auxiliary members and many say they are encouraged to see more leadership coming
from the priests.
Fr. Pavone has a deep commitment to the pro-life movement that began in 1976
when he was a senior in high school and attended the March for Life rally in
Washington, D.C. His pro-life involvement turned into a life mission which he
feels is a call from God. He joined PFL after his ordination in 1988 and was
approached last year to become the national director. Fr. Pavone now serves full
time in this position, traveling throughout the country preaching and teaching
against abortion and euthanasia, and helping other priests to do the same.
Besides speaking and writing about the issues, he appears frequently on the
Eternal Word Television Network teaching moral theology. Fr. Pavone also
counsels women who are seeking or have had an abortion. Whenever possible he
attends prayer vigils in front of clinics.
All Priests Have Pro-life Role
Fr. Pavone believes firmly that all clergy should be involved with the
pro-life movement to some extent, and he works tirelessly to communicate the
"There are a lot of priests doing heroic things in their parishes and
schools," Fr. Pavone said. "And there are a lot who are pro-life and want to do
something but are not sure what they can or should do without getting negative
results. They don't want to unnecessarily alienate people. This not only keeps
some from talking about abortion but keeps some from talking about other sins as
well. We address these fears and concerns and help some priests to overcome
"Priests need to understand that it is not an option, that the defense of
human life is something that flows from ordination," he said. "It is not an
extracurricular activity that they can do if they like. I'm not doing this
because it's my thing or because it's what I like to do, but because this is a
tragedy and it needs to be addressed," he said.
"Christ saved us when we were helpless and so we save the children who are
helpless and we speak the truth about human life. We're committed to teaching
the entire doctrine of the gospels by our ordination."
Fr. Pavone says all Catholics should address the issue and get involved at
some level. The movement is so vast there's a place for everyone. While we're
not all called to do the same thing, he said, we are called to find what we're
supposed to do for the movement and do it faithfully.
Human Dignity At Issue
"If we don't solve the abortion problem then all the other issues we're
concerned about are made worse by the fact that abortion continues, because at
the heart of every other concern is the dignity of human life," Fr. Pavone said.
"Poverty is a concern because people have a right to food and clothing, because
they have a right to live. Unemployment is a concern because people have a right
to make a living, because they have a right to live. It always comes back to the
right to exist, a right that the government does not give, that the Church does
not give: it is given directly by God. We have a whole segment of people being
deprived of their right to exist."
Pavone encourages people to learn more about abortion by viewing video tapes
such as "The Hard Truth," "The Silent Scream" or "The Eclipse of Reason," which
show what an abortion is and how it is performed. When tapes like these are
viewed, people often become motivated to take action. He also suggests we pray
daily for an end to abortion, write letters to newspapers and legislators, and
choose only doctors who are pro-life as a way to pressure people who are
involved in the issue directly.
He told the parishioners at Nativity, "I have several friends who used to
perform abortions. They all say, 'We were not helping women, we were in it to
sell abortions and to make more and more money.' One woman told me, 'Father, we
didn't even sterilize the instruments because it would have taken too much
time.' Another woman told me their financial goal was to perform 10 abortions an
"It is the most unregulated industry in the medical field and women are being
harmed and are dying because of so-called "safe" abortions. The women in this
country deserve better than this. To be pro-life is to be pro-woman."
Fr. Pavone said too many people just believe slogans and haven't thought it
through. "People will say, 'I'm prochoice.' Choice of what? Is a choice good or
bad? Doesn't it depend on what you're choosing? My choice ends where your rights
begin. Isn't there something wrong when the law protects a car but not a child
in the womb?"
"Others will say, 'I can't bring another child into the world.' Well, the
child already exists. The only choice is this: Do we care for the child or do we
kill the child? God has joined our human life to Himself; we never should throw
"Because it is so basic for humans to respond when people are abused or
deprived of their rights, the pro-life movement never will go away. It's not
something that can be legislated out of existence or intimidated out of
existence; it always will be there.
"The government is making a big mistake by not addressing the underlying
problem, which is abortion itself. Abortion is violence and protecting a violent
activity makes violence part of the fabric of society. Violence leads to more
violence and that's what happens to people who are reacting to the evil of
abortion. The best answer is to peacefully and honestly address the underlying
problem-abortion-allow it to be exposed for what it is and come up with
alternatives to help women with better choices than abortion."
The Truth Will Emerge
Fr. Pavone believes strongly that the truth about abortion will come out
someday and people will realize it's not good for society. "Little by little
people are realizing this," he said. "But more people have to resolve in their
minds this conflict: If abortion is the killing of an innocent, why should it
ever be allowed? Would you ever want the law to allow that 2-year-olds be
killed? If not, then why when the child is younger?
"If we continue to accept this abortion mentality that a mother can kill her
innocent child, then why can't the child kill his innocent mother?" he asked.
"It's the same notion. If a human life becomes a problem, we eliminate it. And
that notion now is being applied to people who have serious illness. There are
many similarities between abortion and euthanasia but people are less educated
While the battle is constant and his schedule fierce, Fr. Pavone is motivated
by continuous prayer, which he says has to be rooted in any kind of apostolic
work. He also is motivated by historical events.
"If we were around at the time of slavery in this country, would we have been
proud to be part of the group of people who brought it to an end? Or would we be
proud to have stood up courageously in Nazi Germany and said these are human
beings too, they must not be destroyed? We're really making history right now,"
Fr. Pavone said. "The pro-life movement is the largest grassroots movement in
the country and it's a fabric of history. We're really laying the foundation for
respect for life for centuries to come and ultimately, of course, the judgment
of God. The perspective of eternal life is crucial. I encourage people to think
about heaven every day. Then we become more concerned about what happens on
(Priests for Life can be contacted at P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY
10314. Their telephone number is 718-980-4400.)
Priests for Life in the News