By Ed Langlois
In Oregon, pro-life clergy must speak their position in a way that secular
ears can hear, says the leader of a national coalition of priests who oppose
abortion and doctor-assisted suicide.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, made stops in
Portland and Salem Monday and Tuesday, telling clergy and laity to put religion
aside for a moment and appeal to logic first when putting forth the pro-life
The Pacific Northwest is cited as the region with the loosest religious
affiliations in the nation. It is also the first jurisdiction in the world where
voters approved of physician-assisted suicide.
"If I am standing up in front of a group of unchurched people, I'm not going
to use the Bible, I'm going to use these books," says the dark-haired Father
Pavone, fingering two medical texts. One describes how to perform an abortion,
calling the procedure "dismemberment." The other book, a massive blue tome
suggests thousands of treatments for "unborn patients."
The language, says the priest, shows that even the medical establishment
cannot help but refer to the unborn as humans.
"Before we talk religion and talk God, let's talk about what abortion is,"
says Father Pavone. "Let's be honest. We're not here to impose religious
beliefs. We just try to tell folks that you can't destroy what is demonstrably
Priests for Life, while taking a secular path in Oregon, also has access to
the vast ,structure of the U.S. church. Some 2,500 clergy belong to the group,
and a regular newsletter goes to 40,000 addresses. In addition to giving
information at Catholic parishes and schools, the organization produces a series
on EWTN television.
As the church has done in the case of abortion, it ought to reach out to
people involved in assisted suicide, says Father Pavone. He envisions crisis
centers for people who may be pressured to kill themselves.
"Our job is to remind them that their dignity is with them as persons," he
Father Pavone predicts that the pro-life movement may face more confrontation
with the government. If the Supreme Court rules that there is some right to
assisted suicide, the furor will be as high-pitched as current opposition to
abortion, he says.
Nevertheless, the priest is optimistic that the lives of the unborn and the
vulnerable will be protected. Even before legal protections are put in place,
the number of abortions and assisted suicides will drop if there is solid church
ministry to women in crisis pregnancy and potential victims of euthanasia. "If
the courts see fewer and fewer people doing this, it may be easier to ban it,"
Priests are ready and willing to work and preach on the pro-life cause, says
Father Pavone. To get moving, they just need input and the benefit of shared
Father Pavone has been active in the pro-life movement since 1976. He was
ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York by John Cardinal O'Connor in
He served for five years as a parish priest at St. Charles Church in Staten
Island. During this time he also taught theology part time, including in the
Permanent Diaconate Formation Program at St. Joseph Seminary.
In September 1993, with the permission of Cardinal O'Connor, he became
National Director of Priests for Life and now serves full time in this position,
traveling through the country preaching and teaching against abortion and
helping other priests to do the same. He conducts seminars on pro-life strategy
for the clergy as well as for other pro-life organizations.
Mother Teresa asked him to address the clergy of India on life issues. He was
also asked to speak to the pro-life caucus of the United States House of
Representatives in 1996.