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What is Priests for Life?
The ministry of the priest is demanding. It includes the need to address sensitive and controversial issues, and a priest can feel alone and fearful in doing so. Amidst the demands of his ministry, therefore, he needs support and encouragement from three directions: from his bishop, from his congregation, and from his fellow priests.
It is this encouragement, especially from fellow priests, that the Priests for Life association was founded to provide. Specifically, it provides encouragement to carry out that dimension of priestly ministry that involves the defense of human life from abortion and euthanasia.
This particular dimension touches on what the Holy Father and the bishops have identified as two of the most urgent moral crises of our day (see Evangelium Vitae, 1995). Responding to those crises is not something added onto the life and ministry of the priest from the outside. It is, instead, a response that flows from the very meaning of being a priest, a Christian, and a human person. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one and indivisible; hence, the Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life.
This very fact causes some to ask whether "Priests for Life" isn't redundant.
First of all, the title Priests for Life is intended to convey the truth that being for life is integral and essential to the life and ministry of every priest. This is not an association that seeks to be some sort of separate and elite group of priests who claim to be more pro-life than all the rest. Rather, it seeks to celebrate the dedicated efforts, so often hidden and unknown, of priests who heroically promote the culture of life across the nation.
Secondly, there are many religious communities and other organizations in the Church whose members highlight a facet of the Gospel to which all the rest of the Church is also called. Such highlighting is meant to be a stimulus to all to respond to a call that belongs to all. Therefore, the Sisters of Charity are not the only ones called to practice charity, nor is that what their name implies. The Blessed Sacrament Fathers do not claim to be the only ones who worship the Blessed Sacrament. Examples can be multiplied. Priests for Life is another such example. It is precisely because all priests and all others as well, are called to be for life that this association exists.
It is also helpful to reflect on the fact that there are groups called Doctors for Life, Nurses for Life, Pharmacists for Life, Lawyers for Life, Students for Life, Cops for Life, and countless others. But why, one might ask, should we need such groups? Aren't all doctors supposed to be for life? Yet the very reason we have a pro-life movement at all is because we have an immense tragedy on our hands, and need the skills of every profession to restore protection to all human life. In that light, it would be strange indeed if there were not a "Priests for Life!"
What is the Mission of Priests for Life?
The purpose of Priests for Life is not to add another structure or organization to the pro-life effort. Its purpose, instead, is to infuse a structure that already exists, the Church, with the vigor, enthusiasm, and very best resources to carry out its mission of defending life.
The Church is the only institution that has a Divine guarantee that it will prevail over the culture of death. "The gates of hell will not prevail against it," the Lord Himself said (Mt.16:18). When we hear these words, we usually think, "The Church will survive all the attacks launched against her," and certainly that is true. Upon further reflection, however, we realize that in a battle, a gate does not run out into the battlefield to attack the enemy. Rather, the gate stands still and defends the city against the enemy attacking it! When the Lord says the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, He means that the Church is taking the initiative and storming the gates! Those gates of hell cannot withstand the power of heaven; gates of sin melt in the presence of saving grace; gates of death fall in the presence of eternal life; gates of falsehood collapse in the presence of living truth; gates of violence fall in the presence of divine love. These are the gifts with which Christ has equipped His Church.
To fully exercise those gifts in response to the problems of abortion and euthanasia, therefore, does not so much require more structure as it does more spirit, more awareness, more courage, more determination to use both the means and the opportunities we have! That is what Priests for Life is all about. From the heart of the Church, it is a movement of priests seeking to use, and help the rest of the Church to use, her full strength against the most devastating attacks on human life in our day.
In certain places there are Priests for Life "chapters," in which priests come together regularly to encourage each other and pray together about the pro-life dimensions of their ministry. We are happy to assist the development of such chapters. The essence, however, of what Priests for Life seeks to accomplish is not attendance at chapter meetings, but rather the effective proclamation of the Gospel of Life within the ordinary, day to day aspects of the priest's assigned ministry.
The mission statement of Priests for Life identifies three avenues through which its overall goal is achieved. First is the networking of priests who are particularly active in pro-life work. Through our newsletters and websites, we feature what priests are doing about abortion. Priests are put in contact with each other across the nation to share ideas, resources and experiences concerning effective pro-life ministry. Priests who may feel alone or isolated because of their special emphasis on life issues are assured that they are never alone.
A second aspect of the mission is to assist priests who may be hesitant about addressing abortion and euthanasia. By means of literature and audio-visual materials, seminars and direct personal assistance, the Priests for Life association can help a priest to identify his fears, uncertainties, or misconceptions about the issues involved or about the pro-life movement itself. One of our publications, for example, is Addressing Abortion with Confidence. It identifies common fears clergy have in this area, and discusses ways to overcome them.
The third aspect of our mission is to assist priests and pro-life organizations to work together effectively. The multiplicity of groups is often confusing and overwhelming. The influx of literature, as good as it may be, can be dizzying. How does a busy priest sort out what the initiatives, activities, and strategies of the movement are? How can he know what resources he can rely on in his parish, and what strategies of particular groups are in accord with the teaching and discipline of the Church? Priests for Life can provide this type of guidance. Priests for Life knows intimately the philosophy and strategies of pro-life groups both big and small, as well as the persons behind them. Our association maintains communication, personal contact, and good relations with all such groups. In our newsletter and websites, we seek to summarize suggested strategies and resources for busy priests. We are, furthermore, actively involved at all national gatherings of pro-life leaders in which strategies for the movement are formulated.
Not only does our Association assist the priest to work with the pro-life groups, but it assists the pro-life groups to work with their priests. From the beginning of Priests for Life, there has been strong support from the laity, and the association has lay members. Many want to help their priests speak up more about abortion. Priests for Life actively assists lay persons and groups to formulate realistic expectations and work constructively with their clergy. Some of our brochures, CD's, and seminars, in fact, address this theme.
The Clergy Commitment Pledge
Every priest is "for life" by definition, and we therefore do not put a heavy emphasis on recruiting "members." Nevertheless, thousands of priests across the United States have signed the Clergy Commitment Pledge, which expresses the spirit of our Association. The text follows, along with a few explanatory comments.
Priests for Life Clergy Commitment Pledge
As an ordained priest/deacon of the Catholic Church, I acknowledge that an essential part of my ministry is to proclaim and defend the dignity of the human person. As a sign of my commitment to this call, and in order to help strengthen my brother priests and deacons and be strengthened by them, I have joined the Priests for Life Association, an officially recognized Private Association of the Faithful.
I pledge to pray with perseverance for a deeper respect for human life in our society, and especially for an end to abortion and euthanasia. I pledge to clearly and consistently preach and teach about the sanctity of life to all those entrusted to my pastoral care.
I pledge to cooperate with the projects and programs of Priests for Life, to the degree that I am reasonably able to do so and within the policies set by my Ordinary. I pledge to lend support and encouragement to other members of the Association and to the wider pro-life movement when the appropriate opportunities arise.
I am confident that the Victory of Life has already been won through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and that by proclaiming, celebrating, and serving the gift of Life, Christ will transform the culture of death into the Kingdom of Life.
You will note that the pledge indicates that this organization is for Catholic priests and deacons. (Our outreach to deacons is called Deacons in the Service of Life, and has its own introductory literature. See www.deaconsforlife.org.) Together with our lay membership, we also rejoice when ministers and the faithful of other denominations associate themselves with our work. They are invited to cooperate with us and to take advantage of our educational materials. Several other denominations have also formed similar kinds of associations for their clergy.
The pledge points out that the defense of the human person is integral to the ordained ministry. The first motive mentioned for joining the association is the networking value it provides.
Prayer, preaching, and teaching are then mentioned as key aspects of the pledge. These are standard aspects of the work of the priest and deacon. If we infuse our normal activities with a greater attentiveness to the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia, we will make significant progress to overcome these evils. While Priests for Life provides suggestions and resources for prayer, preaching, and teaching, we do not hold our members to any specific form of devotion. Nor should association with Priests for Life be seen as a commitment to a particular school of theology. In those many cases in which the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church permit a variety of theological, pastoral, and liturgical expressions, Priests for Life seeks to welcome every one of them. When it comes to the defense of innocent human life, we are not talking about a segment of the Church; we are talking about the whole Church.
Cooperation with Priests for Life projects is then mentioned, always within the context of union with one's own Ordinary. We do not come into a diocese in order to promote a fixed program or activity "from the outside." Instead, we come into dioceses precisely in order to assist the clergy to work together with their bishop in the way he directs and according to the local circumstances. At the same time, we provide the benefit of the experience our network has, and the numerous contacts with all groups in the pro-life movement. We provide seminars, workshops, and retreats for priests, deacons, seminarians, and laity, as well as parish missions and assistance at every kind of pro-life event.
The pledge ends on a note of supreme confidence. In this battle, we are not just working for victory; we are working from victory. Victory is our starting point, because Christ has robbed death of its power. Therefore, we ask clergy and laity alike to carry out their pro-life work with profound peace of soul and a joyful spirit. It is our palpable joy for life which, when seen by the world, will attract it to our message.
The Priests for Life Chapter
Our primary goal is that the individual priest will benefit by his interaction with Priests for Life. However, as other movements of priestly renewal have experienced, there can be great benefit when priests come together for a time of prayer, teaching, and discussion about the pro-life aspects of their ministry. The purpose of the chapter is to facilitate communication of the priests and deacons with each other about pro-life concerns. We are happy to assist the development of such chapters.
We also utilize the social networking provided by Facebook and similar internet resources to allow priests to interact with one another and share resources and encouragement.
Does Priests for Life Believe in the Consistent Ethic of Life?
Because of our focus on abortion and euthanasia, I am sometimes asked this question. But consistency is not just something we "believe" in; it is something we are all obliged to! Consistency demands that we recognize the sanctity of the human person, whoever and wherever that person may be, and whatever evil is threatening that dignity.
So the answer to the question is a resounding Yes!
Because of some misunderstandings of the consistent ethic, however, it is important to note that Priests for Life understands this phrase in the context of what the United States bishops have said about it on more than one occasion. In their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities (A Campaign in Support of Life, November, 2001), the bishops write, "Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role… Its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice. This focus and the Church's commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life…far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life - recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision."
The theme is also stressed in the Bishops' 1998 document, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics. In their 1989 Resolution on Abortion, the bishops call abortion the fundamental human rights issue of our day for all people of good will.
As Cardinal Joseph Bernardin pointed out, having a consistent ethic certainly cannot mean that specific groups must actively address every issue that impacts on human life. Such an approach is simply impossible. What it does mean, however, is that in the marvelous unity of the Body of Christ, each part does the work assigned to it, while rejoicing in and affirming the work of all the other parts (see www.priestsforlife.org/consistentethic for more information).
Pro-Life Spirituality: Positive and Joyful
Since its founding in 1991, the members of Priests for Life have reflected on their worldwide ministry, and drawing especially from Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, 1995) have articulated and taught a spirituality of being pro-life. We offer the opportunity for lay people to profess promises as Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. By these promises, which are very similar to the Clergy Commitment Pledge above, they commit themselves to make the pro-life mission of the Church the primary focus of their personal service to the Gospel.
Our spirituality is marked by a spirit of joy, a serene confidence, a deep compassion, a radical solidarity with the unborn and their parents, a strong courage, a constant readiness for public witness, and a passion for justice.
A Multi-Faceted Ministry
Priests are ordained to minister to the whole Church, and Priests for Life ministers to the whole pro-life movement and helps to unify it. Along with the aspects of our work we have already mentioned, the following ministries operate under our umbrella: a) Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion; b) the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, the world’s largest mobilization of women and men healed from their involvement in abortion and ready to speak out; c) an outreach to the African-American community, led by our Pastoral Associate Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.; d) Seminarians for Life; e) Hispanic outreach; f) Youth outreach; g) Political responsibility outreach, based in our Washington office across the street from the US Supreme Court; h) our multimedia outreach through radio, television, and internet, i) International outreach, with activity in dozens of countries, and i) Gospel of Life Ministries, bringing our message and presence to the Body of Christ in other denominations.
We welcome your involvement in this growing ministry.
Fr. Frank Pavone was appointed in 1993 by Cardinal John O'Connor to serve as National Director of Priests for Life, and has also served as an Official of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, which coordinates pro-life activities for the entire Catholic Church. He is a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, TX and leads Priests for Life with the permission of his bishop.
Priests for Life aims to encourage God's people to respond to the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia, and is an association recognized under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.
This material may be reproduced or quoted, with proper credit, to spread the pro-life message.
Order this brochure at the Priests for Life online store