SAN DIEGO - "If human life is disposable at one stage, it is disposable at any stage," says Father Frank Pavone. "Abortion is not a problem, it's our problem."
Getting Catholics to realize the gravity and immediacy of the crime of abortion, and to act accordingly, was the central topic when Father Pavone, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and national director of Priests for Life, spoke to approximately 120 gathered at Mission San Diego de Alcala's St. Francis Center Jan. 3.
As director of Priests for Life -- an association of Catholic priests giving special emphasis to promoting and defending the sanctity of human life -- Father Pavone travels the country and the world motivating clergy and laity alike to heighten their awareness of and active opposition to abortion.
The young priest's talk followed on the heels of a presentation made to diocesan priests and deacons the night before, where he reminded them of Pope John Paul II's words, "Because God has joined all people to himself by the Incarnation, an attack against human life is an attack against God," in an effort to stir them to greater enthusiasm for defending life as part of their special priestly ministry.
Father Pavone's Jan. 3 remarks began with a short but stirring glimpse at the ideological battle over abortion. The slight, wiry priest - unmistakably a New Yorker with his accent and gestures - dispelled the notion that those in the pro-abortion ranks deny the humanity of the unborn. In light of the evidence, he said, that is impossible. The pro-abortionist's mentality, then, is even more sinister, one that says "of course it's a human being; we have the right to destroy him or her anyway."
Father Pavone touched on the paradox of groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights: self-styled religious individuals of the sort who wear "I'm Pro-Choice and I Pray" buttons. "Nothing is more contradictory than abortion and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If our destiny is the heights of heaven, then how can we put people in garbage cans?"
Shifting to the thrust of his mission, Father Pavone outlined ways for lay people to encourage their priests to get more involved in pro-life activity. The first and hardest way, he insisted, is by example.
By developing a solid foundation of lay leaders and workers, priests will be more encouraged to devote their time (always in short supply, he reminded; especially for pastors) to things like prolife homilies, organizing pro-life prayer hours, distributing educational materials and the like.
Also important, said Father Pavone, is communication. "If you want to influence a priest, develop a strong relationship with him. Invite him to dinner," he said. "When a priest asks you what you want to do, have answers ready." said Father Pavone. "Do your homework, give him several options."
Father Pavone gave several other tips for communicating with priests about fighting abortion, but then admitted that the main question for the average Catholic to ask is "What am I doing about it myself?"
Besides constant prayer, Father Pavone stressed the most crucial point: "If we're going to talk about abortion, we need to read, study, stay 'in the know.'" He recommended reading some of the regular pro-life publications, as well as encouraging "networking with other pro-lifers."
During the question-and-answer session, Father Pavone addressed the phenomenon of "over-spiritualization" of the abortion debate. His response to those who say Catholics can be "prochoice" because the Church has never defined when the soul enters the body?
"So what? We're talking about little babies being torn apart. We're talking about abortion, not theology."
The Church's teaching on abortion, he continued, is not based on when the soul enters the body, but "on God's dominion over creation- the baby is a human being and God has dominion over human life."
Another question dealt with the consistent ethic of life, or so-called "seamless garment" theory, which, said Father Pavone is basically sound in holding that all issues dealing with life -- abortion, capital punishment, poverty -- deserve attention, but can be misused to "diminish the importance of abortion as 'one issue out of many.'"
Abortion is not one issue of many, said Father Pavone, but "the fundamental issue, the greatest tragedy. These babies are being killed not because of what they've done, but precisely because they exist." Thus, he said, accusations leveled at prolifers that they "don't do enough about other issues." are fallacious. "Did you ever hear people complain about AA because they're only concerned with alcoholics? Do you go to the Society for the Blind and ask, 'What are you doing for the deaf?"
In closing his remarks, Father Pavone urged the audience not to lose heart, for though the evil of abortion may loom stronger than ever, it can be defeated. "And it will be, because in the end the victory belongs to life."