Following is the full text of the comments to the press made by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, at the National Press Club on Tuesday, July 18, 2000.
Good afternoon, and thank you for being here.
What we are doing here today is exactly what the Church has done for centuries: defending human life, and challenging the government to do the same. No matter what nation or period of history we are speaking of, when a human government attempts to legitimize an act of violence, the Church declares that such an attempt is devoid of all authority or juridical validity.
Such is the case with abortion. Our position regarding the laws allowing abortion is not that they are merely "bad laws," but rather that they are no laws at all. No president, congress, court, or king has the authority to permit even a single abortion.
When we elect our lawmakers in America, we influence the moral character of this nation for better or for worse. When our laws permit violence against little babies, incidents like the Columbine High School shootings are the logical outcome.
It should be understood from the outset that we are speaking here today as clergy, enunciating the teachings of our Church in matters regarding the fundamental rights of the human person. We are not endorsing candidates, commenting on any electoral races, or presenting any political strategies.
Priests for Life is an association of priests, a "private association of the faithful" recognized under Canon Law. I am grateful to my mentor, the recently deceased Cardinal John O'Connor, who ordained me and authorized me to direct the Priests for Life movement. The instruction and inspiration he leaves to us has shaped our efforts and will do so for years to come. We present the Church's teachings in communion with the bishops, but we speak on our own initiative and represent no organization here today but ourselves. We collaborate ecumenically, including with the National Pro-life Religious Council, which is also represented here.
Furthermore, Americans of every faith and of no faith join us on a daily basis to strive to restore equal protection under the law to human beings during the period of their development in their mother's womb.
The Catholic Church has taught in the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "…At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it" (GS 76, quoted in Living the Gospel of Life, 18).
A key aspect of the mission which Priests for Life was founded to accomplish is to make known the documents of the Catholic Church on matters relating to abortion. In this current educational effort, we base our message on the 1998 document of the US bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, and the 1999 statement of the Administrative Board of the United States Catholic Conference, Faithful Citizenship. We have made both documents available here today.
Our message has three key themes.
1. Catholics and all believers have an obligation to vote, and should do so in an informed and responsible way. That means they understand the issues and the positions the candidates take on the issues. It means that they do not accept second-class citizenship, nor do they cease to be believers when they enter the voting booth. The eyes that read the Word of God are same eyes that read the names of the candidates on the ballot. The hands lifted up to God to say "Amen" to His teachings are the same hands that push down on the lever in the voting booth. We don’t have four hands, a pair for Church and a pair for the voting booth.
Our message here is not that we want to control the way people vote. The message is one of integrity: don't claim to be a believer if you don't act like one, and don't claim to be a member of the Church and then misrepresent its teachings.
2. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. Any candidate or policy is to be evaluated above all on how it impacts human life and dignity. Abortion, though not the only problem, is the pre-eminent human rights issue. Abortion is an act of violence, claiming some 4000 lives every day, and cannot be tolerated by a civilized society. The teaching of the Church is that it is morally wrong to cooperate in abortion in any way. That can include speaking out in favor of abortion, or participating in efforts to protect or advance the practice of abortion, which obviously includes the choices made in the voting booth.
Our position on abortion would be much easier to understand, and the problem much easier to solve, if the television media would accept the challenge which I have made nationwide and repeat today: Show the American people what an abortion is.
3. No public official of any party or religion can responsibly take a "pro-choice" position on abortion. Anyone who identifies himself as "pro-choice" on abortion contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church. There is not more than one Catholic teaching on abortion. Furthermore, this is not only a Catholic issue, but one of fundamental human rights. Catholic teaching holds that stealing is wrong. That doesn't mean that non-Catholics can steal. Nor does it mean that laws against stealing are an imposition of one group's religious beliefs on the nation.
Abortion not only contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it contradicts the Gospel, as well as the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
To supporters of abortion who profess a faith other than Christianity, or profess no faith at all, we say that your position contradicts the Declaration of Independence and its assertion that we all have an inalienable right to life.
To supporters of abortion who profess Christianity, we say, "Stop being a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!"
The educational effort we announce today is unprecedented in the magnitude and variety of the ways we are getting the message out. We intend to employ every means known to humanity, short of space travel, to reach people with this message. We will utilize the Churches, by means of preaching and teaching. We will take the message to the streets with peaceful demonstrations and other First Amendment activities. We will mail information to clergy across America. We will utilize phone banks to encourage the clergy in this effort. We will submit articles and purchase ads in major newspapers. Our NY Times ad is available to you here today. We will deal with these themes in our regular radio and television programs, which air nationwide, and on our web page. We are currently preparing TV commercials and planning media buys. Our priests on staff will teach these themes in their regular nationwide travels to local communities and in visits to elected officials. We are ready to spend $1million on this effort. We will do everything that needs to be done within the boundaries of what we are allowed to do by civil and canon law.
Some in the media have interpreted our effort to be an attack on certain specific candidates for office. This is not the case. Voters are free to elect whom they choose. But to be free, one has to be informed of the implications of one's choice, including the moral and spiritual implications. It is our mission, as spiritual leaders, to instruct them on the moral principles that should inform their voting decisions.
Our educational effort is completely non-partisan. Lawmakers and voters in both major parties have a wide range of positions on the abortion controversy and may at any time change those positions. No matter who changes positions, or what positions they change, our message always remains exactly the same.
If a candidate were to approve of shooting sprees, or race riots, the primary question is hardly what party or religion they belong to. The question is, Is that position compatible with public service?
Nor is our effort an issue of "What is the Church going to do to pro-abortion politicians?" …This is an issue of what the voters are going to do when they vote as people who oppose violence against little babies and hold that the government should protect all life.
Moreover, I stress that we conduct these efforts as clergy, as pastors. We speak publicly about whether support for abortion does or does not conform to the Gospel. We do not speak publicly about the standing of any particular person. It is our hope that our public comments will motivate candidates or office-holders who do support abortion to approach the members of their clergy and discuss these issues in private and confidential settings, and we pledge our readiness to be available for that kind of pastoral service to anyone who desires it.
Finally, may I appeal to you in the media to repeat the offer we make to any woman anywhere, no matter what her ethnic or religious background, that if she is pregnant and feels unable to continue that pregnancy, she can come to us, to our Churches, to me personally, and we will see to it that she and her child receive all the help they need. And to anyone who suffers the pain and grief that follow abortion, we declare that the doors of the Church are open. We are ready to assist you to find the forgiveness, healing, and peace that you seek.
Thank you very much.