Fr. Paul Schenck and the National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill

National Pro-Life Center (NPLC) on Capitol Hill reaches out to those who administer justice


Deacon Keith Fournier

  Catholic Online
  Fr. Paul Schenck is the founding Director of the National Pro-Life Center (NPLC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Center gives the Justices of the Supreme Court, their high level staff, members of the federal judiciary, members of the US Senate and other public policy makers the information, education and inspiration they need to better form their consciences so they will make better decisions.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On Saturday, June 12, 2010 my friend of many years, former Protestant minister and Pro-Life hero, Paul Schenck, was ordained as a Priest of the Catholic Church. My history with Fr. Paul spans decades. I first met his brother Rob through now deceased Lutheran Pastor and ecumenical giant Harald Bredesen. Always "moving  in the Spirit", Harald told me back then he "knew from the Lord" I had to meet the Schenck brothers. He was right.

At the time Rob Schenck was leading a ministry calling attention to the plight of the Poor in Mexico and I joined his Board of Advisors. It was the beginning of a treasured friendship. He introduced me to his brother Paul. Both shared with me a dedication to bringing an end to the killing of our youngest neighbors in the womb by abortion. They were raised in a Jewish home, came to faith in the Lord Jesus as teenagers and became Protestant Pastors.

The two brothers were Pro-Life leaders in the Buffalo, New York area back then. I went to Law School to help overturn Roe v Wade. So, when I was asked by them to come to Buffalo to speak on behalf of Paul who had been wrongfully arrested for peacefully distributing Pro-Life literature, I agreed. At the time I was a Dean at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. I was also practicing law, trying to advance the Pro-Life movement.  To anyone in the Pro-Life movement for any length of time Paul Schenck is an iconic figure. The image which adorned the cover of Life magazine of a younger Paul Schenck, still a Protestant minister at the time, is a part of the pictorial history of the movement.

At the invitation of Pat Robertson, in 1991 I moved to Virginia Beach to build the American Center for Law and Justice. (ACLJ) Pat knew I was a Catholic Christian and had read my first book "Evangelical Catholics". In the subtitle of that book I called for "Christian Co-operation to penetrate the Darkness with the Light of the Gospel." Those were days of what I call "trench ecumenism" and the greatest example was the Pro-Life movement. We all heard the cry of those whom Mother Teresa called the "poorest of the poor", children in the womb and discovered one another as Christians. This kind of cooperation is accepted now. Back then, it was highly controversial in both Catholic and Protestant circles. My relationship with Paul and Rob Schenck grew in those Pro-Life trenches. We were doing Catholic/Evangelical cooperation long before it was "cool".

The first legal case I took as Executive Director of the ACLJ came through Rob and Paul Scheck. Paul was wrongfully arrested for distributing Pro-Life literature in front of an abortion facility. We lost at the Federal District Court level but that would not be the end of the case. Years later I served as co-counsel when Jay Sekulow successfully argued the case at the US Supreme Court. It was styled "Schenck v. Pro-Choice Escorts". Paul's courageous efforts for the children and Jay's insistence that Pro-Life speech is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, won the day. Paul was completely vindicated and earned a place in the legal history of the great human rights movement of our age, the movement to restore the Right to Life.

During those 'ACLJ years' my friendship with Paul - and his journey toward the Catholic Church - passed through a series of events.  Appalled that this man whose efforts to stop the killing of our first neighbors should have earned him honor instead brought him house arrest, I resolved to do everything I could to support him. That included hiring him as the Vice President of the American Center for Law and Justice. At the time he was wearing a court ordered ankle monitor. Paul and his family moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia. We shared a deep love for the early Fathers of the Church. I saw the Holy Spirit drawing him out of a Protestant vision of the Church and into an increasingly Catholic vision. When he became an Episcopal minister, I was there. I knew it would not satisfy his hunger. I believed that Paul was hungering for the fullness of the Catholic Church.

At his ordination in the Episcopal Church, I gave him a copy of the Liturgy of the Hours which I had engraved to "Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck'. I hoped it would prove to be prophetic. Paul came to my ordination to the Order of Deacon in the Catholic Church in 1996. The grace of that ordination called me out of the ACLJ and to a new chapter in my vocational calling. Right before I left I introduced Paul to a dear friend, A Melkite Catholic Bishop, who played a significant role in his continuing journey to the Catholic Church. I had been invited to travel to the Holy Land with the Bishop where I would meet my life champion, the Venerable john Paul II. Days before I was to leave, my father had a serious heart attack. Paul Schenck, then an Episcopal minister, went in my place. There, in the land where Jesus walked, he met the Venerable John Paul. It was meant to be.

In 2004 I served as the Deacon at the Mass where Fr. Frank Pavone received Paul into full communion with the Catholic Church. Paul laid aside his ordained ministry in the Reformed Episcopal Church to become a Catholic. Over the years that followed he and I discussed his desire for ordination. I watched him go through what I have watched others go through who have walked the same road. His hunger for the fullness of the truth in the Catholic Church led him to give up ordained service. However, I believed that the Lord had called him and I believed that the Lord would make a way. In fact, He did.

It was with this background that I traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to attend his priestly ordination. The evening I arrived, he showed me the worn copy of the Liturgy of the Hours I had given him all those years ago, inscribed to "Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck" and smiled broadly. With a dispensation from Rome waiving the celibacy requirement, Paul was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by his friend, Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Fla. I sat next to my brother deacons and behind the numerous priests who were present and wept through most of the exquisitely beautiful ordination. His wife and children were there, along with a Church filled with people whose lives have been touched by his service to the Lord. They came from his days as a Pro-Life champion, an Assemblies of God Pastor, an Episcopal minister and now, as a Catholic Priest.

Fr. Paul was the founding Director of the National Pro-Life Center (NPLC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and serves as Chairman. The Center has a unique mission to those who administer Justice. The offices are in a lovely brownstone building directly across from the United States Supreme Court. It is wonderfully ironic that this Pro-Life champion who suffered the brunt of injustice in the Courts now ministers to those who administer Justice. The Center gives the Justices of the Supreme Court, their high level staff, members of the federal judiciary, members of the US Senate and other public policy makers the information, education and inspiration they need to better form their consciences so they will make better decisions and help to build a truly just society for all men and women, including our first neighbors in the womb.

He has asked this Catholic Deacon and Lawyer to help him with the work of the Center. I have agreed to serve as the John Paul II Fellow and Special Counsel to the National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill. I accept very few such requests at this stage in my life. With my work as the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online (which will continue), writing a dissertation for a PhD in Moral Theology at Catholic University, diaconal ministry, limited law practice and family life. I have a full plate! However, I prayed and could not resist another assignment with this Pro-Life hero. I will be writing about the important work of Fr. Paul Schenck and the National Pro-Life Center in the months ahead and invite our readers to pray that it bear fruit. You can read about the work here.