Priests for Life/Missionaries of the Gospel of Life
Experiment with a Community
Priests for Life/Missionaries of the Gospel of Life have been engaged in a process of review, with the help of all our advisors, regarding the best structure to accomplish our mission of ending abortion.
At the same time, we have undertaken a review of our pro-life strategies, the needs of the movement, and the best use of our strengths against the weaknesses of the abortion industry. This review has taken into account the strategic discussions and practical partnerships we have with pro-life leaders on a daily basis, concerning the needs of the movement and the fastest way to accomplish our goals.
Priests for Life, as a Private Association of the Faithful, has been successful in moving toward these goals, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people into every facet of the pro-life movement, educating countless more through the media, building up the largest pro-life organization in the nation, fostering political responsibility among the People of God, healing women and men hurt by abortion and helping them speak out in organized ways, and inspiring and networking the clergy.
From the beginning, the approach of Priests for Life has not been to create new structures, but rather to infuse the existing structures (of Church, media, government, and other organizations) with more awareness, motivation, and effectiveness for the fight against abortion. That approach continues to bear fruit, as we are often the only pro-life presence amidst the many environments in which we travel.
Yet when Fr. Frank Pavone began traveling the country in late 1993, many young men who felt a call to the priesthood began approaching Priests for Life, asking if it was a community they could join to do full-time pro-life ministry. That led Fr. Frank to initiate discussions in 1995 – first with Cardinal John O’Connor, who had established the Sisters of Life -- about the possibility of Priests for Life eventually giving rise to some kind of community or society that could accept and ordain its own seminarians. (Fr. Frank had already begun thinking about that in 1991 when Cardinal O’Connor announced the establishment of the Sisters of Life.) Those discussions continued through a decade, as the mission, spirituality, and ministerial experience of Priests for Life continued to mature.
Meanwhile, apart from any community or society, more priests received permission to do the work of Priests for Life on a full-time basis, and the full-time lay pastoral associates also grew in number. Priests for Life became one of the most well-respected and influential groups in the pro-life movement.
The discernment, therefore, that had to be undertaken along the way, and into the present, was whether to conserve our energies and our focus on our abortion-related mission, fulfilling it through the Pastoral Team that had come together and could continue to expand in its current structure, or taking on the additional responsibilities of training men for priesthood and life in a community.
Moreover, as opportunities arose for owning land and constructing buildings, some of our bishop advisors and donors asked why we would need to do that if the functional model we already had was working sufficiently. It was a valid question, though not a determinative one.
Permission was eventually obtained to establish a community, and the decision was made to move forward, not because all the questions had been resolved, but because there was enough certainty to test out this approach. It was our conviction that we should leave no stone unturned in the effort to marshal the forces of the Church against abortion.
Evaluating the situation two years after the founding of the community, however, it seemed best to have one canonical entity rather than two. Currently, therefore, there is only the Association Priests for Life, which will also be called “Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.” There is not a separate Society of Apostolic Life. As a Private Association of the Faithful, moreover, Priests for Life does not have its own seminarians.
It seems best that the association remain focused specifically and exclusively on the pro-life work itself, and leave to dioceses and religious communities the specific task of forming men for the priesthood. Priests for Life is always working, however, to supplement that training, both before and after ordination, with specialized training in the many facets of the pro-life movement.
The ministry of Priests for Life/Missionaries of the Gospel of Life will continue to be to train, equip, and encourage the faithful – clergy and laity – to build the Culture of Life. Both laity and clergy may work full time for the association. Moreover, our lay associates will continue to receive training in our spirituality and mission, and can make promises to live out that spirituality and mission as Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.
Some of the same reasons that delayed the founding of a community (about which discussions began in 1995 and led to the founding ten years later), are the same reasons that now make it seem best that Priests for Life remain an Association of the Faithful. These include:
a) As has been mentioned, the mission has met with significant success within the bounds of its current assets of personnel, buildings, and resources;
b) Priests for Life makes extensive use of media, therefore making a specific geographical locale for its ministry less relevant to the overall impact;
c) Priests for Life pastoral team members are itinerant missionaries, and this also lessens the importance of having a centralized location or sinking roots deeply into any one place;
d) The specialty of this ministry is the pro-life cause, and energies and resources should be placed on that rather than on formation of men toward ordination;
e) There is an inherent urgency to the mission of defending the unborn and vulnerable, and that goal is within reach. At the same time there is an inherent delay factor in forming a community and training men not only for ordination, but then giving them adequate priestly experience in order then to specialize and work effectively with other priests to show them how to strengthen the pro-life dimensions of parish work. That is hard to do when one has never done parish work.
In the light of all these factors, therefore, Priests for Life/Missionaries of the Gospel of Life will continue as a single Association of the Faithful, focusing on its specific pro-life mission, without the founding of a canonically distinct community. We believe that this realignment will best assist us and our collaborators to more quickly and effectively reach the goal of restoring protection to unborn children.
Click here for a joint statement from Priests
for Life and the Diocese of Amarillo
A New Chapter in the Pro-Life Movement