Priests for Life Newsletter
Volume 12, Number 1
January - February 2002
I am A Man
US Bishops Announce New Pastoral Plan
Please Put a Life-Saving Number on your
A Ministry of Encouragement: Priests for
Life, the Bishops, and Pro-life Projects
Priest Profile -- Fr. Joseph Looney
I am a Man
January 15 is the national holiday of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. February is Black History month. The Civil Rights
movement, and the evil of segregation which it fought, have many inspiring
lessons for our current struggle to achieve justice for the unborn. One of the
signs carried by Negroes who peacefully marched for their rights said, simply,
"I am a Man." The need for society to rediscover the humanity of its oppressed
members is a key link between the Civil Rights movement and the pro-life
In his famous "I Have a Dream"
speech at the march on Washington on August 28, 1963, Dr. King used a vivid
image which today is just as applicable to the unborn: "We've come
here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we've come to our
nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the
magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they
were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This
note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be
guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory
note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this
sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which
has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' We refuse to believe that there are
insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation. And so
we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches
of freedom and the security of justice."
The pro-life movement refuses to believe that
there are "insufficient funds" for the unborn. We refuse to believe that somehow
our nation is incapable of opening the doors of equal protection to the tiniest
and youngest human beings.
It is also helpful for us to recall the criticism Dr. King -- now a national
hero -- once endured for the demonstrations he organized.
These criticisms came from clergy
who, while agreeing with Dr. King's ultimate goal, disagreed with his strategy.
Those clergy wrote to him, "We are now confronted by a series of
demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by
outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their
hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations
are unwise and untimely. We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership
which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area."
Dr. King's response was his famous
Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In it he wrote, "You deplore
the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, But your statement, I am sorry to
say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about
the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with
the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does
not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that the city's white
power structure left the Negro community with no alternative…You may well ask:
'Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a
better path?' You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is
the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such
a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused
to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue
that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of
the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must
confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed
violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which
is necessary for growth.
Again, the same answer must be given today to those who fail to see the value
of pro-life demonstrations.
Finally, the following word to the clergy was spoken by Dr. King at his last
speech before he was assassinated:
"I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry. It's alright to talk about
'long white robes over yonder,' in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people
want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's alright to talk
about 'streets flowing with milk and honey,' but God has commanded us to be
concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square
meals a day. It's alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's
preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new
Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we
have to do."
We cannot afford to let our preaching become
disconnected from the injustices around us. That is why we cannot afford to be
silent about abortion, just as the preachers in Dr. King's day could not afford
to be silent about segregation.
US Bishops Announce New Pastoral Plan
Fr. Frank Pavone, Co-Founder of Priests for Life, praised the US Bishops
for their revised Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities: A Campaign in Support
of Life. This document, which can be found at
www.usccb.org/prolife/pastoralplan.htm, was approved at the November 2001
meeting of the US Bishops in Washington DC. The original version of the pastoral
plan was issued in 1975, and then a Reaffirmation was published in 1985.
The new document, Fr. Pavone noted, draws heavily from two important sources
given to us since the last version, namely the Holy Father's encyclical
Evangelium Vitae, and our own bishops'
"Living the Gospel of Life: A
Challenge to American Catholics."
The new statement calls on the whole Church to implement a vigorous plan
involving public education, pastoral care, public policy, and prayer and
worship. It is significant that the document specifically states, "Parishes
should include in the petitions at every Mass a prayer that ours will become a
nation that respects and protects all human life, born and unborn, reflecting a
true culture of life." Priests for Life will continue to provide suggested
intercessions. See the prayer section of our website at
The revised Pastoral plan points out, as the bishops have done in the past,
that a commitment to the consistent ethic of life is compatible with giving
"urgent attention and priority" to the abortion issue, saying it "necessarily
plays a central role." The document also points out the link between abortion
and contraception, as well as the link with Capital Punishment, which
"diminishes the value we place on all human life."
Fr. Pavone pledged the intense efforts of Priests for Life to promote this
new document, and to assist priests to be familiar with it and implement it at
the parish level, in conjunction with the programs of their local bishop.
Other statements of the US bishops, as well as of the Holy Father and other
bishops around the world, on the abortion issue can be found in a very large
collection on the Priests for Life website at
Please Put a Life-Saving Number on your Bulletin
There is an easy way to save lives in your
community: Place, as a permanent item somewhere on the cover of your parish
bulletin, a phone number where people can find alternatives to abortion.
The number itself is up to you. We can provide suggested hotline numbers that
are accessible anywhere in the nation, and which connect people to local
pregnancy resources. Alternatively, you can choose a diocesan or other local
resource. That part is up to you.
We are providing the idea, because we know (from our experience and from
polling data) that most pastors are favorable to this idea. We provide the
following answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
1. I want to keep the bulletin simple.
This idea only takes a few words to implement. See the sample wording
below. Concern about the layout of the bulletin is valid, but certainly
subordinate to the actual service we provide the community, especially when that
service saves lives.
2. If I put a pregnancy assistance number on the bulletin, many other
groups will want their numbers there as well.
We face this problem all the time, but as pastors, we make decisions based
on the most urgent needs. It is certainly praiseworthy to place other types of
hotline numbers on the bulletin as well; we do not suggest that this should be
the only one. At the same time, the bishops have identified abortion as the most
urgent moral problem of our day, and nothing else claims more victims.
3. I need to know more about whom people are calling when they dial these
We encourage you to use the number you are most comfortable with, and this
may involve contacting your local diocesan or community resources for abortion
alternatives. We can provide information on the various national hotlines, and
we encourage you to call them yourself to ask whatever questions you need to ask
before using their number.
4. My community is rather elderly, and therefore this would not be a
concern of theirs.
The people of your parish may be too old to have a child, but they are
never too old to save one. They can certainly spread the information to their
grandchildren, and others, that help is available for those in crisis.
5. People don't read the bulletin.
At least some people do, and it is better that those who do have this
life-saving information than if they do not have it.
6. People may not be attracted to a "national" hotline.
A local number can be used. Furthermore, most of these national numbers
will refer the individual to the helping centers nearest to them.
The notice on the bulletin can take, for example, one of the following
There are alternatives to abortion. Call 1-800-848-LOVE
Pregnant and in need? Call 1-800-848-LOVE
Pregnancy assistance services (nationwide): 1-800-848-LOVE
You are encouraged to remember the following intentions as you pray
the Liturgy of the Hours:
January intention: That Judges may decide cases in a manner consistent
with the fundamental right to life.
February intention: For the protection of the free-speech rights of pro-life
groups and individuals.
A Ministry of Encouragement: Priests for Life, the
Bishops, and Pro-life Projects
From its inception, Priests for Life has had
the philosophy that it exists to serve the existing structures and programs of
the Church's respect life mission. Priests for Life is not an arm
of the USCCB or the Bishops' Committee for Pro-life Activities. We are a
"Private Association of the Faithful" according to Canon Law (#299).
The relationship of Priests for Life to the wider Church should be understood
in the context of the relationship between a priest and his bishop. In other
words, we want to assist priests as they carry out the pro-life dimensions of
their ministry, and as they do so in the context of the pastoral programs
laid out by their own bishop, according to the need of the local diocese.
This is reflected in that part of our
"Clergy Commitment Pledge" which reads, "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."
The official commentary on the Pledge states, "Cooperation with Priests
for Life projects is then mentioned, always within the context of union with
one's own Ordinary. The idea behind this association has never been to come into
a diocese in order to promote one or another program or activity. We come into
dioceses everywhere in the country 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
Our hallmark, in other words, is flexibility. We will help in
the way the diocese wants us to help. It may be to provide a clergy seminar on
the latest trends in pro-life preaching and counseling, or to prepare a teaching
booklet on some specific aspect of the movement on which a diocesan program
Priests for Life is a networking hub for the entire pro-life movement, which
consists of elements belonging to every political and religious affiliation, as
well as those of no religion at all (see, for instance,
www.godlessprolifers.org). We are
therefore able to provide expert advice and networking. Such advice and
information can assist a diocese or parish to further develop its respect life
outreach. We will often make the public aware of specific pro-life initiatives
that we think are useful. Our role is to provide information, make connections,
increase awareness, and foster healthy debate about pro-life strategy. The role
of setting policy is different, and belongs to others.
To sum up, when we are invited to a diocese, we follow its policies to the
letter, and if a diocese wants assistance in developing those policies, we have
an expertise that we are happy to share.
To schedule a Priests for Life priest to speak in your area, contact our
travel coordinator at Travel Office, PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314;
Tel: 888-PFL-3448, 718-980-4400; Travel Dept. Fax: 603-908-3075; email:
Priest Profile -- Fr. Joseph Looney
By Anthony DeStefano, Executive Director
Fr. Joseph Looney preached his first sermon at the tender age of 4 years
old--- to his kindergarten class! It seems there was a lot of talk among his
classmates how wonderful Kris Kringle was, and the future priest felt inspired
to stand up and proclaim to everyone that "God was more magical than Santa
That same spirit of faith, fearlessness and disregard of negative peer
pressure has characterized Fr. Looney's entire life. Influenced strongly by his
father, a bus driver who used to take him to watch his church's drum core
practice, and later by one of his teachers, Sr. Mary Elaine Lavin, a Sister of
Mercy, Fr. Looney was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 1967. His first
assignment was St. Justin's in Hartford, Connecticut. He later went to Sacred
Heart, in Waterbury, and finally, to St. Margaret's, also in Waterbury.
Fr. Looney has been a major pro-life activist since the moment he was
ordained. Before the term "sidewalk counseling" was even coined, Fr. Looney was
on the streets, talking to women, handing out pamphlets and picketing abortion
clinics in Connecticut. Arrested once for leading a peaceful protest, Fr. Looney
soon became friends with famed pro-life activist, Joseph Scheidler.
The encyclical Humanae Vitae,
published in 1968, made a very strong impression on the newly ordained priest.
He recognized early on the close connection between the contraception mentality
and abortion, and consequently expanded his pro-life activities to include
efforts against pornography and very public protests against artificial
contraception. Possessing a tremendous flare for media, Fr. Looney achieved
great notoriety in the 1980's and 90's by staging so-called "condom roasts," in
which boxes of prophylactics were burned openly at the state capitol. Such media
events attracted the ire of many in the secular press. Even Playboy Magazine
reported on Fr. Looney's "subversive" activities.
Passionate about the right to life, Fr. Looney believes that "abortion comes
from fear, while life comes from faith." He insists that, for the pro-life
movement to be successful, priests need to "say that to the people, and show
them what it means to live by faith through our celibacy, our prayer life, and
by our prophetic witness." Fr. Looney also says that priests need to publicly
identify themselves as pro-life, and at the same time as pro-mercy. "We're not
there to put women down," he says, "but to give them a hand up."
Fr. Looney can be reached at St. Margaret's Church, at 289 Willow Street,
Waterbury, CT, 06701. His phone number is: (203) 754-6101.