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Priests for Life Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 6
November - December 1999


Why We Can’t "Agree to Disagree"

Comparing the Numbers: Abortion and Capital Punishment

The Unborn: Poor and Marginalized

Prayer Intentions

Priest Profile--Msgr. David L. Cassato

Liturgical Resources

Bulletin inserts

Feedback on our work


Why We Can’t "Agree to Disagree"

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director
Priests for Life

The solution that some propose to the divisive controversy over abortion is that the opposing parties in this dispute should simply "agree to disagree." This is presented as a reasonable option. It does not require that either side change its views, but simply agree to allow the different views, and the practices that flow from them.

Sorry, but this is a proposal we in the pro-life movement can’t accept.

First of all, to ask us to "agree to disagree" about abortion is to ask us to change our position on it. Why, after all, do we disagree in the first place? When we oppose abortion, we disagree with the notion that it is even negotiable. We do not only claim that we cannot practice it, but that nobody can practice it, precisely because it violates the most fundamental human right, the right to life. To "agree to disagree" means that we no longer see abortion for what it is—a violation of a right so fundamental that disagreement cannot be allowed to tamper with it.

To "agree to disagree" is to foster the notion that the baby is a baby only if the mother thinks it is, that the child has value only if the mother says it does, and that we have responsibility only for those we choose to have responsibility for.

Certainly, there are many disputes in our nation about which we can "agree to disagree." Various proposals, programs, and strategies can be debated as we try to figure out how best to secure people’s rights. But these legitimate areas of disagreement relate to how to secure people’s rights, whereas the abortion controversy is about whether to secure or even recognize those rights at all. We can agree to disagree whether certain government programs should be allowed, but not whether acts of violence should be allowed. "Agree to disagree" seems like a neutral posture to assume, but it neutralizes what can never be neutral: the right to life itself.

Furthermore, the abortion dispute is not merely about conceptual disagreement. It’s about justice. It’s about violence, bloodshed, and victims who need to be defended. In the midst of a policy permitting 4000 babies a day to be killed, to "agree to disagree" means to cease to defend the absolute rights of the victim.

We don’t fight oppression by "agreeing to disagree" with the oppressor. It is precisely when the oppressor disagrees that we have to intervene to stop the violence. The fact that the oppressor does not recognize the victim as a person does not remove our obligation to the victim. In the face of injustice, we are not simply called to disagree with it, but to stop it.

The proposal to "agree to disagree" presumes the issue is about people disagreeing over abortion, not about people being killed by abortion. The proposal shows how invisible the unborn victim remains.

It is a false solution indeed.


Comparing the Numbers: Abortion and Capital Punishment

While we use our full strength to abolish both abortion and capital punishment, it is also a healthy perspective to compare the statistics. Official statistics on executions have been recorded only since 1930 by the US Dept of Justice. The figures show there have been 4,381 executions from 1930 until February of this year. There were none in the 1968-1976 period. An historian named Watt Espy, director of the Capital Punishment Research Project in Headland, Al., has traced the history of the death penalty in America. In a work published in 1994, he estimated that 18,645 executions had taken place since the early 1600s in what is now the United States. If you add the 265 that have occurred from 1995 until now, you come up with a figure of 18,910.

Turning to abortion, the website of the Alan Guttmacher Institute (which is strongly pro-abortion) reports that in 1996 alone there were 1.37 million abortions just in the United States. That's 3753 per day, one every 23 seconds. In other words, the total number of deaths by capital punishment, for our entire history, is less than the number of deaths by abortion every five days.

Whether abortion or capital punishment, even one is one too many. God bless all who strive to eliminate both from our midst.


The Unborn: Poor and Marginalized

We continue here our ongoing reflections on why abortion, while not the only issue, is the priority issue of justice in our day.

Abortion not only kills babies, it insults them by saying that there is a right to kill them. But such an insult is not only an insult to the unborn; it is an insult to all of us. Life is the condition for other rights not only in a temporal sense (in other words, you have to be born in order to live), but in a logical and moral sense as well. In other words, my dignity here and now demands the acknowledgment that every human being has the inherent right to life. Take that away from someone else, and you weaken it in me. No man is an island. Either we are all safe together, or none of us is safe.

This line of thought begins to reveal that to argue for the priority attention that the abortion tragedy deserves is, in the end, to argue for the critical importance of every effort to promote human rights and dignity in every circumstance.

A particular type of defenselessness

There is an aspect to the weakness, the poverty of the unborn that deserves more attention. It is a weakness in their ability to make a psychological impact on us. Part of this problem, despite the advancement of imaging techniques that introduce us to the unborn, is "out of sight, out of mind." But the problem is even deeper.

When teens are shot in schools, or people die in an airline disaster, or troops go into war, prayer services are held all over the place. Petitions appear in the General Intercessions at Mass, and expressions of concern appear in the bulletin. Well they should.

Yet when the same number of babies are killed by abortion every few minutes, there is no comparison in the reaction. Instead, in some quarters, objections are raised about even mentioning the fact.

Where is the disconnect here?

On a moral level, we can acknowledge readily enough that all human beings are equal and that, therefore, on the most fundamental level, the taking of a human life is as much of a tragedy in one situation as in another. Considering the moral good being attacked -- human life -- the age of the human being does not make a difference.

But psychologically, there is a big difference, and the unborn are on the losing end of the deal. While their death will have a devastating impact on the mother and father (and others in the family) who will experience some form of post-abortion distress, Why, nevertheless, does their death make less of an impact on us and on society overall? Well, we haven't yet named them or heard their voices…There are no memorable experiences we have shared with them, or bonds of friendship that make their passing so hard to take. Except maybe for some ultrasounds, we have not seen them. Nor have we begun to experience the special, unique features of the personality of each one, or the early signs of the promising contributions they can make to society and history. Because of all this, their loss has less of an emotional price tag.

Here, then, is the challenge for us: Will we respond (and will we help our people respond) to the destruction of a moral good based primarily on its psychological aspect or rather based primarily on its moral aspect?

If the former, then the unborn will continue to receive less attention than the (morally equivalent) destruction of their older brothers and sisters.

…reflections to be continued in the next newsletter…


Prayer Intentions

You are encouraged to remember the following intentions as you pray the Liturgy of the Hours:

November intention: For the women of our own community who are pregnant and afraid of motherhood.

December intention: That the observance of Advent and Christmas may inspire patience and joy in all who learn that they have conceived a child.


Priest Profile- Msgr. David L. Cassato

By Anthony DeStefano, Executive Director

The diocese of Brooklyn is well known for being a melting pot of diverse cultures and ethnic groups. Home to over 4 million people---1.6 million on them Catholics--- its streets are literally pulsating with life and energy. Standing at the head of one of the most vibrant of Brooklyn's parishes is Msgr. David L. Cassato, a priest in the diocese for 27 years, and the long-time pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

Msgr. Cassato is one of those individuals who, by the very force of his personality, seems destined to do great things. Possessed of charisma, charm and extraordinary confidence, he seems almost a throwback to the beloved city priests of the 1940's and 50's, who exerted such a commanding presence in their parish neighborhoods that Hollywood often made movies about them.

Every summer, Msgr. Cassato is the organizer and host of one of the biggest street festivals in the United States. The GIGLIO, as it is commonly called, is a massive, 80-foot tall, three ton, obelisk, made of aluminum tubing and painted paper mache panels, set on a platform holding a 10-piece brass orchestra, and joyously carried through the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn by 112 neighborhood men. Atop this soaring structure, a statue of St. Paulinus, a bishop of Italy who died in A.D. 431, cooly surveys the thousands of people gathered in the sun-baked streets below. The festival, which began in 1903, lasts two weeks and raises over a quarter-million dollars annually for the parish. Unlike other festivals of comparative size, this one is intensely spiritual. 5000 loaves of blessed bread are given away for free during the celebration, as well as 25,000 brown scapulars, to promote devotion to Our Lady. The festival is a tribute to St. Paulinus, who, according to tradition, sold himself into slavery in order to win the freedom of a captive.

Though the festival is not overtly pro-life, St. Paulinus' story of self-sacrifice holds particular meaning for all pro-lifers today, says Msgr. Cassato. Indeed, the entire parish community of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is infused with pro-life enthusiasm and commitment. Every year, for example, the church throws a special Baby Shower for any of the neighborhood mothers who were tempted to have abortions, but chose life, instead; every month, parishioners and priests from the church participate in the prayerful protests at Brooklyn abortion clinics, led by the Bishop of the diocese, Thomas V. Daily. On the lawn stands a beautiful grotto with a statue of the Blessed Mother and a Monument to the Unborn. Immediate counseling is available to any women in the community who is considering abortion; and the parish has an extremely active pro-life committee, headed by Ms. Lucille Forgione.

"The respect for the dignity of all human life is the key to the success of this parish," says Msgr. Cassato. "We have a tremendous ministry to the elderly, the sick, and the homebound. Every month we have prayer services and Stations of the Cross for the critically ill. Our priests even act as chaplains for the local Hasidic Jewish Nursing Home. We look at it as a way to counsel and evangelize those members of society who are most helpless. In addition, we have a ministry to the incarcerated. No one ever loses their dignity as human beings--- not even prisoners."

Msgr. Cassato, like so many other priests and religious in the Brooklyn diocese, credits Bishop Daily for his inspirational leadership. "The Bishop is just amazing," says Cassato. "Seeing him out there on the front lines, praying outside abortion clinics, every single month, year in, year out, is so encouraging and inspiring. He is simply one of the most outstanding pro-life leaders in the world, and I am proud to be a priest in his diocese."

Msgr. Cassato can be reached at: The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 275 North 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11211; Phone: (718) 384-0223.


Liturgical Resources

A Pro-life Hymn

Priests for Life is grateful to Mr. Cal Shenk for bringing to our attention the pro-life hymn he wrote, "O Lord the Giver of all Life," which can be set to the music of "O God Our Help in Ages Past." With his permission, we reprint the hymn here, which you also have permission to reprint for use in your parishes.

O Lord, the Giver of all life

O Lord, the Giver of all life
Whose ways are ever just,
Your people lift their hearts to you
In praise and prayer and trust.

Protect the lives of those unborn;
Let laws reflect your will;
Give us your strength to work for life,
That man may cease to kill.

Help us to know your will for us;
Give courage for the fight.
Dismiss our doubts; renew our hearts
To struggle for the right.

O Mother of the Crucified,
Who bore the Lord of life,
For ev’ry mother intercede;
Be with us in our strife.

Lord Christ, to whom each soul is dear,
For whom each child has worth,
Receive your children who have died
Before their time of birth.

Blest Trinity, O living God,
To you our prayers ascend:
Bring all at last to dwell with you
Where life shall never end.


A Pro-life Opening Prayer

The alternative prayer of the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time provides a good possibility for the opening prayer of a pro-life Mass: "God our Father, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the splendor of creation, in the beauty of human life. Touched by your hand our world is holy. Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us, to share your blessings with our brothers and sisters, and to experience the joy of life in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord."


Bulletin inserts

  • According to the website of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 43% of women will have had at least one abortion by the age of 45. That's a lot of abortion, and a lot of pain. Those who suffer from the aftereffects of this procedure and seek guidance and counseling may call the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing at 1-800-5-WE-CARE.
  • The National Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC is a shiny black wall that stretches 492 feet and lists the names of the 58,022 known Americans killed in that war. If such a wall listed the names of the children killed by abortion since 1973, the wall would be about 60 miles long! The casualties of our wars put together are fewer than the casualties from abortion in a single year.


Feedback on our work

Christopher Kindness

Priests for Life is grateful to the Christophers and their Director, Fr. Tom McSweeney, for the TV interview recently taped with Fr. Frank Pavone. In a follow-up letter, Fr. McSweeney wrote, "While viewing the program, I was especially touched by the compassion and non-judgmental attitude you convey to women who have had an abortion. Please know of my profound appreciation…"


Note: This newsletter is available by email, along with a bi-weekly column written by Fr. Frank. Subscribe free of charge at


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