Comments on the Joint Statement
By Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life
The joint statement issued by Fr. Frank Pavone
and Bill Baird expresses convictions that both have had for many years, and have
discussed with each other in the past several years. Simply put, when there is a
deeply divided controversy about fundamental rights, people on opposing sides
might conclude that their opponents are stupid, and hence ignore them, or that
they are evil, and hence attack them. We, instead, conclude that our opponents
are our brothers and sisters, and hence that we should get to know them.
The statement does not call for compromise, nor for an end to the
debate on these serious questions. Nor does it seek to create a "middle
ground" position. Both sides, in fact, see themselves as fighting for
fundamental rights that cannot be compromised. What the statement
does address is the manner in which these causes are to be pursued, and the
attitude to be taken toward those who disagree. As Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. said, "Nonviolent resistance …avoids not only external physical violence
but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only
refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him" (Stride
When talking about actions and attitudes that are to be avoided, the
statement does not imply that one or another side is more at fault; it calls
on both sides with equal urgency to show respect to every person. Adherence
to the principles in this statement would require, among other things, that:
a) Physical violence against human beings is always avoided;
b) Dehumanizing comments are avoided, such as those that characterize others
as "the devil," or as having some kind of mental illness simply because of the
positions they take;
c) Women who get abortions are treated respectfully in word and deed, both by
those who attempt to dissuade them from the procedure and by those who provide
d) Slander and false accusations against persons are always avoided.
The statement does not mean that either side must abdicate its
freedom to articulate, clearly and passionately, its position on the issues
The statement calls for positive action that would increase the
communication between the two sides in the "pro-life -- pro-choice"
controversy. This communication should be sincere, frequent, and aimed at
breaking down those stereotypes and prejudices that only make an already
divisive issue even more difficult to handle.
It is also important to understand that what is at issue here is more
than a matter of "different beliefs." Both sides are working to advance what
they are convinced are rights that have to be respected in practice and
in law. Today's statement should not be interpreted to say that
the sum and substance of the controversy is in different "belief systems"
and that the solution is to simply respect those differences. Dr. King's
nonviolence did not leave any room for segregation to continue. The solution
to our problems is not simply to "agree to disagree." But the road to
the solution must always be marked by dialogue and respect, never by
violence or disrespect.