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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 Toward Freedom).

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 the procedure;

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 themselves.

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.

Priests for Life
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