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Report on Recent Activities of Priests for Life

August 30, 2011

The following update provides a glimpse into some of the activities carried out by Priests for Life during the summer of 2011. This particular report highlights many of the activities of the National Director, Fr. Frank Pavone; there are additional reports that cover the work done by the Pastoral Team, including Dr. Alveda King, Marie Smith, Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke, Janet Morana, Bryan Kemper, Fr. Victor Salomon, Fr. Denis Wilde, OSA, Fr. Scott Daniels, OP, and others who work with the twelve ministries that comprise the Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Family.

1. National Clergy Training

Priests for Life continues to build innovative methods of reaching and communicating with the clergy. Working with the other priests on the team, Fr. Frank Pavone has developed a database of thousands of the nation’s most active and interested pro-life priests, and communicates with them through conventional means (such as regular phone calls made by the priests on the Priests for Life team) as well as through regularly scheduled webcasts. The project of providing homily hints for preaching the pro-life message from the readings of each Sunday for all three years of the liturgical cycle continues to be presented to priests by means of internet, email, and smart phone applications.

Fr. Frank continues to produce You Tube videos each week which provide the priests with commentary on the Sunday readings, as well as with a review of the elements of the booklet “Addressing Abortion with Confidence” which address common concerns the clergy have regarding addressing pro-life issues.

2. Rachel’s Vineyard Update

Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion, operates under the umbrella of Priests for Life, and its founders and directors, Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke, are full time employees of Priests for Life.

Approximately a thousand retreats are held each year worldwide, many of them with the sponsorship of the local diocese. These retreats operate under two models: the Catholic retreat and the interdenominational retreat.

To preserve the integrity of Catholic doctrine and liturgical practice, and to preserve both therapeutic and legal integrity as well as consistency in the use of the name “Rachel’s Vineyard,” these retreats are conducted according to the guidelines laid out in the Retreat Manual.

In 2011, Cardinal Justin Rigali provided the Imprimatur for the newly-revised Catholic Manual. Fr. Frank Pavone (Pastoral Director) and Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke have guided the process of the revision of this manual, and in recent months have guided the process of providing the retreat leaders with their copy of the new manual and with detailed training in the changes that have been made in the new manual. These changes were explained at the bi-annual leadership conference, held in Malvern, PA in July of 2011, and continue to be explained via conference calls held in August and September.

The Leadership Conference held from July 17-21, 2011 was attended at full capacity with some 250 Rachel’s Vineyard leaders from around the world. Bishop David Choby, Bishop of Nashville, was in attendance for the whole conference and offered one of the Conference masses. Workshops were presented by Theresa and Kevin Burke, Fr. Frank Pavone, and other experts. Fr. Pavone also had a special meeting of the psychiatrists and psychologists present at the conference, to establish a special advisory board to continue to give professional measurement to the impact of the Rachel’s Vineyard model and to also be available to respond to questions both privately and publicly regarding the reality of post-abortion trauma.

Meanwhile, we are currently putting together additional material that summarizes some of the key points about Rachel’s Vineyard that are critical to understand, and dispels some of the common myths.

3. Silent No More Awareness Campaign

The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is not a separate organization, but rather a major, worldwide project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life. It was co-founded in 2003 by Janet Morana (Executive Director of Priests for Life) and Georgette Forney (President of Anglicans for Life). This Campaign is the world’s largest mobilization of men and women who have lost children to abortion, have found healing, and who share their testimony.

The Campaign focuses on extending the invitation to healing after abortion, educating the public on the harmful effects of abortion, and giving voice to those who share their abortion stories. The Campaign carries out its work through the assistance of Regional Coordinators. There is an extensive manual for these coordinators, and the co-founders of the campaign, along with Fr. Frank Pavone (Pastoral Director), have recently revised the manual and issued the revised version to the Regional Coordinators. Through training sessions, in person and via conference calls, have assisted these coordinators to understand and implement the changes.

Moreover, the Campaign has launched in the past year the practice of “Partnering.” Churches, organizations, and pregnancy centers who “partner” with the Campaign commit themselves to spreading the invitation of healing, helping post-abortion clients discern properly the call to share testimony, and utilizing the testimonies of those who have already provided them, including offering opportunities for such individuals to speak at events, in Churches, in legislative assemblies, and in the media. The Campaign strictly enforces professionally crafted guidelines for the discernment and protection of those who feel called to share their testimony.

To foster the Partnering model, Fr. Frank has utilized the relationships he has built over the past two decades with the national networks of Pregnancy Centers, and over the past year has presented the Partnering concept at the national conventions of both Heartbeat International and Care Net, and is utilizing webcasts to supplement those presentations. Many of the centers which have post-abortion counseling, as well as other post-abortion healing programs, not only offer the opportunity for clients to provide public testimony, but also offer the opportunity to “register their regret” anonymously, that is, to  offer their permission, through the website, to be counted as one who regrets her abortion. This provides an informal but powerful way for the Campaign and its partners to measure the extent of post-abortion grief.

4. Training and Networking National Leaders

Through the personal trust he and Priests for Life have built up in the past two decades, Fr. Frank Pavone plays a key role in providing national pro-life leaders opportunities to network with each other and receive ongoing education and spiritual strength.

a) The Pro-life Leadership Coalition – Priests for Life has built the “Pro-life Leadership Coalition,” which has held annual meetings the past two years at Ave Maria University in Florida. Gathering approximately 40 national pro-life leaders, this coalition utilizes the format of an all-day meeting of such leaders. The meeting is prepared for by having the leaders fill out a specialized survey that gathers their assessment of the key current challenges and opportunities of the movement. The results of the survey are distributed to the members for study prior to the meeting itself, so that when the meeting starts, there is already a high level of awareness of the thinking of those in the room. The meeting then proceeds with a structured discussion among the members. There are no speakers or presentations, but rather an effort to discern what steps can be taken by all the groups together. These meetings have led to unanimous consensus for action among the groups. The first meeting focused on the need to activate the African-American community on abortion, and led to the commissioning of surveys and focus groups which were then distributed to and discussed among the member groups. The key point of consensus on which the second meeting focused was the utilization of post-abortion testimony by all the groups, and joint action will occur on this during the latter part of 2011.

b) Retreats for Pro-life Leaders – Priests for Life conducts retreats for national leaders in the pro-life movement. At the gracious invitation of Judge William Clark (former National Security Advisor of the United States), these retreats are held at his ranch in California approximately twice a year, and have, for over a decade, provided leaders with the opportunity to get to know each other better and to seek the Lord together, so as to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary divisions. Various concrete, join programs of action have sprung up as a result, despite the fact that the retreats are centered on prayer and fellowship rather than on business and strategy sessions. Preparations have been underway for two such retreats in 2012.

c) National Pro-life Religious Council – Fr. Frank serves as President of the National Pro-life Religious Council, which is the interdenominational umbrella group in the United States that networks leaders of Protestant and Evangelical churches in the cause of life. Some of the leaders organize efforts in denominations that are no longer pro-life; such efforts seek to return those denominations to the historical and Biblical Christian pro-life position. Various meetings and strategic sessions have been held this summer.

d) Other Confidential Meetings – Other strategic meetings of pro-life leaders are held regularly and facilitated by Priests for Life. The nature of these meetings is confidential and beyond the scope of this report.

5. Preparation for the 2012 National Elections

For nearly two decades, Priests for Life has been vocal and active, in a completely non-partisan way, in the national elections in the United States. The focus of these efforts has been to a) encourage and train clergy, churches, and Catholic organizations to call people to faithful citizenship in full harmony with the teachings of the United States bishops; b) disseminate the documents of the bishops on the theme of political responsibility, including the creation of study guides, bulletin inserts, and sample articles; c) encourage and train people to conduct non-partisan voter registration, voter education, and get-out-the-vote drives; d) help other organizations that are structured as 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit entities to understand more clearly what they can do in this arena and provide them with training in how to do it; e) raise public awareness through speaking engagements and the media about the responsibility to be politically active and the primacy of the right to life in every election.

In accordance with these aims, Priests for Life has formed the Vote Pro-life Coalition, a non-partisan network of over 30 organizations who are interested in pursuing joint action to increase awareness among their members regarding how elections work and how they can advance the cause of life in those elections. The Coalition makes use of internet technologies, such as webcasts, to educate and mobilize people on short notice.

6. Media Presentations on the Pro-life Message

Priests for Life has the world’s most widely broadcast and longest-running series of programs about abortion. Thanks to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and Mother Angelica’s invitation to Fr. Frank Pavone in 1994 to create a series about abortion, the program “Defending Life” has circled the globe ever since on radio and television, in both English and Spanish. Current production has doubled, so that two 13-episode series are created every year, the next one due to be recorded in September 2011. In addition to these half-hour episodes aired several times a week, Fr. Frank continues to produce, in English and Spanish, short spots that air during the course of each day. Moreover, radio, TV, and internet broadcasts continue to be produced by Priests for Life for other outlets, both Catholic and secular.

 Janet Morana, Priests for Life’s Executive Director, is also currently producing the EWTN series “The Catholic View for Women,” which she co-hosts along with Teresa Tomeo and Astrid Bennett-Gutierrez. The first six episodes have aired and the next 13 are being created now, as is a study guide to accompany the programs.

Along with this religious media, Fr. Frank continues to be a key point of contact for the pro-life news items that appear on various secular networks. Priests for Life implements a year-long plan for developing relationships with media executives.

7. First National Sidewalk Counselors’ Training Seminar

Fr. Frank gave the keynote opening address this summer at the first national training seminar on sidewalk counseling, organized by the Pro-life Action Ministries, based in St. Paul, MN. Close to a hundred activist-leaders from around the country, representing groups with which Priests for Life has worked consistently through the years, attended this meeting and strategized about how to extend to others this kind of training, and about what issues were most important to tackle.

8. Synod of Bishops 2012 

Among the various collaborative projects Priests for Life undertakes with Church offices in Rome, input is now being assembled to send to the 2012 Synod of Bishops, which will discuss the topic of the “New Evangelization.” Using the preparatory document (“Lineamenta”) that has already been issued by the committee preparing the Synod, Priests for Life will provide reflections as to how the topics of concern to the Synod incorporate and intersect with the pro-life mission of the Church.

9. Society of Centurions 

For some 18 years, under the leadership of Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Philip Ney, the Society of Centurions has existed to provide a mutually encouraging fellowship of those who have used their professional skills to kill children by abortion, but now have ceased to do so. Like the Centurion who, upon taking part in the death of Jesus, repented and declared, “Surely, this was an innocent man,” so the Centurions of today, having partaken in the deaths of unborn children, have repented and declared, “Surely, these were innocent lives.”

These individuals need healing, and a helping hand to walk the difficult path of re-humanizing the children they killed by re-humanizing themselves. The Society of Centurions provides this path to healing through powerful seminars that gather and guide such former abortion providers.

Priests for Life and Fr. Frank Pavone are playing a key role in announcing and fostering this healing, and in working with Dr. Ney in both developing and carrying out this unique program. Fr. Frank and Dr. Ney are currently identifying more Centurions and planning for a gathering in the near future to bring them through this special process of spiritual and psychological healing. In his role in assisting former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson in her conversion, Fr. Frank has been working with her to give guidance to those who, on reading her book or hearing her story, are deciding to follow in her footsteps and leave the abortion industry.

10. Blackstone Fellowship 

Fr. Frank taught again this summer in the Blackstone Fellowship. Organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, this fellowship brings together hundreds of law students from across the United States to impart to them a deeper understanding and skill in defending and promoting a Christian worldview of the law and the current issues facing the law, including the sanctity of life.

11. Leadership in other National Events  

The entire Pastoral Team of Priests for Life has been on the road all summer and at the center of all the national initiatives of the pro-life movement. Our Youth Outreach under Bryan Kemper has toured, with its interdenominational mission teams, Christian concerts from coast to coast, setting up pro-life information booths at each stop. Marie Smith and her husband Congressman Chris Smith have spoken in Rome, and Marie has continued to assist legislators worldwide with the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (one of our ministries). In its status as an NGO at the United Nations, Priests for Life continued its work over the summer with other UN agencies and NGOs, and continued providing assistance to the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission – among other things, having Fr. Frank Pavone speak to its group of student interns who came to New York for a week from around the United States. Alveda King brought the pro-life message into the midst of the media and other events surrounding the dedication of the new memorial to her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC.

Fr. Frank was the principal speaker at the “Summer of Mercy” events in Maryland, where pro-life activists gathered from around the country to protest (and temporarily shut down) the late-terms abortionist LeRoy Carhart. Fr. Frank was also a principal speaker at the National Right to Life Convention; at the Operation Save America annual national event at which he presided over a funeral service for an aborted baby; at the EWTN 30th Anniversary Family Celebration in Birmingham; at the San Diego West Coast pro-life conference; at the national convention of the Catholic Marketing Network; at the international conference of Couples for Christ; at the Night Vision Christian Festival in Colorado (where he was joined by other members of the Priests for Life team to bring, for the first time, a key pro-life theme into this major event); at the groundbreaking of the nation’s first maternity and pregnancy care center on a college campus (at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina); and at the Doylestown, PA Mass to welcome, for her first visit to the United States, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St Gianna Beretta Molla, who gave her life for her child. Dr. Molla’s visit to the United States began with a visit to the Priests for Life headquarters in Staten Island, NY, where she spoke to the staff and enshrined an image and relic of her saint-mother.

Aside from these national events, Fr. Frank and the other priests and lay speakers of Priests for Life presented the pro-life message at dozens of local pro-life events and rallies across the country.

Priests for Life and its leadership team also continue to provide strategic guidance to many pro-life initiatives that they have been involved in getting off the ground.

12. The 20th Anniversary  

The year 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the recognition given by Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco in 1991 of Priests for Life as a Private Association of the Faithful (according to Canon 299).

In observance of this anniversary, a special 20-year report on the ministry of Priests for Life is being prepared, as are special anniversary masses and celebrations. 

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