WASHINGTON - Should priests be speaking to politicians?
Media outlets from the National Public Radio to the Los Angeles Times thought not after Priests for Life unveiled a million-dollar multimedia campaign July 18 to educate Americans about abortion.
But "what we are doing here today," said the organization's director, Father Frank Pavone, "is exactly what the Church has done for centuries: defending human life and challenging the government to do the same." He added: "We will not be intimidated nor frightened into complacency, by those in the government and the media who would prefer us to keep silent behind the walls of the Church sanctuary."
The New York-based organization plans a blitz of advertisements in newspapers and on television, timed with the national conventions, educating Americans about the evil of abortion and also taking to task Christian politicians who protect abortion laws.
"To those who would allow abortion and claim to be Christian, we say: 'Stop being a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus,'" Father Pavone said.
The magnitude of the outreach effort caught the attention of The Washington Post, ABC News, NBC News and the Associated Press - all of which sent journalists to cover the press conference at the National Press Club. The Register first broke the news of the campaign June 11.
Father Pavone used the opportunity to challenge the secular media to show Americans an actual performed abortion so they will understand its true nature. "Our position on abortion would be much easier to understand, and the problem much easier to solve, if the television media would accept the challenge which I have made nationwide and repeat today: Show the American people what an abortion is," he said.
One reporter, who didn't mention her media outlet, asked rather curtly if Priests for Life had any ties with extremist organizations that advocate the killing of abortion doctors. Father Pavone cordially thanked the reporter for the question and stated that Priests for Life has no ties with any such individual or group.
Father Pavone then told reporters about a conversation he had with a friend who had asked him what he thought of a man who had killed abortion doctors. "He's pro-choice," Father Pavone said of the killer. "He thinks that sometimes it's OK to end a life to solve a problem."
Father Pavone said that the outreach effort intends to educate Americans about the U.S. bishops' 1998 statement "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" and the 1999 statement "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium."
He explained that both Christians and Catholics are not to abandon their religious understandings when they vote.
"The eyes that read the Word of God are the same eyes that read the names of the candidates on the ballot," said Father Pavone. "The hands lifted up to God to say 'Amen' to his teachings are the same hands that push down the lever in the voting booth."
But Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said the advertising campaign "may violate federal law" because under the federal code, churches and other similar tax exempt groups are strictly prohibited from intervening in political campaigns.
This project raises serious legal questions," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based organization. "We will be watching closely and will not hesitate to report violations of the law to the Internal Revenue Service."
Father Pavone insisted that the new initiative would be strictly nonpartisan.
Father Pavone said that no final date or place has been set for the launch of the television commercials but that they wouldn't start before the end of August.
'We are not endorsing candidates, commenting on any electoral races or presenting any political strategies," said Father Pavone. "Moreover, I stress that we conduct these efforts as clergy, as pastors. We publicly speak about whether support for abortion does or does not conform to the Gospel. We do not speak publicly about the standing of any particular person."