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Fr. Pavone Inspires Reflection on Abortion and the Culture of Life

This man of God reminded me of the purpose and power of the priesthood


Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online


My wife and I recently had the pleasure to attend Mass being offered by Fr. Pavone, the director of an international organization, Priests for Life. His homily was based on real human experience and deeply meaningful. When his homily is contrasted with an article, considered a classic defense of abortion, it becomes clear why the pro-life movement stands for truth and the abortion movement is shallow and perverse. After Mass, I asked him if there was one thing he would like to say that I could use to quote him. He said, "We who reject abortion do not reject those who have had an abortion."

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Father Frank Pavone recently offered Mass at our parish, and my wife and I had the great pleasure to meet him. Fr. Pavone is well known as the director of Priests for Life, an international organization representing a family of ministries for the clergy and laity within the pro-life movement. You might recall seeing him in the news. He was the priest who stood by Terri Schiavo and her parents as they fought for their daughter's life.

I would like to share some of the comments Father made in his homily. I have listed a total of seven. Of course, these comments merely reflect my understanding of what he said. I would also like to contrast these comments with a couple examples from an article that is referred to as a "classic in the abortion debate." I believe that this little exercise will reveal something important about the respective movements that Father and the author of the article represent.

1. The first point in Father's homily that caught my attention was when he said that the idea of freedom of choice is false. Based on his experience, the women who have had an abortion do not generally feel a sense of freedom; they feel trapped--pressured by their circumstances or by the people in their lives. I understand that when people cause this pressure, it is often so intense that it amounts to coercion. It is against the law in the state of Tennessee for anyone to coerce a woman into having an abortion. It should be against the law in every state and every country.

2. People who support abortion often accuse those who are pro life of not caring about the mother. Fr. Pavone made it very clear that this is not true. He said at Priests for Life, they love both the mother and the unborn child, and the father too. I believe this is true of most people in the pro-life movement as well. The Priests for Life website lists many ministries and agencies that offer various kinds of help to mothers. Fr. Pavone mentioned two well established programs that back up his claim about loving the mother--Rachel's Vineyard and Option Line.

3. Rachel's Vineyard offers weekend retreats for post-abortive healing. Anyone suffering directly or indirectly as a result of  abortion is welcome. This includes fathers, siblings, grandparents, and friends, as well as post-abortive mothers. The retreats are primarily offered throughout the United States and Canada. Option Line is a free, 24/7 consultation service for pregnant women. They are available via phone or the Internet. According to their website, they can connect you with one of approximately 1800 pregnancy centers where you can get testing and answers to all your questions.

4. Father also noted that many people say abortion is morally wrong and they are personally against it, but others have the right to get one. Then he showed us that this thinking is not realistic or consistent with the way we treat other moral acts. For instance, we would never hear these people say that they are personally against stealing or murder, but others have the right to steal or commit murder. Societies do not normally let people engage in behaviors they consider morally wrong. Yet, for all practical purposes, I believe this is the path that modern Western societies have taken.

5. Perhaps one reason why our society is so tolerant of abortion is due to our perception of our bodies. Father made a powerful distinction between two such perceptions. One is based on the idea that our bodies are for us alone, that we control them. But Father pointed out that this idea eventually leads to the idea that we can kill. Thus, promiscuity has led to abortion. Once society accepts abortion, it can accept other reasons to kill. For instance, I understand that forced euthanasia is already being practiced in some countries. The second perception is based on the idea that we have bodies so we can give them or use them for the sake of others. This idea, he said, gives life. The distinction between these two different perceptions is beautifully depicted in a music video by Dana. The title of the video is "This Is My Body." It is about 6 1/2 minutes long. Father suggested the idea to her, and I believe she created a real work of art.

6. Father also told us that more human beings die from abortion than any other illness or natural disaster. He also gave us some sobering statistics: Approximately 4000 die from abortion in the U.S. every day, and 50 million die from abortion in the world every year. As a result, he said, one of the concerns today is that we will not get the healthcare we need. Then he recalled an experience he had during Terri Schiavo's final days. After the court ordered her death, he was visiting her, and he noticed that a vase of flowers had been placed in her room. The vase was filled with water; yet, according to the court order, Terri was not permitted to have a single drop of water. 

7. In light of the apparent direction healthcare is heading in our country, Father informed us that Priests for Life offered a document called a "Will To Live." In the event that you become unable to make your own healthcare decisions, this will serves to express your desire to be treated according to the norms of your faith. This idea reminded me that when we are the weakest and most vulnerable and we have to go to a hospital, we no longer know if we will be treated like children of God or treated like soulless products of evolution.

In order to contrast Father's comments, I would like to share a couple examples from an article that I recently found in a book on moral philosophy. The title of the article is "A Defense of Abortion." The author is Judith Jarvis, a philosophy professor at MIT, now retired. The article was written two years before Roe v. Wade, and it is referred to as a classic in the abortion debate. I find it absolutely incredulous. But you need to see for yourself. Two of her examples in support of abortion are as follows.

In the first example, a woman is kidnapped and a famous, unconscious violinist is surgically connected to her because he needs her kidneys in order to stay alive. He is expected to fully recover in nine months. After that time, he will be disconnected from the woman. Dr. Jarvis notes that it is morally wrong for the woman to be forced into this situation, and the woman has a right to disconnect the surgical connection between her and the violinist even though it will kill him. Based on this example Dr. Jarvis concludes that women have the right to kill their unborn children.

In her second example, she describes a woman who voluntarily opens a window in her house and leaves it open. Then she imagines "people-seeds" blowing into the house through the open window like pollen and becoming implanted in the woman's carpet and upholstery. Based on this example Dr. Jarvis asks, "Does the person-plant who now develops have a right to the use of your house . . . despite the fact that you voluntarily opened your windows . . . ?" She answers, "Surely not"!

Neither one of these examples represents a meaningful connection to reality. The first example compares a woman being forcibly attached to a violinist with a woman's experience of pregnancy. But this example does not offer a meaningful description of pregnancy, and it ignores the significance of motherhood. The second example is even more ridiculous. Some people may find it cute to compare "people seeds" coming into a house with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, but it does not say anything meaningful about human sexuality or the relationship between a mother and her child. And a woman who voluntarily opens a window in her house does not tell us anything about free will or responsibility. These examples are meaningless.

Nevertheless, she uses these ridiculous examples to conclude that women have a moral right to kill their unborn children. However, since her examples do not represent a meaningful relationship with the realities she is trying to analyze, her conclusion hinges on pure fantasy, and is, therefore, irrational, in addition to being false. That this article is considered a classic argument in the abortion debate indicates that the movement is not only on the wrong side of the debate, it does not even have a legitimate rationale. Perhaps this partly explains why the abortion movement is so shallow and perverse.

In contrast to these ridiculous examples, Fr. Pavone's comments are rational and based on real human experience. Consequently, they are meaningful. Father's comments remind me of truth. Sometimes it is difficult for us to face the truth about certain things. But when we do face the truth, it can give us peace, evoke compassion in us and motivate us to love our neighbor. This is obviously what has happened to Father and most people in the pro-life movement. It is also why I wanted to write this article. When I met him, I asked him if there was one thing he would like to say that I could use to quote him for this article. He said, "We who reject abortion do not reject those who have had an abortion."

This man of God reminded me of the purpose and power of the priesthood. We hear so many negative things today about the priesthood. While some of the things we hear are true, the greater truth is that the vast majority of our priests are good and faithful servants of God. They give us an excellent example, and they are making a positive difference in this world in spite of a difficult situation. God bless our priests and all those who work selflessly to promote a culture of life. May He also have mercy on those who have experienced suffering due to abortion and bring healing and peace to them and our society. 
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.


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