Interview with Fr. Frank Pavone

Arthur J. Brew

Document Publication: The Wanderer - St. Paul, MN

Publication Date: February 15, 1996

(Fr. Frank Pavone has been national director of Priests for Life since September, 1993. Begun by Fr. Lee Kaylor of San Francisco, Priests for Life is a national organization which seeks to unite and encourage all priests and deacons who give a special emphasis to the life issues in their apostolates. It is a private association and maintains close contact with the bishops' pro-life office and diocesan respect life coordinators. By joining Priests for Life, a priest or a deacon does not in any way leave his diocese or religious Order.

Fr. Pavone is a member of the Archdiocese of New York. Fr. Richard Hogan of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis assists him.)

Q. Why do we need a group called "Priests for Life"? Isn't every priest "for life"?

A. Every human being should be for life. Every Christian, by definition, is called to stand for life. Every doctor is supposed to protect life. Yet to counteract the crisis of abortion, we have groups like Doctors for Life, Nurses for Life, Scientists for Life. We have Athletes for Life, Students for Life, Teachers for Life, Lawyers for Life. The existence of these groups, and hundreds of others, is meant to assist their members to use their skills, training, and opportunities to defend and promote life.

In this context, it would be strange not to have a "Priests for Life." To be "for life" belongs to the essence of the priesthood. We help priests develop that aspect of their ministry. It is similar to the existence of religious orders like the Society of Jesus or the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. They are not the only ones who believe in Jesus or in the Blessed Sacrament. Rather, they emphasize what is central for all of us. So with Priests for Life.

I would like to stress that Priests for Life is for more than priests. It serves the entire pro-life movement, clergy and laity, across denominational lines. Our materials (pamphlets, audio tapes, and videotapes), training seminars, speakers, and projects serve anyone who wants to do something to end abortion.

Q. How are the activities of PFL finance,. and how big is your staff?

A. Our activities are financed by individuals all over the country who send donations, mostly in response to direct mail appeals. We do not at this point receive funding from any one major source. We are a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.

Our staff consists of eight people, among whom are three priests and five laypersons. Four of us work at our main location in Port Chester and the others work from Staten Island, Chicago, St. Paul, and Dallas.

Q. Are you getting cooperation from the American hierarchy'?

A. Yes. From the initial approval of PFL in San Francisco, to the permission given to me and Fr. Hogan by our respective bishops to work on this full-time, to the 14 bishops on our board of advisors, to the invitations bishops extend to me to speak in their dioceses, to the many bishops who have signed up as members, we see a lot of encouragement and support.

When he served as chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Pro Life Activities, Roger Cardinal Mahony wrote, "I know of no other work in the Church today that so clamors or the active, visible, and vocal involvement of the priests of our nation than Priests for Life.''

Whenever the question of bishops arises, the first thing I have to say is that I am not one of them. I know what the life of a priest is like. The pressures on a bishop are even more complex. Let's pray for them, support them, and let them know we are behind them, welcoming their leadership in teaching truth and leading us to holiness.

Q. How many priests are active members of PFL? Does it have an international membership?

A. Every time I check, there are more of both. By personal contact, media, mail, and phone, we acquire new members every day. As of this moment, there are 1,200 active clergy members and many other interested clergy who just haven't sent in their membership form yet. Some are in other countries, although in order to formally establish PFL in those countries, we will first work through their bishops. I have spoken at some international conferences and in several countries outside the United States, and also reach many countries through my series on EWTN (television) and WEWN (radio), which are both international. So requests for materials and membership often cross the oceans.

Seek Out The Media

Q. Has the Vatican taken notice of PFL?

A. Yes. From the beginning, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has encouraged the growth of Priests for Life and has kept in contact with us. He especially encouraged me to promote the teaching of natural family planning in our parishes. We urge our priest members to do so.

Q. Do you have a newsletter, and if so, how often is it published?

A. We have a newsletter which is published every eight weeks. It goes to about 30,000 priests, thanks to the cooperation of most of the diocesan respect life offices, which include our newsletter in their mailings. The newsletter goes to another 10,000 laity.

Q. How many radio and television appearances have you made?

A. Radio and television have been major avenues for us to get the message out. First, we have had our own series. Mother Angelica had me tape a 14-week series of half-hour television shows on abortion. They have been airing on EWTN four times a week since May, 1995. The worldwide Catholic short-wave radio network, WEWN, had me do an expanded version of the series (26 half-hour radio shows on abortion). These are also airing several times a week. Both series, incidentally, can be purchased.

In addition to this, we constantly produce individual shows which are sent to cable stations around the country. We also have several series produced through the Apostolate for Family Consecration, as well as through Voices for the Unborn in Philadelphia.

In the course of my travels, I have had numerous television and radio interviews, both local and national. Newspaper interviews are also a frequent part of my work.

I urge pro-lifers to seek out these media opportunities. We should not isolate ourselves from the media because we see pro-abortion bias. We should rather get to know people in media and let them get to know us.

Moral And Intellectual Energy

Q. What leads so many women, even believers, to get abortions?

A. So many feel so alone, or fear abandonment. They may feel they will hurt or disappoint important people in their lives, or just not be able to adjust to a baby. Most women getting abortions know it is wrong. They do not do so because of "freedom of-choice"; they do so because they feel they have no choice. Frederica Mathewes-Green, in her book Real Choices, points out that women choose abortion like an animal caught in a trap chooses to gnaw off its own leg.

We are called to have a deep compassion for such women. They need a friend; they need practical alternatives; they need someone to tell them, "You don't have to do this. "

Even believers get abortions because even believers get afraid and desperate, desperate enough to kill.

Q. Why is it that in many of our churches abortion never seems to be addressed?

A. Seeking answers to this question has been a large part of my work. I have written a booklet called, Fathers, Let's Face Our Fears About Abortion, in which I identify 22 possible obstacles the clergy can encounter in addressing abortion.

Anyone publicly addressing a controversial subject asks, "What might I lose? What price might I pay?'' Courage involves the willingness to pay that price. If we fear losing something by speaking about abortion, we need to ask, "What is more important, what I may lose, or the life of a baby?"

We need to place abortion in the proper context. What would we say, and how often would we say it, if 4400 five year olds were being legally destroyed in our nation every day? Is abortion morally any different? Is it any less of a tragedy? In reality, it isn't. But society makes it seem like much less and, in fact, seeks to transform this tragedy into a constitutional right. It takes intellectual, moral, and emotional energy to keep ourselves from drifting into a slumber regarding abortion.

Watching an actual abortion, in films like Harder Truth or Eclipse of Reason, keeps us morally awake and inspires us to speak up and do more about it. I recommend watching such films regularly.

Are there other issues than abortion? Of course there are. But show me one that has more victims.

Why are churches silent? For the same reasons that so many other people are silent. We are in denial. We know that if we fully face what abortion is, we will have to change our lives dramatically. We will not be able to live with ourselves while allowing it to happen. And we are reluctant to make that change. There is a saying, "When one knows enough to realize that to know a little more will involve risk, it is amazing how little one is willing to learn.'' Yet let's not think that by avoiding this issue we will avoid paying the price. By trying to avoid it, we will pay an even greater price in terms of human life, suffering, and guilt.

Let's take the easier road of repentance and a courageous confrontation of evil!

The Truth About Self-Giving

Q. What do you think of the Holy Father's recent statements on the sanctity of life?

A. First of all, let me encourage everyone to read the Pope's encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Particularly those in pro-life leadership positions should read and reread this document which is really a celebration of life.

The Holy Father addresses the core of the problem we face when both in The Gospel of Life and in The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor), he teaches that human freedom cannot be divorced from truth. Of course we have free choice! But why? It is the "why" that society is confused about. "This is my body, my life, my choice!" But why? The Lord gives the answer. "This is my Body, given up for you. "

We have life and freedom so that we can give ourselves away in love to God and others. This is the truth about the human person. A mother who has her own child killed is contradicting that truth about self-giving.

I know from my constant contact with pro-life leaders that The Gospel of Life has greatly encouraged and instructed them. I can see the interest among Catholics as well as among those in other denominations. The Pope is speaking about more than the Catholic faith. He is speaking about the very survival of civilization and humanity. I sum it up this way: This is not a matter of "pro-life" wins or "prochoice" wins. The fact is, if pro-life doesn't win, nobody wins!

Q. How can we get more Americans, especially Catholics, to recognize the horrors of the abortion holocaust?

A. We are dealing here with a double obstacle: ignorance and denial. Ignorance means, ''I don't know''; denial means, "I don't want to know." We need to show people that the abortion tragedy effects everything. Many think they can isolate the issue, thinking it does not involve them. But it does. People like David Reardon are doing full-time research on the harmful effects of abortion on women, men, and the entire society. Dr. Philip Ney has done fascinating research on how abortion affects surviving siblings, even if they do not know they had a brother or sister who was aborted. For example, there are links with rebellious behavior and criminal acts by adolescents. Lawrence Roberge has written The Cost of Abortion, analyzing the impact of abortion on national health, the economy, national security, and other issues of concern to all of us.

We cannot have the daily slaughter of 4400 children and expect society to go on with "business as usual." A price must and will be paid, by all of us. We need to see that abortion cannot be isolated.

To get Americans more awakened to the horror of abortion, we also have to bridge the gap between the word "abortion'' and the reality it represents. The word has lost almost all its meaning. To see what we are talking about, I recommend three things: 1) watch the eight minute video Harder Truth, which shows what an abortion is; 2) look in a standard textbook on human development and see for yourself what a baby looks like at 8, 12, and 20 weeks after conception. Then look in the yellow pages and see the advertisements for abortions through 16, 2O, and 24 weeks or more; 3) read medical descriptions of the actual abortion procedure, such as are found in Warren Hem's text, Abortion Practice.

The public tries to ignore abortion. Pro-lifers must continue to bring the issue forward, in private conversation, by wearing the Precious Feet, by bumper stickers, by letters to the editor, by handing out literature, by lobbying, by life chains and picketing, through cable TV, on the Internet, and by countless other legal, peaceful ways of raising awareness. We will not be silent and we will not go away. Abortion must go away first.

The Survivors

Q. How can we get more young people involved in this struggle against abortion?

A. Young people are open to truth and to challenge. Tell them the truth about abortion and challenge them to bring it to an end! Those born after the Roe-v. Wade decision of Jan. 22nd, 1973, have a particular reason for being involved. Thanks to that decision, the government said that they were non-persons when they were in their mother's womb. It is a personal insult. They are persons now and were persons then, but they had no legal protection or recognition of their right to life. They are literally the survivors. Those aborted since 1973 are those who would have been classmates, friends, and spouses of today's youth!

I see a strong awareness of this among many youth. In fact, I have seen high school yearbooks dedicated to the memory of those who would have been graduating now, had they not been aborted!

There is a significant youth prolife movement in the country, and many particular groups for students, teens, and young adults. I know some who have taken a year, two, or more to dedicate themselves full-time to the pro-life mission! There are efforts to convey the pro-life message through contemporary music. Many young people are reached through the efforts of Pro-Life Athletes, an organized group that provides speakers, videos, and a powerful message. Poster and essay contests are very effective. We did these in my parish, and placed the winning posters in the church vestibule and the winning essays in the bulletin.

Teachers in our schools need to have special updates and training sessions on pro-life issues.

Students also need to know their rights to request pro-life speakers even in public schools. A request coming from the students themselves is more effective than an outside group asking to come in (though we should ask, anyway!). An offer of crisis pregnancy assistance can be a good approach.

Handing out literature on public property adjacent to schools is very effective also, and is a constitutional right.

Campus ministries need to focus on the pro-life message, especially since most abortions occur between ages 19-24.

We have great leaders among our youth. I just called a friend who is a recent Princeton graduate. On his answering machine is a reminder to all who call: "Christians, who worship the Lord and Giver of Life, are required to defend life!"

Q. What do we do with the media, which seem so pro-abortion?

A. We need to use the media and cultivate relationships with those in media work. If those who report news and produce programs do not know pro-lifers personally, then their perception of our movement and message will be what the other side gives them! In every pro-life group, someone should personally know the reporters, editors, and news people of the local secular media in that area. When we have public events, we should invite the media. Give them plenty of advance notice and request a photographer. Some don't invite the media because they fear a biased report. But unless we report the good we are doing, then we will either be passed over in silence or be portrayed by our opposition.

Many opportunities arise in Christian media and I encourage pro-lifers to get the message out through those avenues as well.

"Useless Servants"

Q. Who are your heroes in the pro-life movement?

A. There are so many pro-life leaders who, from the beginning, have taught and inspired me and the entire movement. But in the course of my travels I find such great inspiration from the hidden heroes and heroines in local communities from coast to coast. Some of them have left careers to dedicate themselves to pro-life work. Others have sacrificed money and time and convenience in heroic measure to get the pro-life message out, and yet they say, "We are useless servants, we have only done our duty."

So many endure ridicule and opposition from family, friends, employers, and church members, and yet continue to speak up for the unborn. These are my heroes ad heroines.

Q. What, in your opinion, is the future of the pro-life movement?

A. Victory. In fact, our future is victory because our starting point, is victory: Death has been conquered in Christ. Our task is to apply that victory to society.

When someone asks me why I am "imposing my morality" on, them, I respond, "Don't give me so much credit. It is not 'my morality' or 'my' message! I did not invent it. I received it, and am just as bound to obey it as anyone else."

The message is simply the truth which cannot be hidden forever. Truth prevails.

The Truth about the child becomes clearer as medical research continues to advance.

The truth about how abortion harms women continues to come out, as more women speak about, their sufferings and as former abortionists, now pro-life, continue to come forward.

The truth about how abortion harms society becomes daily more evident, as past promises of abortion supporters prove empty.

The abortion mentality is collapsing under its own weight. Our movement must hasten that collapse, save as many lives as possible in the process, and heal the wounds.

Post-abortion healing will be more and more a major focus of our movement. If all abortions stopped today the mission of healing would still have decades of work to do.

History will praise the pro-life movement, just as we praise the pro-life movements of centuries past. This movement did not begin in 1973. The movement has been present every time people have organized to defend the life and dignity of the vulnerable. It is, in fact the deepest movement of the human heart.

 Leading The Way

Q. How can parish priests get more members of their flocks involved in the struggle to save the unborn?

B The example of the priest: personal commitment is the most effective way to involve the congregation. The priest needs to keep informed about the pro-life movement. We assist with this by means of our Priests for Life newsletter and seminars. The priest needs to preach clearly and consistently about abortion and we provide sample homilies. The priest needs to show his people that fighting abortion is an essential aspect of Christian living. A Christianity that ignores the daily killing of 4400 babies is useless. It will not save anyone and has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. What Christ commands and imparts is love for God and neighbor. When a parish pursues efforts of active love for the babies and their moms—education, crisis pregnancy assistance organized prayer, post-abortion healing, and more—then people will get involved.

In short, we priests must lead the way.

We assist pro-lifers to encourage their priests. We have pamphlets and tapes that address the common frustration, "Why don't our priests do more?" We try to promote an understanding of the complexities of the priest's life, so that our expectations are reasonable. At the same time, we encourage pro-lifers to more closely communicate and build trust between themselves and their priests, so they can encourage them to meet the challenge of abortion.

Q. Do you expect to expand your staff and increase your activities?

A. Yes. In fact, one of the greatest needs of the entire pro-life movement is full-time professionals. We need clergy, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and other professionals to devote themselves to full-time pro-life work. More people are working full-time to kill babies than are working full-time to save babies. This must change.

A growing number of pro-lifers are applying principles of personal support raising that have been successfully used by various Christian missionary groups. Seminars are available to teach people who want to do full-time pro-life work how to raise their own support.

Regarding our activities, we intend to reach every bishop, priest, and deacon and assist them in every possible way to proclaim the Gospel of Life!


(Donations may be sent to Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314, Tel. 888-PFL-3448, Fax 718-980-6515, Email, Web site )

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