How Did Priests For Life Start?
New Bishops' Statement
A Key Pro-life Activity for Priests: Recruiting
Pro-Life License Plates
How Did Priests for Life Start?
By Anthony DeStefano
With all the TV and radio work that Fr. Frank Pavone does, and with all
the seminars and parish pro-life weekends given by our five full-time priests,
most people nowadays know about Priests for Life. In fact, a recent survey
showed that over 80% of the clergy in America have at least heard of us and our
mission. That’s quite an amazing statistic for an organization that is still
But how did Priests for Life originally get started? Not many people know
that story. Let me tell you.
In 1990, a West Coast priest named Fr. Lee Kaylor read about a piece of
anti-life legislation on the ballot in Sacramento, California. Convinced he had
to do something to stop it, he called two of his priest friends, Fr. Frank
Felice, a member of San Franciscans United for Life, and Fr. Emmerich Vogt, a
Dominican friar. Together, these three decided to mail a letter to all the
priests of California, urging them to bring the issue into the pulpit and use it
as a springboard to proclaim the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life.
At the time, Fr. Kaylor, who had been ordained in 1981, saw this strictly as
a "one-shot" mailing. He never imagined it would go any further than that.
However, the response from the California priests was incredible. Not only did
he receive dozens of positive letters pledging further support, but he also
received several cash donations for the project. Immediately, a light bulb went
off in Fr. Kaylor’s head. If the response was so great on a local level, then
there must be an equal need for such mailings on a national level. All at once,
Fr. Kaylor conceived the idea of a national organization of clergy, dedicated to
helping priests speak out more effectively on pro-life issues. The name of the
group would be short, simple and powerful: "Priests for Life." The first thing
needed to launch such a group, reasoned Fr. Kaylor, was a newsletter. With the
help of a devout lay person named Delores Anderson, who donated $2000, he
drafted, printed and mailed the first edition to all the dioceses of the United
States. Along with it he sent a letter to all the U.S. Bishops, introducing the
group and asking for their help in distributing the newsletter via diocesan
priest-mailings. Once this was done, Fr. Kaylor left for vacation, putting
everything "in God’s hands."
When Fr. Kaylor returned to his parish a week later, he found that God hadn’t
wasted any time. Not only were there scores of letters waiting for him from
priests all over the country, but his secretary informed him that the parish had
been flooded with phone calls. Even more amazing, the San Francisco diocesan
switchboard had been overwhelmed with calls asking about Fr. Kaylor and Priests
for Life. Fr. Kaylor quickly arranged a meeting with Archbishop John Quinn and
explained his idea for Priests for Life. Archbishop Quinn immediately embraced
the concept and granted the group official approbation.
With the approval of the Church, the tiny organization was on its way.
Enlisting the help of two more priests, Fr. Bob Keifer of San Jose, and Fr. Bob
Cipriano, of San Francisco, Fr. Kaylor set about filing by-laws and applying for
tax exempt status with the government. He was also assisted by a lay couple,
Keith and Mariann Eiler, who headed the Bay Area chapter of Catholics United for
the Faith (CUF), and a lawyer, Mr. Jerry McLaughlin. Together, this team was
responsible for getting Priests for Life off the ground. Without them, the
organization as we know it would not exist today.
Priests for Life grew slowly until 1992, when a
young priest from the New York Archdiocese named Fr. Frank Pavone, learned of
its existence and immediately signed up. Contributing articles to the
newsletter, and meeting with Fr. Kaylor to discuss strategy, Fr. Frank soon
became deeply involved in the work of the group. Recognizing Fr. Frank’s passion
for the cause, and the great gifts he possessed for communicating the pro-life
message, Fr. Kaylor asked the dynamic priest if he would be willing to take over
for him. Fr. Frank, seeing the great potential of the organization, and
discerning the hand of God, approached John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New
York, and asked to be released from diocesan duties so that he could devote all
his time to the work of Priests for Life.
In 1993, Cardinal O’Connor gave Fr. Frank permission to become the first
full-time National Director of Priests for Life, and the rest, as they say, is
Today, Priests for Life has five full-time priests; a staff of over 20 lay
people; offices in New York, California, Washington DC, Michigan, Pennsylvania,
Minnesota, and Rome; pro-life television programming on EWTN and the Odyssey
network, broadcast into 88 million American homes and 38 different countries;
radio shows on WEWN, Catholic Family Radio, and Vatican radio; a newsletter that
goes to 45,000 priests and an additional 50,000 lay people, and a website that
has over 210,000 visitors a month. Fr. Frank is recognized the world over as one
of the most important leaders in the fight for life.
And what of Fr. Kaylor?
That great man went on to other heroic activities. Soon after handing over
the reins to Fr. Frank, he became a chaplain in the United States Air Force, and
saw combat in the final months of Operation Desert Storm. In fact he was one of
only two Catholic priests to serve in the entire region. For his bravery, he won
the South West Asia Service Medal, the Kuwait Liberation medal, the Air Force
Commendation for Meritorious Service, and the National Defense Medal.
In 1995, he was stationed at Tinker Air force
Base in Oklahoma, when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred. Rushing to the scene
of the catastrophe, he began to assist in the rescue effort and later in grief
counseling. For his courage and quick action, he received the Humanitarian
Service Medal from the U.S. Government.
This kind of heroism doesn’t come without a price. When Fr. Kaylor was in the
desert helping lift injured soldiers onto stretchers, he suffered a herniated
rupture of the spine. This severe back injury left him in continued, agonizing
pain, which he has been experiencing every single day for almost seven years.
Until recently, he was the pastor of St. Sebastian’s Church in Greenbrae,
California, just north of San Francisco. However, the pain to his back became so
excruciating that he recently was forced to take a leave of absence and begin
yet another series of back operations.
During this, the 10 year anniversary of Priests
for Life, we think it is particularly fitting to honor Fr. Kaylor for his great
vision and groundbreaking work. An extraordinarily humble man, he has never
wished to take any credit for the accomplishments of Priests for Life,
preferring instead, to call Fr. Pavone, the "Real Founder." Despite our attempts
to give Fr. Kaylor credit on our stationary and to invite him onto our
television shows, Fr. Kaylor has steadfastly chosen to remain in the background.
He is perfectly content, he says, to have played "a small role" in launching
this important organization a decade ago.
Fr. Kaylor can best be reached by writing to the Priests for Life main office
at PO Box 236695 Cocoa, FL 32923. We will be sure to forward all his
mail to him. We encourage all our supporters to send him a congratulatory
letter, telling him how much he has meant to the pro-life cause, and letting him
know that we are all praying for a relief to his suffering. Surely, God must
have more monumental work in store for a man of this caliber.
New Bishops' Statement
Priests for Life welcomes the statement of the United States Catholic
Bishops, "Abortion and the Supreme Court:
Advancing the Culture of Death," issued at their November meeting in
Fr. Frank Pavone, who was present at the meeting, stated, "Once again, the
bishops have used very strong language indicating that no decision of any human
government which claims to authorize the destruction of innocent human life has
any legal validity. Referring to such cases as Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme
Court’s June 2000 decision on partial-birth abortion, the bishops declare, ‘the
Court’s abortion decisions deserve only to be condemned, repudiated and
ultimately reversed.’ We encourage our brother priests and deacons throughout
the nation to put the bishops’ words into practice by preaching clearly and
vigorously that the right to life is more fundamental than any human law,
government, or Court."
The following considerations can prove helpful in preaching, teaching,
bulletin inserts, and even private conversation, as triggers to help people see
the profound contradictions and distortions which abortion brings into our
society. Each of these "thought-starters" has already helped people who are
pro-abortion to start re-thinking their position.
** Dr. James McMahon, now deceased, used to perform the partial-birth
abortion procedure. He was interviewed about it in the American Medical
Association News (July 5, 1993), and was asked how he justified it morally. He
claimed that he did have some moral compunctions and thought it would be great
if the child could be adopted. But then, he said, another and more important
question enters his mind: "Who owns the child?" "It's got to be the
mother," he answered himself. This is one of the clearest pieces of evidence
that abortion is rooted in the same mentality which brought us slavery and is,
in fact, simply a new version of the same. The Gospel message, on the other
hand, is that we belong neither to our parents (in an absolute sense), nor to
the state, nor to ourselves, but to God.
**The government of New York State placed the following anti-smoking
billboards in various parts of the state in 2000: A picture of a cigarette was
shown, and the billboard read, "All it takes to harm an unborn baby is a
little stick." This is the message from a state that cannot even bring
itself to ban partial-birth abortion.
**Abortion is the most commonly performed surgery in America, yet it is never
seen. If you ask any group of people whether they have seen some form of surgery
on television, all but a few will say yes. Why, on those same networks, have
they never seen an abortion? The question is important to get people to think
that perhaps someone is hiding the full truth from them about what this
**The Daily Telegraph reported on October 11 that 80 percent of
neuroscientists who responded to the British national newspaper survey said that
unborn babies aborted after 11 weeks’ gestation should receive pain relief
during the procedure.
**Most states have some type of fetal protection laws whereby the unborn
child is recognized as a victim if killed in a context outside of abortion. This
makes the following scenario possible: A woman is driving to an abortion clinic
for her appointment. On her way, a drunk driver hits her car, injures her, and
the unborn child dies as a result. That driver can be charged for the death of
the child. Had she made it to the abortion clinic, however, the doctor who would
have killed the same child would be acting legally. The case is even more absurd
when you consider that the vehicle that strikes the woman's car could also be
driven by the abortionist, on his way to the same clinic.
A Key Pro-life Activity for Priests: Recruiting
There is no lack of good ideas and projects
within the pro-life movement. Nor does the movement lack evidence that these
many projects work to reduce abortions and convert minds and hearts. What is
needed above all are the people to carry them out!
The people in our society most likely to respond to the needs of the unborn
and their parents are the people we minister to in our Churches day after day
and Sunday after Sunday. As pastors who are called to stir into action the gifts
of the laity and help them carry out their role in building the Body of Christ,
we have the opportunity to recruit them into pro-life activity.
This might mean calling them to take part in a parish respect life committee,
or in projects spearheaded on the diocesan level. It can also mean directing
them to resources and activities in the local community, such as pregnancy
assistance centers, or county and state pro-life groups.
In June 2000, the LA Times issued a major survey which included many
questions on abortion. One of the questions was, "Have you ever been involved in
the abortion movement, that is, tried to make it easier for people to have
abortions or tried to convince people not to have abortions?" Of all those
interviewed, a total of 8% said yes. A full 90% said no.
Talk about untapped resources!
The good news is that of the 8% who said that they had been active either to
facilitate or to stop abortions, the vast majority were involved in trying to
stop abortions by a ratio of 7 to 1.
If we recruit people in our pastoral care to get more involved in the
pro-life cause, we can expect that ratio to grow even stronger in our favor.
Much has been accomplished in the pro-life movement, with only 7% of the
population doing something. Imagine if we can raise that number to 20 or 25%.
Keep in mind some of the keys to this recruiting:
* Many people think being "pro-life" means, "I would never have an abortion."
By our preaching and teaching, we need to help them realize that it also means
trying to stop others from having abortions. People often feel that this
constitutes "interfering in someone else's business." We need to help them see
that it is no more an interference in other's business than it is if we try to
stop people from abusing their children, pushing drugs, or committing violent
crime. When somebody's choice destroys someone else's life, that's
* Some people think that to oppose abortion means to oppose those who
have abortions. Thus, although they are pro-life, they are afraid that being
vocal or visible about it may compromise their relationship with friends or
relatives who have had abortions, and whom they do not want to offend. A
solution to this is to stress the activity of post-abortion healing and
forgiveness, and to show our people that the Church and the pro-life
movement embraces with love and mercy those who have aborted their children. In
fact, one of the activities they may want to perform is to spread awareness of
Project Rachel or their national hotline, 1-800-5-WE-CARE.
*Many form their impression of the pro-life movement from the secular media,
and hence see it as a violent, extremist movement. We can counteract that
impression by inviting guest speakers who can show our people the true face of
the movement and its activities -- such as the countless people who provide
alternatives to abortion, or who conduct educational, legislative, or direct
action projects that are rooted in well-planned and guided strategies.
You are encouraged to remember the following intentions as you pray the
Liturgy of the Hours:
January intention: That radio and television ministries will carry
effective commentary on life issues.
February intention: For the elderly who feel alone and abandoned.
Pro-Life License Plates
We need to spread the pro-life message in any way we can, and custom
license plates are another great way! Here at Priests for Life headquarters, Fr.
Frank, his assistant, and some of his staff, have custom NY plates that proclaim
exactly where we stand. We encourage pro-life people in all the other states to
obtain custom plates that have some variation of the theme, such as "Prolife1",
"Prolife2", "2Prolife", and so forth! Those who do so are encouraged to let us
know by writing to Outreach Department, PO Box 236695, Cocoa, FL 32923.