No Timid Spirit: The Priest and Pro-Life

Author: Fr. Frank Pavone


I recently received a letter which begins,

"Dear Fr. Frank,

I have recently been told that a certain priest does not mention abortion because he is afraid of offending someone in the congregation. Just the thought of that puts a twist in my stomach and pain in my heart. I can't help think that if I had heard in Church that abortion is wrong, that almost twenty years ago now I might have chosen to keep my baby instead of killing my baby."

Many priests are actively and heroically involved in the pro-life movement. Yet this sad letter can probably be written by numerous women across our nation. The grief of abortion is accompanied by the plea, "If only I had known; if only somebody had warned me!" This letter points to the responsibility of the priest to address the abortion issue clearly and consistently. It points to the thirst of his congregation for the knowledge of God's commands and for the strong, loving hand of a shepherd who will lead the way.

That's why priests are ordained. That's also why "Priests for Life" was established. A few years ago, Fr. Lee Kaylor of the Archdiocese of San Francisco saw the need to establish a strong network among priests who were actively preaching and teaching about the pro-life issues. He reasoned that priests need each other for mutual support, encouragement, and sharing of ideas, especially in dealing with abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. He also saw that a formal association of such priests could provide the spark needed for other priests to more actively address these issues. By the spring of 1991, Priests for Life had received official approval as a private association from Archbishop John Quinn.

A national newsletter was established, and small groups of priests began to gather in various dioceses to pray and speak together about pro-life.

In the summer of 1993, the original officers completed their terms and new leaders were chosen. I was given permission by my bishop, John Cardinal O'Connor, to be the National Director of Priests for Life on a full-time basis. Father James Heyd of Chicago was given permission by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin to be associate National Director and Coordinator of the Midwest Region.

The point of "Priests for Life" is not to imply that some priests are called to be actively pro-life and others are not. We are not tryng to let priests off the hook! The point is just the opposite. "Priests for Life" means that to be a priest means to stand for life, to defend the dignity and sanctity of human life. This is an essential aspect of priesthood. No priest is exempt. Priests for Life seeks to help all priests grow in this aspect of their ministry.

Let's think again of the letter I received from the woman who had an abortion. Twenty years ago, she was caught by the lies of the abortion industry. The priest is called to save the women who are in the same situation today. He is to save them by telling them the truth about abortion, about the life within them, and about the obligations we all have to that life. The priest, as "another Christ," is called to intervene for the baby. Christ always sought the weak, the defenseless, the "little ones." So must the priest. The priest is called to declare the sins of the society he is in. (see Is. 58:1). He is also called to activate and encourage the laity in their pro-life mission.

Priests for Life is ready to assist priests and laity alike. For the priests, resources and new ideas will be provided. Along with chapter meetings and the regular newsletter, we offer videos, audio tapes, homily materials and bulletin inserts. For the laity, we can provide a bridge between their pro-life programs and the clergy. We are eager to let priests know more about the many activities that are underway, and to urge them to stand with their people in the battle!

With the cooperation of priests and laity, this pro-life war will be won. Imagine the vast structure of the Catholic Church in the United States. We have over 19,000 parishes and over 9,000 schools. If we can infuse these structures with the pro-life spirit and message, imagine the impact that is possible!

Priests are people, too. They are affected by criticism; they are affected by praise. They need the encouragement of the laity. If you hear a priest give a solid pro-life homily, write to him and thank him! If he never does so, write a kind but clear plea to address the issues!

Priests and laity alike may write to Priests for Life at P.0. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314 or call 914-937-8243. We welcome suggestions about encouraging the involvement of the clergy in pro-life work. We ask you also to pray for all priests, that we may "stir into flame the gift of God that we have through the imposition of hands.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love." (2 Tim.1:6-7).

Fr. Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life, P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314, an association of Catholic priests who give special emphasis to promoting and defending the sanctity of human life. (See PFLINFO.TXT in Clergy and Religious Forum library, subject area 1 for more information.)