Pavone on the Power of Its Message
NEW YORK, 19 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
Father Frank Pavone sees a dead-end to the pro-abortion movement, as
it contains the seeds of its own destruction.
On the eve of major pro-life marches, the director of Priests for Life
shared with ZENIT how he sees the movement. Part 2 of this interview
will appear Thursday.
Q: A Walk for Life is scheduled this January in San Francisco, where
until recently there were more abortions than live births. Last spring,
pro-lifers were a big presence at the pro-abortion March for Women's
Lives in Washington, D.C. Is the pro-life movement taking a different
direction, by going into "unfriendly territory" and reaching out to the
many women who have had abortions?
Father Pavone: To go into unfriendly territory is, in fact, an essential
element of the pro-life movement from the beginning because it is an
essential element of evangelization. The message of respect for life
means we respect even the lives of those who hate us, disagree with us
and support what we detest.
The fact that the Walk for Life is expanding into areas such as San
Francisco, and that pro-life people are going into the heart of
pro-abortion marches, is a sign of the movement's continued confidence
in the power of its message.
While standing with a pro-life sign at the March for Women's Lives,
Janet Morana, our associate director at Priests for Life, had a
pro-abortion woman come up to her and say, "I can't march with these
want to join with you." The woman tore up the pro-abortion sign she had
been carrying and started holding one of our pro-life signs.
These events are also a sign of the youth of the movement, because many
of the participants in both events are young people, carrying a new
awareness of how abortion harms women and harms them.
The outreach to those who have had abortions is particularly strong
these days, because the evidence of the harmful effects of abortion is
more plentiful than ever.
Q: The attention given to high-profile pickets outside clinics in years
past seems to have subsided a bit. What has been happening with the
clinic protests? What tactics are being used? What is their success in
Father Pavone: Physical presence at the clinics continues, and two of
the most successful forms of that activity presently are the Helpers of
God's Precious Infants and the Face the Truth tours.
The Helpers, founded by my colleague Monsignor Phil Reilly of Brooklyn,
bring hundreds of people at a time out to abortion clinics. Usually led
by a bishop, these vigils provide people a sense of safety and comfort
because they start in church with Mass, are escorted by police, consist
of the recitation of the rosary and lead back to church.
The presence of a bishop, of course, also assures people that there is
nothing about this activity that is contrary to the Church's teaching.
The carefully outlined series of rosary prayers also makes practicing
Catholics feel at home. They know what to expect.
The Face the Truth tours are also becoming more popular. Sometimes held
in front of clinics, but often on other streets as well, these tours
consist of people prayerfully holding large signs that show what aborted
babies actually look like.
This is becoming more popular as people understand that there are
principles of social reform that are not hard to discern from the
history of past social movements that worked to uproot injustice by
visually portraying the victims of that injustice.
The civil rights movement, the child-labor reform movement and the
abolitionist movement are just three examples of movements that have
achieved their goals by forcing society to see the violence that those
who permit it want to hide.
We at Priests for Life sponsored a 10-day Face the Truth tour in all
five boroughs of New York City in 2003. Women came up to us on a daily
basis, saying that they were planning to have an abortion, but the signs
changed their minds right then and there.
Q: When has the movement been most successful in helping to limit and
end abortion? Has the movement changed the culture, or simply achieved
piecemeal limitation aimed at limiting access to the procedure?
Father Pavone: Actually, abortion itself has done more to turn people
away from abortion than the pro-life movement has done. What I mean is
that it contains the seeds of its own destruction, as all evil does.
I believe in the "dead-end rule," which is that if you go down a
dead-end road and ignore the signs that say it's a dead end, you will
soon learn by personal experience that it's a dead end.
Many have ignored the signs that the pro-life movement has set up,
telling society that abortion is not a solution. But having gone down
that road, they learned for themselves how devastating it is. Now they
are coming back, repentant and healed, and they become the sign.
That is why Priests for Life co-founded the Silent No More Awareness
Campaign, to give women wounded by abortion the opportunity to bear
witness to that pain and to that healing. The voices of these women are
having a profound impact, undermining the stance of the pro-abortion
groups, who all claim to be "pro-woman" and in favor of women's lives
The culture is changing in favor of life. The legislative and political
victories have also been real, but are by definition incremental and
gradual. The pro-life legislation signed by President George W. Bush has
laid significant foundations in the law for the eventual restoration of
protection to the unborn. ZE05011924
Father Frank Pavone on the Role of the Church
NEW YORK, 20 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
The pro-life movement is much more than a response to Roe vs. Wade;
it is a response to Jesus Christ.
So says Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life.
He shared with ZENIT the role that Christ's Church and its faithful have
in the pro-life movement, and what the movement's allies are doing to
promote the dignity of human life.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Wednesday.
Q: What role does the Church play within the coalition of the pro-life
movement? Catholic laity?
Father Pavone: The Church plays, first of all, a prophetic role,
preserving and announcing the message that every human person belongs to
God, and therefore cannot be owned or oppressed by any other human
being. Moreover, human life has been joined to divine life by the
Incarnation, and is called to share that life in glory forever.
These powerful truths form the basis of the pro-life movement, which is
much more than a response to Roe vs. Wade. It is, rather, a response to
The pro-life movement is the same movement, ultimately, as that which
inspired Christians to rescue abandoned children in the Roman Empire, to
establish hospitals to care for the sick and to carry out all the works
of social justice.
At the core of social justice is the sanctity of human life, and at the
foundation of all our rights is the right to life itself. The best
formulation of the Church's prophetic mission for life is the Holy
Father's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," and this March we observe the
10th anniversary of that document, an event that should be observed by
By carrying out this prophetic role, the Church becomes the conscience
of the state. Earthly government has a basic autonomy from the Church,
but not from the moral law which the Church teaches. Both Church and
state have fundamental duties to human life. Were the Church not present
to remind the state of God's law, then the state would have absolute
power and not be answerable to anybody.
The Church, furthermore, is the Body of Christ actually carrying out the
service to life which its prophetic message demands. Therefore, the
Church, through the mission of the laity, are providing alternatives to
abortion each day, healing after abortion and concrete projects that
constitute so much of the pro-life movement: lobbying groups,
educational initiatives, etc.
There is, in this regard, an important challenge of leadership, namely,
that the Church and her pastors are called to discern and encourage the
gifts God gives to the laity. It is not required that a pastor like what
God is calling people in his parish or diocese to do; what is required
is that he, as well as the laity, obey the God who calls.
The pastors of the Church are asked, in the words of Blessed Mother
Teresa, to "Give God permission," and to pray each day, "Lord, let me
not prevent anyone today from doing some good."
Q: What groups or persons comprise the "pro-life movement"?
Father Pavone: The pro-life movement has various major facets:
educational efforts; lobbying and political activity; providing
alternatives to abortion; fostering healing and forgiveness after
abortion; researching the medical, sociological, legal, philosophical
and theological aspects of the problem; getting the message out in the
media; providing direct public witness through peaceful protest and
other First Amendment activities, and much more.
We who are in charge of national organizations in the United States have
regular meetings with each other to strategize, share information and
explore ways of coordinating and cooperating.
We also have opportunities to interact with groups in the international
arena, particularly through events at the United Nations
where we often have to be present to lobby
or various international agencies within the Church, such as the
Pontifical Council for the Family, for which I worked for a number of
years and which fosters international collaboration for pro-life
Q: How are disagreements about strategy and policy worked out among
various groups within the movement?
Father Pavone: Sometimes, at our regular gatherings, national leaders
are able to come to agreements on approaches and strategies where there
were not agreements previously.
However, the existence of different strategies and policies is not
necessarily a bad thing. After all, nobody has discovered a magic
formula to end abortion, and the wisest approach is to allow various
methods and strategies to flourish, while tracking their progress,
having the humility to learn from each other and having the flexibility
to adapt those strategies to the demands of changing circumstances.
One of the most important teachings of "Evangelium Vitae" is that in
which the Pope declares that no one person or group has a monopoly on
the defense of life. Everyone should be eager to collaborate and learn
from one another, especially from those with whom we disagree.
Q: What has attracted such formerly high-profile abortion supporters
such as Bernard Nathanson and Norma McCorvey
— to the pro-life movement?
Father Pavone: What attracted them was the care and concern of pro-life
people, as they both relate in their testimonies. They saw that pro-life
people, and the pro-life movement, simply did not fit the stereotype
that the pro-abortion movement paints of them.
Q: In the future, will the pro-life movement focus more on meeting the
needs of women in crisis pregnancies as well as educational initiatives,
or will litigation and legislation remain priorities?
Father Pavone: Both dimensions are priorities, and activity in both
arenas will increase. One of the areas of momentum for the pregnancy
assistance efforts is that many of the centers are becoming medical
clinics. In this way they attract more abortion-minded women and have a
higher success rate in helping them choose life.
In legislation and litigation, the momentum lies in the recent election
of so many pro-life candidates, who will in turn shape the nature of the
courts in the United States for the next generation and more.
Q: Looking ahead, what are other plans for the pro-life movement?
Father Pavone: Understanding and ministering to the survivors of
abortion, and the phenomenon of "survivor syndrome," is something we
will hear more and more about.
Our young people are deeply affected by the fact that they were regarded
by the law as non-persons when they were unborn children. Youth
ministers, clergy, pro-life leaders, parents, teachers, and all of us
need to understand what this does to our young people, and need to
respond accordingly. ZE05012022