Priests for Life (PFL), an organization working to promote the respect for life message among priests and deacons, has a new head man in Canada.

Father James Whalen, pastor of St. Margaret Mary parish in Cumberland, near Ottawa, was appointed national director in September.

A priest of Ottawa archdiocese since 1972, Father Whalen comes to Priests for Life with an impressive background in pro-life work. For the past five years, he has served as researcher and analyst for the archdiocese pro-life office. HE also has eight years’ teaching experience with the Ottawa separate school board.

“(Father Whalen’s) past commitment to pro-life will prove to be a valuable asset to our Priests for Life movement,” said board of directors chairman Michael Vande Wiel of Pembroke. Since last December, Vande Wiel and a Priests for Life steering committee have been working to launch the organization in Canada. Their first priority was to find a national director. Although Priests for Life is relatively new in Canada, the organization has a longer record of service in the United States. Under the leadership of Father Frank Pavone and Father Richard Hogan, the U.S. Priests for Life has grown to include 30,000 members.

Life its U.S. counterpart, the Canadian group prepares information packages for priests and deacons to assists them in pro-life work. The organization also produces a newsletter, homily materials and an assortment of information aids to Canadian priests, deacons and lay people. It also plans to work closely with other pro-life organizations across the country.

Father Whalen was asked to take up the national directorship by Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa. He will be assisted by noted pro-life priest Father Ted Colleton and aboard of directors. He will continue to serve as pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done among our priests in terms of pro-life,” Father Walen told The Interim. “Some priests have taken up positions of leadership in movement, but there is always something more we could be doing.”

Father Whalen emphasized Priests for Life as a unifying force for the ordained. One of his priorities as national director is to encourage the establishment of a Priest for Life chapter in every diocese.

“We have to increase our own awareness of pro-life issues if we are going to honor the Pope’s appeal to build a civilization of love,” he said. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II called for the emphasis on respect for life at all stages to counteract the “culture of death” that has arisen over the last 25 years. “Priests by their very vocation are pro-life, but some might lack information on how to integrate the message into their preaching and their ministry,” Father Whalen said. He said some priests may have shied away from a stronger pro-life attitude due to the perception of abortion as a political issue. “While it has a definite political dimension, there is no doubt that this is a religious issue as well,” he said.

Father Whalen admitted that a strong pro-life stand can leave priests and lay people open to threats, persecution and even violence. For this reason, he hopes Priests for Life will become a source of unity and support for pro-life efforts.

“Bur we can’t let ourselves be paralysed by fear,” he said.” By working with our fellow priests through the organization, we hope we can build a pro-life solidarity.”

Father Whalen is optimistic that pro-life fortunes in Canada are in line for improvement. Priests for Life has seen positive results in the U.S., especially as cardinals and bishops there respond to President Bill Clinton’s extreme pro-abortion position. “Grace abounds in times of where there ahs been great evil,” he said. “I think we can remain optimistic for the future.”

The new national director said it is to early to note the impact of Priests welcomes the support of all Pro-life Canadians.

Membership is open to anyone who wishes to support the organization. The membership fee is $15, which can be sent to: Priests for Life Canada, Box 8087, Pembroke, Ontario, K8A 6W8.