Father Frank Pavone will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Canadian National March for Life, taking place in Ottawa May 10-12. He is the national director of Priests for Life, a U.S.-based movement of Roman Catholic priests seeking to help the rest of the church use its full strength against the most devastating attacks on human life in our day. The organization was founded in 1991 and has grown to where it now has 40 full-time paid employees. In 2003, it was granted non-governmental organization status by the United Nations. See its website at www.priestsforlife.org. Canada also has its own full functioning Priests for Life organization, with a website at www.priestsforlifecanada.com/. The Interim spoke recently with Fr. Pavone to ask him about the latest news from Priests for Life, his opinion on the state of the pro-life battle and the message he plans to bring to Ottawa.
The Interim spoke recently with Fr. Pavone to ask him about the latest news from Priests for Life, his opinion on the state of the pro-life battle and the message he plans to bring to Ottawa.
The Interim: What are some of the latest developments at Priests for Life?
Fr. Pavone: One of the latest and biggest things is that we’ve been given permission to start a society of apostolic life, which in short means that we can accept our own seminarians and train them for the work of Priests for Life … We first announced it almost a year ago in March and the constitutions were officially approved and a decree signed in December …
We were also very involved with the whole process of getting the new Supreme Court justices confirmed. That was basically a grassroots lobbying effort … The courts have basically taken the issue out of the hands of the people and the legislatures.
The Interim: Is there any Canadian angle to the new society of priests you’ve formed or do you see one developing?
Fr. Pavone: There will not be a separate (Canadian) society. Those in Canada who might feel a vocation to do full-time pro-life ministry as a priest, deacon or lay missionary could apply to this society as well.
The Interim: You’re happy with the confirmation of the two justices (John Roberts and Samuel Alito)?
Fr. Pavone: Yes, definitely so … These men clearly espouse an approach that would not put rights into the Constitution that aren’t there. We can be very confident, based on everything they’ve said and done in the past, that their votes are going to be more favourable to the cause of life.
The Interim: How would you sum up the general state of the pro-life battle right now?
Fr. Pavone: I’m very encouraged, for many different reasons … The fact that no abortions have actually been prohibited does not mean that there hasn’t been a change. There’s been a considerable change reflected in legislative activity, in public opinion and in the vitality of the pro-life effort. In the legislative arena, both on the state and federal levels, there’s been more successful pro-life legislation than ever in the last few years … On the state level, hundreds and hundreds of bills of all different kinds have been passed and signed into law within the parameters of what the (Supreme Court) does allow the states to do, which is a fair amount … The more laws we have for fetal protection apart from abortion, the more absurd abortion appears.
The opinion polls – everything’s been moving in our direction … it’s a beautiful thing to see. The young people are more pro-life because they know they’re survivors … They’re really speaking up for themselves. The state of the movement is stronger than ever in many different ways. It has made use, directly and powerfully, of the testimonies of the women who’ve been harmed by abortion … There are going to be more who speak out. That’s what we’ve been seeing with the Silent No More Awareness campaign, for example.
The Interim: Do you see Catholics specifically playing a key role in the pro-life revival?
Fr. Pavone: Definitely. One of the reasons for that is the pontificate of John Paul II put a spotlight on the pro-life effort … Catholic participation has been central in so many ways … (But) when it comes to establishing change in society over evils such as abortion, Christians have to join hands together and collaborate in practical ways … Sometimes, there’s certain signs that that awareness is not as strong as it should be, so I find I’m reminding groups of that as I travel around and speak to them.
The Interim: Do you think the Catholic church hierarchy has been doing enough, at least in the U.S., to support the pro-life battle?
Fr. Pavone: We never really do enough. I don’t think at any level of the church we’re doing enough … It brings the church to a healthy kind of repentance when we look at the horror that’s going on. The more we see the horror, the more we have to say, “Lord, have mercy,” first of all on me for not doing more to stop this … Many want to hear more from the church and are wondering why they don’t. This is one of the reasons Priests for Life exists … The bishops have said some very strong things, especially in their document Living the Gospel of Life, which came out in 1998. That’s a key element of our own educational activity. That document is a marvellous tool. Yet, the allocation of time, resources and personnel – and the extent to which the message is emphasized – well, more has to be done there.
The Interim: At the individual parish level, how could an individual priest best address life issues?
Fr. Pavone: He first of all needs to understand that he’s going to have the support of a lot of people for speaking out. For anyone who complains and doesn’t like it, he’s going to be more than compensated by those who do … He needs to be convinced there is not a conflict between truth and compassion … What destroys a baby, destroys everyone else, too … To convey this in a manner that shows the connection between these things will help … When you begin to speak on abortion, start off with two very clear ideas – let the people know there are alternatives and we’re here to help … (and) if you have done this, there is forgiveness, healing and the doors of the church are open. We who reject abortion do not reject those who have abortions … There’s a price to be paid for speaking about all these things. But the price to be paid for not speaking is much higher on all of us, ultimately.
The Interim: Do you have any idea what message you might be bringing to the Canadian National March for Life in May in Ottawa?
Fr. Pavone: I’m going to bring a message of brotherhood, in the sense that we’re neighbours in a great struggle that is really worldwide. The march is a beautiful, symbolic action … We accomplish a lot of things – the impact it has on society and on the people marching. That’s how I got my start in the pro-life movement myself. I was awakened to this whole issue when I took part in the March for Life in Washington in 1976 … The public expression of what you think reinforces it inside of you and you end up coming to a whole new level of commitment … This march represents one movement across the world and we have to march forward in such a way that we learn from each other, draw on each other’s strengths, help each other in the difficult aspects … I’ll talk about victory, too, because a lot of times, people are overwhelmed by all the darkness and evil that’s involved with this. The message I will share will be one emphasizing that we already have a victory placed in our hands because Christ is risen. Because He’s risen and because death has been conquered, victory is not just our goal, it’s our starting point. We start with victory and that’s what propels us to do this work. We can never stop moving forward … It will be a message of great hope, collaboration, activism and ultimately, of joy.