Pro-life Movement's Signs of Confidence (Part 2)

Father Frank Pavone on the Role of the Church

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NEW YORK, JAN. 20, 2005 ( 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 Jesus Christ.

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 us all.

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 efforts.

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 — «Jane Roe» — 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.

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