I recently had the privilege of interviewing a true hero of the Pro-Life movement, Father Frank Pavone. I felt that I had thoroughly prepared, but was admittedly a little nervous about my conversation with the National Director of Priests for Life (www.priestsforlife.org) and such a well known national figure in the Catholic Church.
My fears evaporated almost immediately as I found Father Pavone to be incredibly warm, engaging and filled with a genuine passion for his calling. We discussed a range of topics which allowed me to see the personal side of a man so closely identified with leading Pro-Life forces in the battle against abortion. His candor, grasp of the issues and willingness to engage in and lead the most important fight in the world is truly inspiring.
On a personal note, you may find it interesting that this warrior for God loves music, singing, roller coasters and the ocean. His personal heroes in the Church include Father Benedict Groeschel, Mother Angelica, Cardinal O’Connor, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa. Also, as passionate as he is about defending all life, his rules for engaging those with opposite views are 1) Never take it personally and 2) Approach them with respect and questions. He finds he can disarm their arguments and anger with this approach which gives him the opportunity to teach the truth.
Father Pavone is a blessing to the world, the Church and countless thousands of lives who may be saved through his leadership in this vital cause. The Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine is honored to know and collaborate with him.
Father Pavone, first of all, I would like to welcome you to the Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine as a Contributing Writer. We are very excited about working with you. With your hectic schedule, when do you find time to write?
Early mornings and flying time are two things that help with regard to having time to write. Other than that, I just schedule an appointment with my writing task just like I schedule an appointment for a trip. When one has an audience and a message, writing has to be considered a duty.
You became National Director of Priests for Life in 1993. How would you describe the progress the Pro-Life movement has made in the U.S. over the last 17 years?
The progress has been immense. Over half the abortion mills have closed during that period. More priests are speaking about abortion with confidence. And the movement itself has become larger, more sophisticated in the methods it uses, and more unified. One of my roles in the movement is to coordinate many strategy meetings for leaders, and I’ve seen the collaborative spirit increase.
Do you feel then that the tide is turning in the direction of Pro-Life? Despite a government which is clearly pro-death?
Yes, as opinion polls demonstrate, the tide is turning in favor of pro-life despite a pro-death government for the simple reason that no matter how much money, media, or political power the other side may have, they just can’t take the stigma out of abortion. Those in political power can do nothing to change the fact that abortion hurts, nor can they contradict the voices of those who are hurting from abortion. That’s why our Silent No More Awareness Campaign plays such a big role in awakening people to abortion. Nor can those in political power change the fact that abortion is repulsive in and of itself, and that people recoil when they see the pictures of what abortion does to a child, or hear the descriptions of this gruesome procedure. My article, Ten Reasons Why the Pro-life Movement is Winning, summarizes in more detail my response to this and the previous question.
What are you hearing from young adults you encounter around the country with regards to their Catholic Faith? Pro-Life issues?
I hear from young people who are involved in the pro-life movement that they are very aware of the fact that they could have been aborted, and that they have lost siblings or classmates, friends and potential spouses, because of this holocaust. There is a ‘survivor syndrome’ that is becoming more and more apparent – the damage done to the young by having been considered a ‘non-person’ under the law.
As for the faith in general, I see a lot of devotion among young people, with a very Eucharistic and missionary emphasis.
Can you tell us about your Rachel’s Vineyard Ministry?
One of my greatest joys is to serve as Pastoral director of Rachel’s Vineyard (www.rachelsvineyard.org) which is the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion. Some 800 retreats will be held this year all across the world. Men and women, parents and other family members, will come to these retreats, which are carried out in both Catholic and interdenominational formats. Participants will focus on God’s Word, the sacraments, and the encouragement of a small confidential group of others who have been through the same experience. Clergy and trained counselors will help them face their pain and bring it to the cross.
A weekend is not the totality of healing, but it is often the spark, the engine, for a lifelong journey of a more meaningful life. Tremendous insights are gained on these weekends that give people the courage to heal. Many dioceses have adopted Rachel’s Vineyard as their official program of post-abortion healing.
Do you often find opportunities to collaborate with leaders of other faiths and denominations on the subjects of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia? Can you share a few examples?
Much of my time is spent with leaders and congregations of other denominations, because the pro-life movement is really the most powerful arena for authentic ecumenism to be lived out. This intersects with another of my roles, namely, being President of the National Pro-life Religious Council, an umbrella group of many denominations working to end abortion and euthanasia. On that board, I work with leaders from the Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Anglican, Charismatic Episcopal, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and other denominations.
Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Richard Land, Tony Perkins, David Barton, Rick Scarborough, and other well known leaders in the Evangelical-Protestant world have become good friends and collaborators of mine along the way.
Abortion, of course, is my primary focus, with a secondary emphasis on euthanasia, but the death penalty has also been the subject of discussion with a group of interdenominational leaders who have asked me to assist them in calling for a moratorium on capital punishment.
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.” What do you say when you encounter mothers considering abortion?
I had the privilege of discussing this very point with Mother Teresa herself back in the mid-90’s when I was starting out my Priests for Life mission. I was visiting with her just after President Clinton had signed into law the “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances” Act, which makes it a crime to physically prevent or intimidate someone from going into an abortion mill. She said, “Father, if we had that law here in India, I would have been thrown into jail many times. Here in India I go to the places where the women get abortions, I take them by the arm, and I say, come with me – our sisters and I will give you help and hope.”
To those considering abortion, our message is first of all our presence. “I am with you,” as the Lord says, rather than, “I am against you.” Many of those considering an abortion are just waiting for someone to tell them not to do it. They often don’t know there are any alternatives, and so we tell them about the financial, medical, legal, and social help available. Sometimes all they need to know is that they have a friend and that they’re not always going to feel the way they feel today.
Here we also need to consider that for most who are ‘considering’ abortion, it’s because someone else is considering it for them. Coerced abortions are a big problem. To these women we say that nobody has a right to force them to have an abortion, and we give them ways to defend themselves legally against the pressure that comes from others.
Father, how do you advise parents today to teach our children about the evils of abortion? How do we prepare them and encourage them to be Pro-Life?
Parents first of all have the role of letting their children experience unconditional love and welcome. Planned Parenthood says “every child a wanted child,” but we say, “every child a welcomed child,” and there’s a big difference. Children who think they are alive just because they are “wanted” also fear what will happen if their parents stop wanting them. They are given the false impression that their value depends on someone else.
But to “welcome” the child means to say that there is room and acceptance and love for that child even when we neither planned, expected, or wanted him/her.
As children grow, parents should gently explain to them that some Moms and Dads are afraid to be Moms and Dads, and that we need to pray for them. Also, children easily understand that how special they are doesn’t depend on how old or big or strong they are – yet that’s exactly the mistake made by the “pro-choice” mentality.
Parents should not be afraid of helping their children face the evil of abortion, at an age consistent with when they are beginning to see other evils in the world. It’s not seeing the evil that will harm the child, but rather the absence of a clear, comforting response by the parent.
In teaching adolescents about sexuality, parents have to be sure that while they present a clear message about sexual morality, they also make it clear that they will always stand with and assist their child (and their child’s child) in the event of a teen pregnancy.
When you encounter our fellow Catholics who say they are pro-choice, but personally opposed to abortion, how do you respond?
I will start by asking questions, to allow them to explain their position more fully. This forces them to think it through perhaps more than they have already. Then I gently point out that we never speak this way about child abuse. “I’m against child abuse; I would never abuse my child. But if someone else wants to abuse theirs, let them have their choice.” We realize, in these and so many other instances, that some choices have victims, and that when somebody’s choice threatens someone else’s life, that’s everybody’s business.
Father Pavone, how would you encourage the thousands of lay people who read this the Integrated Catholic Life Magazine to get more involved in defending the sanctity of all life? What are practical ways we can make a difference?
We have just launched a “Ten Steps to End Abortion” project, about which we will keep our readers up to date in upcoming articles. But a sneak preview of some of this encompasses some very basic things:
a) Always know where to point someone who needs alternatives to abortion. Calling the “Option Line,” 1-800-395-HELP (PregnancyCenters.org) will connect them to a nationwide network of local pregnancy resource centers. Spread this information far and wide!
b) Utilize the testimonies of those who have had abortions. By using the words of those who have been through this experience, you can effectively steer people away from abortion and away from the idea that it is beneficial. See SilentNoMoreAwareness.org for the testimonies in text, audio, and video format.
c) Show the pictures of what abortion does to a baby. Seeing is believing. www.Unborn.info
d) Link your pro-life activity to your faith. Ultimately, pro-life work is not simply a hobby; it’s a spirituality. Learn the pro-life spirituality at www.MissionariesoftheGospelofLife.org.
Father Pavone, thank you for your willingness to be interviewed and please know we will be praying for you and the Pro-Life mission. May God continue to bless your ministry!
Thank you Randy. I have enjoyed our conversation and am delighted to be affiliated with the important work of the Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine. God bless!