Monday, April 21, 2008

Ending Abortion the Church's Way - Part 1


Fr. Denis Wilde, O.S.A. speaks to 500 High School students in Syracuse, NY

By Fr. Frank Pavone

The premise of Priests for Life is that abortion will end through the Church, because Christ has conquered death, and it is He who works through each of us to bring this victory to every segment of our society. The activity of the People of God to end abortion is not primarily a response to Roe vs. Wade. It is, rather, a response to Jesus Christ.

This response, of course, overflows the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, in The Gospel of Life, told us, "No single person or group has a monopoly on the defense and promotion of life. These are everyone's task and responsibility" (EV 91). He says this after asserting that the effort must be ecumenical and, in fact, must include the involvement of all people of good will.

The United States Catholic Bishops have provided marvelous guidance on how the pro-life effort of the Catholic Church should be undertaken, and at the conclusion of their national Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities, they echo what John Paul II said in the quote above. They write, "We hold in high esteem all who proclaim and serve the Gospel of life. Through their peaceful activism, education, prayer, and service, they witness to God's truth and embody our Lord's command to love one another as he loves us. We assure them of our continuing prayers. And we renew our appeal to all in the Catholic community to join with them and with us in building a 'culture of life.'"

That openness to others, that esteem for those who work for life in every denomination, and even outside the realm of Christianity, is essential for success - and that attitude is inherently a Catholic attitude. The word "Catholic," after all, means "universal."

Clergy and laity, together, are the "Church." We are to be united with our leaders, first and foremost the real and living Person of Jesus Christ, who lives in and works through each of us. We are to be in union with his Vicar on earth, and with the bishops in union with the Successor of Peter.

One of the important aspects of being in union with our Church leaders is to read and study what they write. When Priests for Life was established, one of the explicit goals of its mission - to which we have been faithful ever since - was to publicize the documents of the Magisterium regarding abortion. On our website, you can find statements of the Popes and bishops on abortion reaching back for decades. (See

These documents, of course, are to be read in the context of what our leaders say regarding the respective roles of the laity and clergy. The documents of the Second Vatican Council, for example, are crucial.

Amidst all these writings we learn that the work of the ministry should not be "clericalized." In other words, the laity are not to wait for the priest to tell them to bring the Gospel into the world. Each of us already received that commission from the Lord when our priest baptized us and when our bishop confirmed us! Of course, we rely on our shepherds for guidance as we carry out the mission. But it would be a big mistake to imagine ourselves as awaiting instructions for every step we take.

The Church is a family, a community, a body of believers called together in faith, forming relationships with one another, and joining our gifts of grace and nature to work together to advance God's Kingdom of life.