Los Angeles Times, March 31,
New Order of
Catholic Priests Is Forming to Fight Abortions
Author : Scott Gold
DATELINE: AMARILLO, Texas
The Roman Catholic Church plans to establish
its first religious society devoted exclusively
to fighting euthanasia and abortion, church
leaders said this week.
The male-only Missionaries of the Gospel of Life
-- founded by Father Frank A. Pavone, an outspoken
opponent of abortion rights -- will be housed
in a vacant Catholic high school and dormitory
on the grounds of the Diocese of Amarillo.
The order will have a decidedly political bent,
and will be active rather than contemplative,
Its priests will be trained to conduct voter-registration
drives, use the media to get out their antiabortion
message and lobby lawmakers to restrict abortion
They also will learn to lead demonstrations outside
offices where abortions and family-planning
services are provided.
"There is a difference between knowing the
teachings and knowing how to effectively advance
a movement," Pavone said.
In recent months, Pavone has been focused on
marshaling religious conservatives around Terri
Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose
feeding tube was removed March 18.
Pavone also is director of an association of
antiabortion priests called Priests for Life.
In a prepared statement outlining his plan, Pavone
called abortion the "fundamental human-rights
issue of our day."
"The church finds herself battling a plague
as spiritually fatal as any she has ever fought
before -- the plague of the culture of death,"
The society will begin accepting priests and
seminarians this summer, Pavone said, with
training to start in the fall. Activists and
other members of the lay community probably
will be trained there as well.
The priest said he had received "a couple
of hundred e-mails and calls" from young
men interested in joining the society; a document
sent to church leaders that outlined Pavone's
plan suggested the number of priests could
be "40 or 400."
The Catholic Church already has similar organizations.
In 1991, the late Cardinal John O'Connor of
New York established a women's religious community
called Sisters of Life, dedicated to "protecting
and advancing a sense of the sacredness of
But, Pavone said, this is the first time the
church has established an apostolic society
for priests who will concentrate exclusively
on abortion and euthanasia.
The society will be funded through private donations,
Amarillo Bishop John W. Yanta said, and is
being established with the knowledge and blessing
of the Vatican.
In a statement from Rome, Cardinal Renato Martino,
the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council
for Justice and Peace, said the new order "may
be just what the world of today needs."
The society's priests will be given the general
mission of "preaching and teaching the
pro-life message effectively," Pavone
They also will "bring healing and forgiveness"
to those who have had abortions and will provide
what they describe as counseling services to
women who are "tempted to abort their
child," he said.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, churches
risk losing their tax-exempt status if they
endorse or oppose political candidates.
But they can adopt political positions and, to
a limited degree, lobby to influence legislation.
Antiabortion organizations applauded establishment
of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.
Cheryl Sullenger, outreach coordinator for
Operation Rescue, said that although some of
the group's supporters were Catholic, it sometimes
had a difficult time coordinating activities
with the church.
"To have an extra avenue into the Catholic
church would be very beneficial to our work,"
But in a prepared statement, Planned Parenthood
of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle expressed
concerns that the society could attract extremists
who might resort to violence to further the
Planned Parenthood said it feared that people
trained by the society would use hardball tactics
against healthcare providers, such as organizing
Healthcare professionals and women's right advocates
often criticize such tactics as acts of intimidation
intended to shame women who already are facing
If there is increased activity of that sort,
Planned Parenthood said, money likely will
be diverted from healthcare to security. And
if women are afraid to go to area clinics,
the number of unintended pregnancies could
rise, the group's statement said.
Yanta, the bishop of Amarillo, scoffed at the
notion that the society might invite violence,
but said it would not shy away from aggressive
"We are living in a very secular culture,"
Yanta said. "There are many institutions
that think they are the center of the world.
Jesus Christ should be the center. We are going
to act like Jesus. Jesus wasn't afraid of controversy."
Although the order's mission would be to fight
for an end to abortion, other facets of the
"culture of death" -- such as euthanasia
and the death penalty, both of which are opposed
by the church -- also would be addressed, Yanta
The establishment of such a specialized religious
society surprised some church observers, who
noted that the church was struggling to address
a shortage of priests.
"It's certainly not going to help,"
said Sister Christine Schenk, executive director
The Cleveland organization advocates loosening
church laws -- including eliminating celibacy
requirements for priests -- to draw more people
into the priesthood and attract a wider group
Schenk said she would support the establishment
of the society, provided that its priests addressed
the full spectrum of church life.
Yanta said some priests would eventually be sent
out to perform more general parish duties,
although they would maintain a special focus
Pavone said he believed the society would draw
more people to the priesthood because abortion
was such a passionate cause to so many people.
<< Los Angeles Times -- 3/31/05 >>
Editorial note by The Religious Consultation:
"Since this proposed religious order
is clearly persuing a political agenda, can
it be tax exempt? The Internal Revenue Service
says that churches risk losing their tax-exempt
status if they endorse or oppose political
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