No Real Weaknesses Within

Neil and I received an offer to converse with Fr Frank Pavone, best known for his leadership in Priests for Life. I sent the following two-part query:

Many pro-lifers are critical of the political methods of the active arm of the movement. Fr Frank, what would you say would be the one or two main weaknesses of today’s political efforts, and how would you help steer the movement to address the criticism that comes not from adversaries, but allies?

Fr Frank was generous enough to send this reply via e-mail:

Criticism of the political methods of the pro-life movement by those who are pro-life are, interestingly, self-contradictory criticisms. On the one hand, many pro-life people claim our movement is not strong or aggressive enough politically. They complain that we do not set the standard high enough by which a candidate should be considered “pro-life”, do not hold their feet to the fire if they are elected, and do not elicit in them the fear that we can punish them politically. In particular, pro-life people are fed up with what they perceive to be the cowardice and silence of the bishops, not to mention mixed messages that are sent by them. Here, the actual weakness is an unwillingness to carry out those activities that the IRS indicates Churches may do and still maintain their 501 (c)(3) status — such as non-partisan voter registration drives and voter guides that do not directly or indirectly endorse or oppose candidates, parties or their positions. Often, this inactivity is accompanied by outlandish, exaggerated, and inaccurate portrayals of what IRS guidelines require, and those who put forward these portrayals have no expertise in that area of the law.

On the other hand, a criticism many pro-life people voice is that the pro-life movement is too political, too partisan, and too identified with the Republican Party. The real weakness here is a lack of understanding of what “non-partisan” really means. It does not mean that we have to avoid any activity that in fact helps a candidate or party. Rather, it means that we pursue the goals for which our Church or 501 (c)(3) organization was established without regard for whether they help or hurt a particular candidate or party. Ironically, therefore, the very complaint that an activity helps a candidate is in the end often more of a partisan action than is the activity against which the complaint is leveled — simply because the complaint shows more concern about helping or hurting the candidate than the activity does. For instance, the bishops teach that life is the fundamental right, and that concern for this right carries more weight in our voting decisions than other issues. Now indeed, such a teaching helps pro-life candidates and parties, and hurts pro-choice candidates and parties. But being non-partisan doesn’t mean we keep silent. It means we speak no matter what, and moreover, it means that if tomorrow the parties or candidates swapped their positions on abortion, our message would not change a single word.

I was more interested in Fr Frank’s thoughts on room for improvement within the pro-life movement. I’m less concerned about the non-partisan quality. Does the political pro-life movement have weaknesses either morally or politically? How have their adversaries taken advantage?

I was not aware he operated his own blog on the Priests for Life web site. I was also surprised at the offer to “dialogue” through the blogosphere. Anybody else getting inquiries like this?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to No Real Weaknesses Within

  1. Liam says:

    This reminds me of the standard FAIL answer to the standard interview question “What is your greatest weakness?”: “My greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist and work too hard, and that can be hard on the rest of the team.”

  2. I know of his work with Priests for Life. One of the things I find interesting is that his response shows little to no humility. I think one of the problems with the so-called “pro-life” movement is this lack of humility. The second, of course, is the lack of consistency with being pro-life– for example, the readiness of many to support torture, the death penalty, unjust wars. They have no real core for life. I am not saying this is true of Fr. Pavone — but I think his inability to note this problem is indicative of the blindness of the movement itself — not only to what being pro-life is, but how easy it is to manipulate them because they are blind to their own faults.

  3. Bill Kurtz says:

    I think of the commentary two weeks ago by Southern Baptist blogger Russell Moore, prompted by the Gulf oil spill. Most of his comments were about the need for Christians to make the environment a priority, but he added a relevant confession.
    “In our era, the abortion issue is the transcendent moral issue of the day,” he wrote. “Too often, however, we’ve been willing not simply to vote for candidates who will protect unborn human life (as we ought to), but to also in the process adopt their worldviews on every other issue.”
    That seems to sum up professional pro-lifers in a nutshell. I’d be intrigued how Fr. Pavone would respond to that friendly criticism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s