Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, agreed to sit down for an interview with Theresa Watson, executive manager for the pro-life ministry. The following is slightly edited for clarification.
Theresa Watson: Has the fact that some bishops have opposed your work affected the growth for Priests for Life?
Fr. Frank Pavone: It actually has not. There have been some bishops who oppose our work; some oppose it still. Some don’t want me doing this work and I ask them, tell me what part of the work you don’t want me to do? Is it the Rachel’s Vineyard, healing the wounds of moms and dads that have been affected by abortion? What part of that do you not want me to do? Or announcing a project where we’re urging pastors to put information in their parish bulletin, in their website, in their online broadcasting about alternatives to abortion?
What part of that would they not want me to do? We train pregnancy center staff and directors. We help clergy preach about abortion. I wrote an entire book about that. We lead prayer campaigns. We do all this work and there are some that, for reasons that they’ve never explained – because those reasons simply don’t exist with any logical persuasion – some don’t want me doing the work that I do. They’ve never been able to say anything specific. So no, the fact that some leaders in the church are not saying and doing what needs to be said and done to stop abortion is in fact precisely not something that hurts Priests for Life, it’s something that helps us grow.
I’m sure that many of our viewers right now can testify to the fact that they support our work precisely because we’re saying the things they wish they heard in their church every Sunday and we’re doing the things they wish the church leaders in their own church or diocese would do. That’s been a key formula going back to your other question about how we’ve grown. We’ve done the things that need to be done. We’ve opened our mouths when too many priests have their mouths closed. A lot of priests want to open their mouths and that’s where we give them the strength to do it and the resources.
Like some people say to me, “Why do you have to have Priests for Life, isn’t every priest for life?” And I say, “Well we just help them to say so.” And that’s what people want.
Theresa Watson: One of the things people say about President Trump is that he’s so healthy because he doesn’t drink or smoke. Is that true for you as well?
Fr. Frank Pavone: It actually is. I’ve never drank or smoked at all in my life. Except on New Year’s Eve, I like to take about three sips of champagne at midnight. That’s not to say I’m necessarily virtuous in any way, it’s just a fact. That certainly does contribute to health I’m sure.
Theresa Watson: It seems when reporters do stories about you they always seem to use the adjective “controversial” to describe you. How do you feel about that?
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Fr. Frank Pavone: I think it’s redundant. The Christian Gospel is controversial; I’m a proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I remember one time there was a pro-life event in a certain city and I was a speaker. The group organizing was a strong protest group. And they were trying to find a church to host the event, the rally at which I was speaking. They couldn’t find a church. One pastor right after another was saying no.
Finally one of the pastors in the town stepped up to the plate, welcomed them in and I can still remember to this day – I’ve given thousands and thousands of talks but this one stands out in my mind – that pastor stood up and greeted us all. “I want to apologize,” he said, “for my fellow pastors in this town for not welcoming this group because they said it was controversial. I’ve got news for you,” he said. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is controversial.” And everybody erupted in applause.
Of course I’m controversial, we’re dealing with the Gospel and on top of that I’m dealing with the abortion issue full time.
I’m an anti-abortion activist and I’m a priest of the Catholic faith proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ — that’s a bunch of controversy all loaded into one person. But you know a lot of people don’t want to be confronted with these things. Some church leaders say ‘Father Frank is too aggressive on abortion.” Well, too bad. When abortion stops being aggressive on these little babies that it rips to shreds then you can come to talk to me, but right now don’t even talk to me. Yeah, controversial. It’s a badge of honor.
Theresa Watson: One day when you were outside Priests for Life headquarters up in New York, where we used to be, a woman from your former parish walked by and greeted you and she had a question for you. What did she ask?
Fr. Frank Pavone: She was a wonderful woman who was in the church choir for many years when I was a parish priest. Our first office was on Staten Island before we moved here to Florida and she saw me out there. We had a very pleasant conversation and I remember she said to me, she sort of looked towards the building there that we were standing in front of, ‘So after this,’ she said, ‘what’s next?’ As if I had some ambition to become a who-knows-what in the church. I replied, “Nothing, what’s after this is victory, victory over abortion.”
My life right now is for one thing, my life, my work, my ministry, my leisure, my money, my time, my energy: Ending abortion. I don’t have any other ambition in my life. I don’t want any position, in fact if I was asked to take one I would refuse. I don’t want any position; I don’t want any other job. I want to end abortion.
And again I say that to her not in any kind of negative way. I said, “Oh no, really this is what I need to finish this job for my whole life. We need to bring an end to abortion.” And this woman was very strongly supportive of everything that we were doing so she understood right away.
Theresa Watson: What characteristics do you admire most in people?
Fr. Frank Pavone: Honesty. Not only do I admire it the most, it’s what we need the most. There’s a little bit of a movement among people in the church now when it comes to politics, where they say the most important virtue in our national discourse is civility. I disagree with that. It’s honesty –truth telling. What I value most in other people and in myself is honesty, sincerity, transparency.
If we had a good mega dose of those three things which really are interlocking virtues, we would go a long way in solving the problems in the world and in the church. Honesty, transparency, sincerity. Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you promise, tell me what’s on your mind, answer the questions and if you make a decision – and those of us in any kind of authority really have to remember this — if you make a decision that’s going to impact people’s lives, you’ve really got to do two things besides make the decision. You’ve got to listen to those people first, get their input and then once you make your decision, yes if you’re in a position of legitimate authority you should expect the people over whom you have authority to follow your decision, but explain it to them. If a decision maker cannot give a rationale in honesty and sincerity for what they decided then I think there may be a problem with that decision or how they came about it and that’s part of the transparency: How did you come to your decision?
I don’t have any ulterior motive here. I don’t have any agenda. I’m not trying to manipulate you. I’m not trying to deceive you. I’ll tell you like it is. When we get thousands and thousands of letters and tens of thousands of emails in our ministry. The one thing that people thank me for the most in our ministry – and it’s not just me but the other people on our team, like Alveda King and Janet Morana and our priests and others – they thank us above all for courageous truth telling. People thirst for that and it’s not only that truth telling has to be done in the public arena, like we’re fighting abortion. It’s got to be done on the interpersonal relationship level. It’s got to be done spouse to spouse and parents to children and children to parents and employers to their workers and vice versa. It’s got to be done.
This president that we have is the most transparent that we’ve ever had. Some people they don’t like his Tweets. I love his Tweets! You know one of the reasons why? It makes him the most transparent president. He’s not hiding behind layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy. He’s telling people what he thinks and he wants them to tell him what they think. We need this, we need this, we need this and it’ll build bridges of dialogue.
I have had fruitful relationships over the years with some of the leading abortion advocates in our history. Bill Baird has three Supreme Court decisions to his name. He’s a pioneer of the pro-choice movement. He and I have become friends over the years. We’ve had very, very meaningful conversations.
Ron Fitzsimmons became very well known in the mid ‘90s. He was the executive director of NCAP, the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. He and I established a friendship that continues even to this day. You know why and how that happens? Neither one of us compromising our positions. It happens because of this characteristic you just asked me: what do I value most in people? Sincerity. Those men are as committed to their cause as I am to our cause. We can sit down, face to face, and without any other agenda have an honest conversation. Truly listen and know that they were being listened to, this is missing in our society and unfortunately it is missing too often in the church and we have to repent of that and get back to healthy open communication. That would solve a lot of problems.
Theresa Watson: Amen. Father, thank you.
Fr. Frank Pavone: This has been a nice conversation.
Theresa Watson: It has and I thank you for your honesty and sincerity and transparency today.
Fr. Frank Pavone: That’s all people are ever going to get from me.
Theresa Watson: Praise God and so brothers and sisters, we hope you enjoyed this time together with us and if you have more questions for Father Frank, please don’t hesitate to go to www.ProLifeQuestions.com or call our office at 321-500-1000.