Faithless Politics: Priests for Life Defies Constitution and Conscience
This paper is taken from Opposition Notes: An investigative series on those who oppose women’s rights and reproductive health, by Catholics for a Free Choice
Priests for Life national director Frank Pavone has spent more than 15 years trying vainly to grow his Catholic antichoice group into the mass clerical movement envisioned in its rhetoric, only to find himself banished to a Texan wasteland.
In a country with some 40,000 Catholic priests, Priests for Life (PFL) has never claimed more than 5,000 members—and quietly stopped counting some time around the turn of the 21st century. Unapologetic electoral campaigning, and unabashed cooperation with the most militant antichoice figures, have not brought PFL membership numbers to match the New York priest’s ambitions.
Pavone’s nonprofit says it is “for everyone who wants to stop abortion and euthanasia,” “not an association that seeks to be some sort of separate and elite group of priests who claim to be more pro-life than all the rest”1; it boasts the church hierarchy’s approval, strict orthodoxy and a board of archbishops and cardinals. Even by PFL’s own optimistic estimates, however, Pavone appears never to have attracted a membership of more than one in five US priests. His reaction has been to all but give up on the existing priesthood, which he regularly castigates as too timid on abortion, and to seek to mold young priests in his image at his new Texas refuge.