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Noted priests hold divergent views on abortion protests, photos

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

With the summer 2006 Face the Truth Tour, organized by the Pro-Life Action League (in the interest of full disclosure, the League, whose Web site is, is a former employer of mine) underway in the Chicago area, I thought I would print essays from two noted priests, Father Michael Orsi and Father Frank Pavone, regarding the use of graphic abortion photos while protesting.

Father Orsiís essay Ė reprinted with his permission -- is from the June 2004 edition of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Father Orsi, who is not a proponent of the use of graphic abortion photos, serves as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, is a proponent of the use of such photos. His essay can be found here on PFLís Web site,

Food for Thought for Catholic Protesters

By Father Michael P. Orsi

Upon the arrival of our inaugural class at Ave Maria School of Law in August 2000, students formed a group called Lex Vitae (Law of Life). The purpose of the organization is to promote the cause of life in all its aspects. The organization is especially sensitive to Pope John Paul IIís concerns as he enunciated them in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. One of the groupís projects is to engage in peaceful prayer protests outside of local abortion clinics. I usually join the group at a Planned Parenthood site on Saturday mornings. For one hour we usually pray the entire rosary, sometimes do the Chaplet for Divine Mercy and complete the session with some appropriate hymns. Often times a student trained in sidewalk counseling will approach the cars entering the confines of the facility. Our behavior is reverent and respectful. As a matter of fact it is a spiritual experience that I look forward to each week. It is for me ó and Iím sure for the others present ó a testimony of our commitment to the cause of life and a witness to our faith. We have confidence in the power of prayer to overcome the evil being perpetrated on the unborn within the Planned Parenthood facility. Although the law school is training a cadre of young, vibrant and intellectually gifted lawyers and certainly some future legislators, there is the profound realization that the battle for life goes beyond the intellectual jousting of courtroom and legislative assemblies to the spiritual darkness that clouds human reason and hardens hearts. Thus, we take to heart the words of Jesus, ďThese demons can only be cast out with prayer and fasting.Ē

From time to time, people from the area join us in prayer. Recently, a man came bearing a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is certainly apropos since she is the patroness of the Americas and our special intercessor for the pro-life cause. After a few months, however, he replaced the banner of Guadalupe with one displaying the mangled remains of an aborted fetus. At this point I became uneasy with the message being relayed to those entering the clinic. Are we there to witness the beauty of Godís love and relying on the power of prayer to change hearts? Or are we there to cause revulsion?

About a month later, the same gentleman brought a telescopic camera to the site. When I questioned him about it, he said that it was a successful weapon in dissuading women from having abortions. I asked him to stand somewhere else since that was a contradiction of our message. He refused. Moments later there was a face-off between the gentleman and a male escort hired by Planned Parenthood. The concentration on the prayers quickly turned a religious event into a hostile public confrontation. At this point I left the site and refused to return until the offensive poster and camera were removed.

There is no doubt that the gentleman is well meaning. He does want to save innocent life. The question, however, is on whose terms and how? I have no doubt that these methods may be successful in certain circumstances and forums. The graphic depictions of the human remains after an abortion procedure may cause some to pause. Might this be legitimate in legislative hearings or before judicial proceedings? No doubt these photos will make an impact on some. And, what of the use of cameras to intimidate those entering abortion facilities? I have no doubt that some will turn away out of fear that their anonymity will be jeopardized. We must own the possibility that this disruption to the scheduled abortion may be beneficial. But the question remains will they simply seek another venue? And, as to the cameraís use at certain times and places as a weapon against evil, I do not doubt its efficacy.

However, the problem for those identifying themselves as Christians is that instead of using the tools of spiritual warfare, i.e., prayer and fasting, these tactics, ...

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