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Pro-life Hero, Protestant Minister to Catholic Priest: Fr. Paul Schenck, Prophetic Sign of Coming Full Communion

By Deacon Keith Fournier
June 16th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I had the privilege of being part of Church history on Saturday, June 12, 2010. My friend of many years, former Protestant minister and Pro-Life hero, Paul Schenck, was ordained as a Priest of the Catholic Church. My history with Fr. Paul Schenck goes back decades.I believe that Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck is a prophetic sign of the coming full communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. With a dispensation from Rome waiving the celibacy requirement, he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

HARRISBURG, PA (Catholic Online) - I had the privilege of being part of Church history on Saturday, June 12, 2010. My friend of many years, former Protestant minister and Pro-Life hero, Paul Schenck, was ordained as a Priest of the Catholic Church. My history with Fr. Paul Schenck goes back decades. I first met his twin brother, Rob, through now deceased Lutheran Pastor and ecumenical giant Harald Bredesen. Always "moving  in the Spirit", Harald told me back then he "knew from the Lord" I had to meet the Schenck brothers. He was right.

At the time Rob Schenck was leading a ministry calling attention to the plight of the Poor in Mexico. I joined his Board of Advisors. It was the beginning of a treasured friendship which has spanned decades. He introduced me to his brother Paul. Both of these men shared with me a dedication to bringing an end to the killing of our youngest neighbors in the womb by abortion. They were raised in a Jewish home, came to faith in the Lord Jesus as teenagers and became Protestant Pastors.

The two brothers were already Pro-Life Champions in the Buffalo, New York area. I had gone to Law School to help overturn the infamous decision which opened the door to the Culture of death, Roe v Wade. So, when I was asked by the brothers to come to Buffalo to speak on behalf of Paul who had been wrongfully arrested for peacefully distributing Pro-Life literature, I said "Yes". It was the beginning of an association which has changed my life. 

At the time I was a Dean at the Franciscan University of Steubenville which was still in its early stages of spiritual recovery and renewal. I was also practicing law, trying to do what I could to advance the fundamental human rights cause of our age, the Pro-Life movement. I stayed in touch with Paul and Rob throughout those years.

In 1991, I accepted an invitation from Pat Robertson to move to Virginia Beach and build the American Center for Law and Justice. (ACLJ) Pat knew I was a fully committed Catholic Christian. He read my first book "Evangelical Catholics". I moved to Virginia Beach and served as the first Executive Director of the ACLJ. Jay Sekulow, its Chief Counsel, soon joined me in the effort. A gifted Constitutional Advocate, he has led the Public Interest legal group since I left in 1997.

In the subtitle of my first book "Evangelical Catholics" (out of print), I called for "Christian Co-operation to penetrate the Darkness with the Light of the Gospel." Those were days of what I call "trench ecumenism". An example was the Pro-Life movement. We all heard the cry of those whom Mother Teresa called the "poorest of the poor", children in the womb. We worked together on their behalf. In the trenches of that just battle we rediscovered one another as brethren in the One Lord Jesus Christ.

This kind of cooperation in the cultural mission is widely accepted now. Back then, it was highly controversial in both Catholic and Protestant circles. A man I have long admired, Chuck Colson, wrote the forward to "Evangelical Catholics". He was pilloried for doing so in some evangelical circles for years afterward. My relationship with Paul and Rob Schenck grew in those Pro-Life trenches as did their vibrant ministry. We were doing Catholic/Evangelical cooperation long before it was "cool".

The first case I took as the head of the ACLJ came through Rob and Paul Scheck. Paul was wrongfully arrested for distributing Pro-Life literature in front of an abortion facility. The early ACLJ was just getting what my deceased father would have called its "sea legs." We represented Paul and turned it into a Constitutional case. We lost at the Federal District Court level.

However, that would not be the end of the case. Years later I had the privilege of serving as a co-counsel when Jay Sekulow successfully argued the same case at the US Supreme Court. It was styled "Schenck v. Pro-Choice Escorts". Paul's courageous efforts for children and Jay's insistence that Pro-Life speech is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, won the day. Paul was completely vindicated.

During those 'ACLJ years' my friendship with Paul and his journey toward the full communion of the Catholic Church passed through a series of events.  Appalled that this human rights hero would be adjudged a "criminal" for doing what should have been protected by the First Amendment and praised as heroic - I resolved to do everything I could to support him in his important work.

That included hiring him as the Vice President of the American Center for Law and Justice. At the time, he was under house arrest, wearing an ankle monitor. Paul, his wonderful wife Becky and all of their beautiful children moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia. He became a key leader in the early days of the ACLJ. He did during those years what he has always done in life; give himself without reserve to the Lords work. 

Paul and I shared a deep love for the early Fathers of the Church. We had numerous theological discussions. I saw the Holy Spirit drawing him out of a Protestant vision of the Church and into an increasingly Catholic vision. When he became an Episcopal minister, I was there. I knew it would not satisfy his hunger. I believed that Paul was hungering for the fullness of the ancient yet ever new Catholic Christian Faith.

At his ordination in the Episcopal Church, I gave him a copy of the Liturgy of the Hours which I had engraved to "Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck'. I hoped it would be prophetic. He showed it to me this past Weekend with a huge smile on his face. Paul came to my ordination to the Order of Deacon in the Catholic Church in 1996.

The next year, 1997, it became clear that my ordination and my continued role with the ACLJ were not compatible. The somewhat painful details were recently described in David Edwin Harrell Jr.'s excellent biography of Pat Robertson entitled  "Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy." (see, pp.263, 264) 

Ironically my last appearance as Executive Director of the ACLJ as co-counsel with Jay Sekulow was in the very first case which I took when I moved to build the ACLJ. This time it was before the US Supreme Court. Paul's courageous work on behalf of children in the womb served as bookends for an entire chapter in my life.

We stayed in touch. I introduced Paul to a dear friend, A Melkite Catholic Bishop, who played a significant role in his journey to the Catholic Church. I was honored to serve as the Deacon at the Mass where Pro-Life Hero Fr. Frank Pavone received Paul into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2004. Paul laid aside his ordained ministry in the Reformed Episcopal Church to become a Catholic.

He and I discussed his desire for ordination over the years following on several occasions. I watched him go through what I have watched others go through who have walked the same road. His desire to be Catholic led him to give it all up - and offer to serve in any way that he could in the Church he loves. Over the years the mettle of this man always shone through. He is a man of heroic virtue, courage, and perseverance.

It was against this background that I traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania this past weekend; to rejoice with my long time friend at the goodness of the Lord in calling him. He was ordained a deacon six months ago. With a dispensation from Rome waiving the celibacy requirement, he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Father Paul "Chaim" Schenck was ordained by his friend, the humble and holy Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Fla. His Diocese is without a Bishop since Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has been called to the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend in Indiana. In a rare turn of events, Fr. Paul was allowed to choose a Bishop to ordain him.

I sat next to my brother deacons and behind the numerous priests who were present. I wept through most of the exquisitely beautiful ordination. His dear family was there, along with a Church filled with people whose lives have been touched by his heroic service to the Lord. They came from his days as an Assemblies of God Pastor, an Episcopal minister and now a Catholic Priest. It was an extraordinary event. When the Mass was ended I asked Fr. Paul for his blessing. He placed his hand on my head and gave me a priestly blessing, in Hebrew.

I believe that Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck is a prophetic sign of the coming full communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I will share more about that in the future. I ask our global readers to pray for Fr. Paul Chaim Schenck, Priest of Jesus Christ. He is a gift for a new missionary age. May there be many more.

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