How Many Priests Does It Take to Release An Election Statement?

Frances Kissling is President of Catholics for a Free Choice.

Priests for Life claims to be "the nation's largest Catholic pro-life organization." However, in 2000, the group claimed a mere 13% of the nation's priests as members. Today, it reports no membership income on its tax returns and has lost even more ground among priests.

After more than 15 years trying vainly to grow his Catholic antichoice group into the mass clerical movement envisioned in its rhetoric, its leader, Frank Pavone, now finds himself banished to a Texan wasteland and able to count on a mere 2.5 percent of the nation's priests (some 1,000) as supporters.

His hagiographic campaigning style, with unapologetic electoral campaigning, and unabashed cooperation with some of the most militant antichoice figures, has led him from New York to Amarillo, Texas, where he broke ground on a seminary for his new order of priests, Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. On the same day, the Religion News Service reported the new order had only one member, Pavone himself.

Now, less than a week before the 2006 elections, when one would more normally expect to hear Pavone claiming imminent victory for antiabortion candidates, he is instead proudly asserting that "more than 1,000 priests" (read 1,000 plus himself, maybe) have signed onto an innocuous statement parroting past statements from the US Catholic bishops about the importance of participating in elections and "building a culture of life." With some 42,000 priests in the U.S., this means Father Frank was able to garner the support of just 2.5 percent of Catholic priests. And there I was, thinking that all priests were "prolife."

Pavone has clearly fallen on hard times, far from the lofty rhetoric with which he is more normally associated.

A new report from Catholics for a Free Choice examines how PFL's electioneering and unwavering loyalties to Republican conservative positions appear at times to outweigh its obedience to the Vatican, and certainly contravene directly Internal Revenue Service guidelines on such activity by tax-exempt nonprofits. Read the report here.

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