Enter the Rainmaker
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Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 01:59:42 AM EST
Amarillo, Texas isn't the kind of place where most people would expect to find a rock star. Amarillo invites visitors to "enjoy our wide-open spaces and stay a while" because that's what Amarillo has the most of - wide-open spaces. But that is about to change. This dusty little city of 176,000 on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle is poised to become a new anti-choice Mecca as the headquarters of one of the Catholic church's most influential proponents of judicial status for embryos, the man who has been called the Pope's "vicar for life," Fr. Frank Pavone.
In his Vatican-favored role as director of Priests for Life, Pavone has carved out a niche for himself over the years as something of a celebrity. Last year, as "spiritual advisor" to the Schindler family during the prolonged legal nightmare involving Terri Schiavo, Pavone joined Randall Terry in turning one family's tragedy into their own very public propaganda machine.  

Perhaps some people were surprised to see Pavone, who publicly renounces violence, standing beside Randall Terry, whose violent fantasies have become the stuff of legend.

Randall Terry and many other Christian Right leaders earnestly believe that someday they will be running this country. What kind of "Christian nation" do Terry and his comrades envision? Well, in referring to doctors who perform abortions, Terry said, "When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we'll execute you. I mean every word of it." He added, "I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed."

In a "Christian America" women would lose more than their right of privacy; women would be pushed back to second class citizenship. Terry emphasized the need for male leadership in America.

"The greatest crisis we face is not child killing," he declared, "it's not the sodomites, it's not land tax, it's not the intrusion of the federal government into our lives, our families, as they crush our liberties. The greatest crisis we face tonight is a crisis of leadership. We are facing a crisis of righteous, courageous, physically oriented, male leadership. Male leadership!"

On the subordination of women to what they see as the law of God, Pavone and Terry can agree. And the Schiavo affair wasn't the first time that they had made common cause. In 1999 they both attended an Operation Save America rally hosted by Flip Benham, where Pavone was unusually forthcoming about his own views.

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Randall Terry (the founder of Operation Rescue) was at the OSA rally on Friday night. As to where other pro-life leaders were, Randall addressed that issue head-on in his speech to the crowd.

Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, also spoke to the crowd. He said, "...those that kill abortionists are pro-choice. For years the pro-choice side has been telling us that sometimes it's OK to kill a person to solve a problem."

In more recent years, Pavone has become increasingly influential as a middle man equally at ease with radical organizations -- such as OSA and Joe Scheidler's Pro-Life Action League -- and with the more socially acceptable face of anti-choice America.  

As Priests for Life has grown, so has criticism of its leader. Pro-choice activists accuse Pavone of being too cozy with antiabortion extremists and encouraging clinic blockades, even when such actions constitute criminal trespassing.
"Pavone provides something tremendously important to the violent wing of the antichoice movement--a smooth-talking, very, very articulate frontman," says State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman.
"Pavone is out to unify the [antiabortion] movement and to bring together the violent factions and nonviolent factions and have them work together in a coordinated way."

And now, as a reward for his years of tireless zeal and dedication, the Vatican has rewarded its "vicar for life" with the directorship of an entirely new religious order to be based in, of all places ... Amarillo.

The Catholic Diocese of Amarillo is not the kind of place that makes national news very often.
[C]onservative Bishop John Yanta is providing a home for a new Catholic society dedicated to activism against abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and other symptoms of what the late Pope John Paul II called the "culture of death."
It may seem odd for this project to be based in such a remote location, in a 26-county diocese with only 49 parishes spread across 25,800 square miles. Amarillo certainly represents a change for Pavone, who grew up near New York City and was ordained by the late Cardinal John O'Connor into that powerful 397-parish archdiocese.

Rome has given the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life approval to train and direct the ministries of its own priests. The society hopes to claim Mother Teresa and John Paul II, author of the Evangelium Vitae ("Gospel of Life") encyclical, as its patron saints.

The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life is an (of course) all-male order of both priests and lay members dedicated to battling what Pavone calls "a plague as spiritually fatal as any she has ever fought before--the plague of the culture of death."  

Last summer the new society's first "discernment retreat" brought an increased level of protest activity to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Amarillo, a medical facility that provides only primary health screening and family planning care. But if one believes that the evil of abortion is enabled and promoted by the "contraceptive mentality," that is reason enough for any Planned Parenthood clinic to be a target.

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A wrought-iron fence around Planned Parenthood could be the latest sign that the parties in the local abortion debate are fortifying their sides. Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle began erecting the fence around its perimeter three weeks ago after an increase in what its executive director calls disruptive protests.

"We're taking prudent security measures to protect patients, staff and protesters," Claudia Stravato, executive director, said Monday.

She links the need for the fence to an oncoming pro-life force.

"The location of Priests for Life, a group in Amarillo," she said, referring to the association of Catholic clergy that helps train priests to talk about abortion and euthanasia and provides training and resources to the entire pro-life movement.
Stravato said Priests for Life's activity threatens Planned Parenthood's operation by intimidating patients and staff and potentially blocking access to the clinic's services.

"Nobody wants to be physically a few feet from somebody who's telling them not to come in and who's screaming at them don't kill your babies, and that's what they're doing now," Stravato said.

But Pavone responds that Planned Parenthood should be grateful for his presence.

Planned Parenthood leaders ... have circulated an Institute for Democracy Studies report [pdf link] claiming that Pavone and his associates have consistently presented a "moderate" face to the public, while supporting clinic blockades and other illegal protest activities. "Priests for Life say they oppose violence, but their actions send a different message," according to the report.

The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life will continue to be committed to public marches and prayer vigils, with a renewed emphasis on nonviolence, order and the leadership of trained clergy, said Pavone, during a visit to Washington, D.C., for last week's annual March For Life.

"If a priest or a bishop comes out and leads a protest or a prayer service, then you don't have a leadership vacuum that can lead to trouble," he said.
Would you rather have protests by trained people who are well organized and have responsible leaders or would you rather have protests that are random and chaotic? That's the question people on the other side need to be asking."

Despite Pavone's assurances, Ms. Stravato's concerns seem to be shared by the community at large, as expressed by the Amarillo Globe News [registration required] during the events surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo

It's hard to conjure a more debased spokesman than the smarmy, reptilian Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. In some of his more outlandish posturing, he's referred to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as a whore and wagged around a dead fetus to present to Bill Clinton. Terry has publicly called for the "execution" of doctors who provide abortions and was a close associate of James Kopp, who was convicted of killing a Buffalo, N.Y., doctor.
Less loquacious, but very much in evidence, was the Rev. Frank Pavone. ... This is the founder of the very Catholic religious order that Amarillo's fervid, one-note bishop is sponsoring into the city. We may be safe to assume the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life don't envision a life for American women that includes access to safe abortion or, for that matter, contraception. Given the history of some of the company they are keeping, concern in Amarillo about the kind of fanaticism that these zealots can lure into our community hardly seems overstated.

While providers of family planning services in the Texas Panhandle ponder that possibility, the Diocese of Amarillo is preparing itself for the big time. Bishop John Yanta's diocese, troubled in recent years by notoriety stemming from multiple cases of sexual abuse by one of its priests, now can look forward to a more welcome kind of publicity.

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[At the 2004 Faith and Action Winter Conference, the Reverends Rob Schenck and Frank Pavone honor Dr. Alveda King, niece to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by giving her the National Pro-Life Religious Council Leadership Award.]

The current edition of the diocese's monthly publication announces that Dr. King, another national "pro-life" celebrity, will be a featured speaker at the diocese's upcoming Respect Life Dinner, along with - you guessed it - Fr. Frank Pavone.  Bishop Yanta's newsletter is a treasure trove of information about all sorts of goings-on around the diocese.

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Priests for Life are celebrating Masses at their new location! Every Saturday there is a special Diocesan Mass for the intention of Respect for Life.
Following the Mass, the rosary for an end to abortion and the conversion of all Planned Parenthood workers and supporters is recited on the sidewalk in front of the Planned Parenthood center at 15th and Taylor at 10 a.m. Nation-wide and worldwide, Planned Parenthood commits more abortions than any single organization.

Diocesan Respect Life Ministries and Priests for Life sponsor the on-site rosary vigils, which are always peaceful, prayerful, and one hundred percent legal.

It is unusual for a bishop to feel the need to reassure his parishioners that none of their priests is breaking the law, although it is good of Bishop Yanta to set their minds to rest on that point.  But "fervid, one-note bishop" that he might be, along with exhortations against contraception and "Umbert the Unborn" antiabortion cartoons, his West Texas Catholic offers other activities for members of the church whose faith might need shoring up - with a special emphasis on desperate housewives.

Have you felt that it is just too much to handle being a wife, mother, homemaker, working woman, or a single woman? Do you desire to know and love God more completely? How can you give God glory in your life work? Would you like to grow in holiness in all that you do? ... Current study session is Holiness for Housewives. ... Nursery is provided.

And all Catholics are exhorted to pray for rain.  

Prayers for rain needed

Due to the severe drought we are experiencing in the Texas Panhandle, please pray for rain. Priests of the diocese will please include prayer petitions for rain when Masses are offered.

Lord God,

In you we live and move and have our being.

Help us in our present time of trouble,

Send us the rain we need,

And teach us to seek your lasting help

On the way to eternal life.

We ask this though our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It won't be long until those prayers are answered. The clouds are gathering, and you can smell it on the wind.  The Rainmaker has arrived.

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A writer for Seattle Catholic says that abortion continues in America because of Priests for Life.  He argues that Pavone is diminishing the Catholic faith by consorting with the likes of Flip Benham and Randall Terry. Joe Scheidler is probably OK, though, because he's Catholic.

In an interview with the Priest who heads Priests for Life, the interviewer concludes the article by saying: "He said he works a lot with ministers of other denominations and that in the pro-life movement he has found the ecumenism he had been longing and praying for. There are few, if any, things that foster practical day to day ecumenism like the pro-life movement does, because people are "in the trenches together..."
Ecumenism is supposed to be the process of converting those of a false religion to the true religion; what it has instead become is the act of putting aside our religious differences (i.e. indifferentism) for the sake of getting along. Unfortunately, without realizing it, many in the pro-life movement are promoting a false ecumenism which leads to what Pope Leo XIII referred to as the "deadly error" (i.e. mortal sin) of indifferentism. Without a very strong faith - which is rare today - uniting with Protestants and others of a false religion will inevitably lead to this grave error.
Remember the words of Sister Lucy of Fatima: "The devil has succeeded in infiltrating evil under the appearance of good..."

So he thinks that Frank Pavone is in a state of mortal sin -- and Satan's little helper.  ;-)

by moiv on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 02:29:46 AM EST

As a former Catholic and a current member of our state's (Missouri) Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, I am grateful for the consistent and thorough research you provide on this site. I will refer members of our Coalition to your articles. They are a reminder of just how diligent we need be in these times. I don't think we have ever taken reproductive rights for granted, but the times call for greater effort in these days, and your information, insight, and documentation serve to remind us all just how diligent we must be.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 07:45:43 AM EST
You are so right that greater scrutiny and vigilance is called for in these threatening times. In Missouri, a TRAP law passed by religiously-motivated state legislators forced the closing of a clinic in Springfield only a few months ago.

Last November PBS Frontline presented a film about the restriction of reproductive rights in Mississippi -- "The Last Abortion Clinic" -- which is viewable online here.

A Southern provider of abortion care closed the program with these words:

"I think that most women and men are asleep. I don't think they realize what's going on. And in that respect, I think that the assault on abortion rights is very clever; it's very smart. And we are losing. ... "

I think she is absolutely right about that.

by moiv on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 10:17:09 PM EST

why I especially wanted you to be writing on this site...

It is fair to say, that regular reporting about the opponents of reproductive rights is, well, rare. That the opposition and their activities are not well or widely understood, has, IMO, handicapped those who want to defend and advance such things as access to abortion and sound sexuality education.

While we all writing about these things both directly and indirectly, you give them focus, and are doing a fabulous job of it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Mar 01, 2006 at 12:08:48 AM EST

BTW, as if PP in Amarillo (and everywhere else) didn't have enough trouble already, today Pavone jumped on the Scheidler ruling like a dog on a bone.

We rejoice today with Joe Scheidler and the Pro-life Action League, who were again victorious at the Supreme Court in the Scheilder vs. NOW case. What this means is that the Supreme Court has again reaffirmed our First Amendment rights to protest at abortion mills, and that we can do this without being afraid that laws originally designed to stop organized crime will be falsely applied to us.
Now it is up to us to make sure this is not a hollow victory. If pro-life people just want to fight this battle from the sidelines, staying within the security of their homes, schools, and Churches, and not venturing out to be at the killing centers in solidarity with the children and their families, then this victory does not have the full strength that it should.
Joe's victory today is our victory, too, and our clear invitation to be present at the places of death - to pray, protest, preach, counsel, intervene, and educate.
We invite all pro-life people to study our booklet Our Media is the Streets, available at www.priestsforlife.org/brochures/ourmedia.html, to learn the many forms of peaceful presence that our Constitutional rights allow us to practice.
So often, it is an exaggerated concern with legal ramifications that keeps us within the security of the sanctuary. But today, the highest Court in the land again reaffirms that we are on solid legal ground when we exercise our peaceful protests. Let's not put obstacles in our own way that the Supreme Court itself is removing! Let us lead our people without hesitation or fear!

Thus spake the Rainmaker.  And I do believe I can hear thunder in the distance . . .

by moiv on Wed Mar 01, 2006 at 02:39:03 AM EST

I have some writing in the works in a somewhat related subject, and your careful, incisive documentation fits in very well. Frank Pavone's associations and views certainly need wider public notice, including his positions on birth control.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Feb 28, 2006 at 11:01:16 AM EST
Now you've gone and done it -- motivated me to stay up all night again next week.  ;-)


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