Enter the Rainmaker
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
Enter the Rainmaker | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)
Enter the Rainmaker | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)