He is known to about 1,000 e-mail contacts, who receive his advisories on pro-life initiatives and key votes.
Father Peter West is a priest associate of Priests for Life, the pro-life organization that was founded in 1991, the year he was ordained. He spoke recently with Register staff writer John Burger.
How did you become involved in the pro-life movement?
It was in 1986. I had been away from the practice of the faith for a while. As I grew more intensely in the faith, especially after making a consecration of myself to Jesus through Mary, I was looking at pictures in the back of a church of aborted babies that had been dumped in the trash. I also read statistics about how widespread abortion is. It made me want to do something about the problem.
And through this, I discerned my call to priesthood.
Was it simply the pro-life concerns you had that led you to become a priest?
I felt that the root of the abortion problem is a spiritual problem and can be best addressed by priests, helping people to see that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, healing people through the sacrament of Penance, teaching them as only a priest can do, through homilies, catechesis, providing spiritual leadership and example.
What do you do as a priest associate of Priests for Life?
I travel throughout the country, preaching, sometimes giving seminars, representing Priests for Life at conferences, being involved in street activism in terms of maybe demonstrating or praying in front of abortion clinics and leading prayer vigils. Half of the time, I'm in the office, taking e-mails from all over country, letters, phone calls, dealing with issues of post-abortion healing, crisis pregnancies and doctrinal questions.
Judging by some of the e-mails you have sent out, you might be seen as being too political for a priest.
If I send out a political email, I don't represent myself as part of Priests for Life. I just represent it as my own opinion.
When Pope John Paul II asked priests to stay out of politics, he does-n't want them running for any political office or being directly involved in a campaign. But as a priest, I still am an American citizen. I have ideas and opinions that I think I have a right to express. As long as I'm not representing my political opinions as being the official stands of Priests for Life or the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope does say that the Church has a right to pronounce on political matters because they're intimately connected with moral questions.
And a priest can't be afraid to address moral questions simply because they have political implications. But when I preach for Priests for Life, I'm laying out general principals by which people should form their consciences and not endorsing candidates or political parties.
How can the Church and the pro-life movement reach those who are far away from believing in the sanctity of human life?
There are various ways we reach out and find common ground.
For example, we say that women don't have abortions because of freedom of choice but because they feel there is no other choice. So we can work together with people who believe in the right to abortion to provide alternatives so women really do feel they have a choice and don't feel pressured.
We can talk about the responsibility of a man to care for the unborn child and the woman and say that abortion is not a simple solution. We can promote programs of post-abortion healing and reconciliation and help people realize that abortion is harmful to the health of the woman.
For example, Dr. Joel Brind points out the relationship between abortion and breast cancer. Many of the early feminists opposed abortion because they believed it is exploitation of women. So the pro-life movement has to be seen as providing real alternatives, reaching out to help women find healing and peace and showing that abortion really harms not helps.
Why don't we hear much about abortion and contraception in church?
Priests often are afraid of upsetting people. Our approach, though, is this: people involved in post-abortion healing, experts in the field, say that in order for healing to begin, the person has to break through their denial.
If the subject of abortion is never mentioned, women will not have an opportunity to break down the wall of denial.
While we must address the issue in a sensitive manner, the issue needs to be dealt with. Whenever a Priests for Life priest is giving a homily, we are instructed to always talk about post-abortion healing and reconciliation. We address forgiveness, alternatives and combating the false logic that regards abortion as a reasonable choice.
Priests for Life runs seminars for priests dealing with this issue. We also provide materials and a clergy resource packet. We have a booklet, “Preaching on Abortion,” with homily ideas; the approaches we need to take and how the defense of life is at heart of the priesthood; the consistent ethic of life and how often we should talk about the issue; seasonal and doctrinal starting points, and bulletin inserts. We have prayer booklets and “Addressing Abortion with Confidence,” which address some issues priests raise.
We have four fulltime priest associates, and all speak in a different parish almost every weekend. We also have two part-time associates.
Father Frank Pavone, the national director, was recently assigned to a parish in the Archdiocese of New York. What is going to happen to Priests for Life?
It will continue and it looks as if he will be able to do some work with Priests for Life.
He remains committed to pro-life work. While he is not national director, he will continue working with Priests for Life. He will spend as much time as he can, while still being faithful to his commitment to the parish.