According to Catholic doctrine, all priests are against abortion. But the ministry called Priests for Life believes that some priests need a bit of encouragement on this controversial issue.
"Some priests may be pro-life personally, but they do not talk about it from the pulpit," said the Rev. Peter West, who will be in Toledo this weekend to celebrate Masses at Gesu Catholic Church.
His ministry, based in Staten Island, N.Y., was founded by the Rev. Frank Pavone in 1991 and has seven full-time priests on staff who travel around the United States speaking out on pro-life issues.
"Every human being has a fundamental right to life and we can't justify the killing of an innocent human being. Abortion is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church," Father West said in an interview this week.
The Catholic Church has been unwavering and uncompromising in its opposition to abortion and euthanasia, and Pope Benedict XVI has continued to uphold the pro-life advocacy of his long-reigning predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II.
"A great theme of Pope John Paul's pontificate was the gospel of life, and Pope Benedict has been very vigorous in continuing the defense of human life," Father West said.
Some reform groups, such as Catholics for Free Choice, headed by Frances Kissling, are calling for changes in the church's position on abortion and birth control. But those groups are not recognized by the Vatican.
Father West, 46, a graduate of Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., said statistics show that the abortion rate among American Catholics is about the same as that of the general public.
"Something is happening in our community. Unfortunately, the pro-life message is not being given the priority that it needs," he said. "We need to address it in preaching and in pastoral care."
An estimated 46 million abortions have been made in the United States since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, and one out of four pregnancies ends in abortion, Father West said.
Priests for Life seeks to encourage pastors to speak up in their sermons and make clear the Catholic Church's condemnation of abortion.
"It's affecting people in the congregation whether we know it or not," Father West said. "There are people in the congregation who have had abortions. There are people who might be tempted to have one if someone doesn't speak out about it. There are people who are struggling with guilt and grief of past abortions. We need to reach out and help them find healing."
Sanctity of life issues have been in the news with increasing frequency over the last few years, from the court decision allowing the removal of a feeding tube from Terry Schiavo's body to scientific advances on cloning and stem-cell research.
Father West said he is "absolutely encouraged" by recent changes in the U.S. Supreme Court, with the appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
"It shows the effectiveness of the pro-life vote in the last few elections," Father West said.
Father West will speak on the sanctity of life at Masses at 4 p.m. today and 9 and 11:30 a.m. tomorrow at Gesu Parish, 2049 Parkside Blvd. Information on Priests for Life is available online at www.priestsforlife.org, or toll-free at 888-PFL-3448.