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Priest who posted video with dead fetus on altar is defiant

Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, leads a prayer during the March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, on January 22, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NEW YORK (RNS) After sparking outrage for posing with an aborted fetus on an altar in a video urging voters to elect Donald Trump, a Catholic priest says he does not believe he’ll be disciplined by church authorities and has no regrets.

“I wasn’t there playing catch with the baby’s body. I wasn’t taunting the baby’s body. I was honoring the baby’s body, which is what we do all the time,” the Rev. Frank Pavone, head of the New York-based anti-abortion group Priests for Life, said in a phone interview on Tuesday (Nov. 8).

“We’re making it (abortion) real to people. And we’re making reparation,” said Pavone, who posted the 44-minute Facebook live video on Sunday.

In the video and the accompanying post, which have been viewed more than 360,000 times so far, Pavone stands over the small, curled fetus and talks about why voters must support Trump; Pavone is a member of the Republican nominee’s faith advisory team.

Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, leads a prayer during the March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, on January 22, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, leads a prayer during a March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on Jan. 22, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The video went viral and prompted numerous critiques, many from Catholics who oppose abortion, who said that Pavone – a controversial figure in the anti-abortion movement and in the Catholic Church – was defiling a human life and a sacred place.

“A human being has been sacrificed and the altar of God has been desecrated, all for politics,” Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York, wrote in a blistering blog post. “Everyone who respects the dignity of every human person should reject and disavow this atrocity.”

Other commentators also blasted Pavone for “a profane violation,” as the Rev. Thomas Petri, vice president and academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., told Catholic News Agency.

Speaking to RNS, Pavone rejected the criticisms and said he had not violated any canon laws.

“I laugh at that, I really do,” Pavone said. “If anybody thinks these people are not going to complain if I put this baby on a regular wood table instead of an altar, they’re crazy. They’re complaining because I am putting Hillary Clinton in a bad light. That’s what’s going on here. It’s completely partisan.”

He said he used the altar in a chapel at the Staten Island building that houses Priests for Life offices. He said the videotaping was not done during a service of any kind; he was alone, put the fetus on the altar, set up his iPhone on a stand and started filming.

Pavone insisted that the fetus was treated with proper respect. He said the remains were originally given to a Protestant pastor he knows by a local pathologist who said they were the result of an abortion and who asked that they be given a proper burial. Pavone and Priests for Life are known for offering such services.

The pastor brought the remains to Pavone, who made the videotape and then presided over a funeral for them, before burial. He did not identify the pastor or pathologist – it is unclear whether laws regarding the disposal of human remains were violated – and did not say where the burial took place.

“I don’t have control over the baby or what was done,” Pavone said. He said there was no possibility of contacting the mother for permission to use the fetus because “the mother had the baby killed. So she’s not going to be interested in the least in giving permission.”

“I think it’s silly for people to be even making those distinctions. What do you do when you’re in the middle of a holocaust and you’re showing people a body that they deny even exists?

“The dishonor, the sacrilege, the mistreatment, the abuse, the manipulation – that’s all on the shoulders of the abortion industry and, my point in making this video, on the shoulders of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and those who support abortion in our political world,” Pavone said. “They’re the ones who are mistreating and abusing and degrading these babies.”

Pavone said he does not expect to face any disciplinary action from either the Archdiocese of New York, which gives him permission to act as a priest in the confines of the archdiocese, or the Diocese of Amarillo in Texas.

That’s where Pavone relocated in 2005 when he clashed with then-Cardinal Edward Egan of New York. Pavone continued to clash with the bishop in Amarillo, however, but was finally declared back in the church’s good graces and allowed to continue his work back up in New York in 2012.


READ: Cardinal Dolan cuts ties with anti-abortion crusader Frank Pavone


Then, in December 2014, the current New York archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, cut ties with Pavone after growing frustrated with his ongoing refusal to be transparent about the organization or to cooperate with the archdiocese.

Officials at the Amarillo Diocese, where Pavone is still technically attached as a priest, did not respond to requests Tuesday for comment. The New York Archdiocese also did not respond to a request for comment.

But Pavone said he is frustrated that he has been criticized by church officials over this video.

He said he is “in dialogue” with some bishops who have contacted him privately but said the public criticisms show that church authorities are not passionate about the abortion issue and are quietly favoring Clinton.

“The fact that these people are complaining makes me laugh and wonder what planet they’re living on,” he said, adding: “OK, so we don’t judge the homosexuals but we sure judge the pro-life priests! Pounce right on them.”

Trump’s candidacy has divided abortion opponents much as it has other traditional Republican allies.

Some argue vociferously that Trump’s conversion to the cause is sincere or that his pledge to appoint abortion opponents to the Supreme Court is more than enough justification for voting for a candidate who is so flawed in other ways.

Others say that Trump’s pro-life pledges cannot be trusted and that voting for someone who is so morally compromised in other areas actually undermines the witness of abortion opponents and people of faith.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

32 Comments

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  • Goshes.
    Regan didn’t stop abortion. Bush didn’t stop abortion. Shrub didn’t stop abortion.
    But Donald trump will.

  • Nothing in this article suggests that would be a possibility. No indication it violated any of the IRS rules.

  • These type tactics used by Pro Life Militants is what makes the Pro Choice groups dig in even deeper to defend their position of Abortion. Pro Life groups should be trying to soften Pro Choice hearts not hardened them. Trying to stop Abortion politically with Conservative Judges will not end it.

  • In this article he said he referenced Hillary Clinton, a candidate. He likely encouraged voting for Trump but even if he didn’t he mentioned Clinton. That is a violation of the act.

  • With no provenance for the remains and with the backstory about an unethical pathologist to boot, this all sounds like the most pathetic sort of shamelessly manipulative propaganda.

    Now why would a patriarch of a church that discriminates against women at every turn like they’re Southern Baptists with cassocks. want to control women using such dubious propaganda?

  • While such a display might , and indeed does, border on the furthest margins of good taste, I think it speaks favorably to the passion of the priest in question with respect to the abomination that is abortion. The unborn are the very “least of these” that Jesus spoke about in his ministry. Laying the sacrificed child on an altar is supremely ironic as, in the absence of modern medical technology, pagan Canaanites sacrificed their children in barbaric ways after their birth rather than before as a direct function of religious practice, the end result is the same; sexual license and carelessness lies at the heart of most abortions, perfectly mirroring the pagan practices of the ancients.

  • As someone who actually debated Pavone, I found him to an despicable enemy of religious liberty and women’s rights of conscience.

  • Jesus never mentioned or condemned abortion. And the Bible (Gen 1:27 and 2:7) posits that human personhood starts at birth, at the first breath.

  • No, Genesis posits that ADAM’S personhood started at the first breath. But Adam is a special case, you can’t extrapolate from that to a general principle.

  • That’s because thanks to Roe the path to reasonable abortion laws runs through the Supreme Court rather than Congress or state legislatures. Trump might actually be able to put enough justices on the Supreme Court that recognize the common humanity the unborn shares with us to overturn that ghastly ruling. At which point, the fight shifts back to the state legislatures where it belongs.

  • We’re in the age of do-it-yourself theology. Anyone that extensively reads and ponders the meaning of scripture is an expert.

  • It’s ironic that he’d be pictured above at a news conference with women who say they regret their abortion, then claim it was impossible to contact the mother here because she “had the baby killed.” So which is it, you don’t think the mother could possibly regret her abortion, or the women in the photo are lying?

  • Jesus could not possibly have had time to address every single issues of humanity, but a proper reading between the lines makes it clear what His stance on abortion would be, and your biblical citations come nowhere near the context of your argument. In sum, you are in complete error in your analysis. Cheers.

  • You are suggesting that Jesus was deficient in some way? LOL. And you forget about the right of women to freedom of conscience and judgment.

  • What? The Church respects women as the foundation of a civil society. It takes a great deal of love to have a baby. The modern woman is totally selfish.

  • The “foul man” defends the sanctity of life. The “modern woman” believes in the throwing the unborn away.

  • Nice thought, Adam was not born. The study of DNA evoles and goes back to a single source in one particular area in the Middle East/Africa.

  • Your mother obviously didn’t. 🙂

    Mine chose to keep me and didn’t run the risk of getting killed/injured by a back alley hack if she didn’t.

  • Not a single person. Not the Middle East. Try the African Savannah.

    Adam is a mythical figure. Get over it.

  • To those railing against the profanation of the altar, please recall Pope Francis’ depositing a beach ball and jersey on the altar beside the tabernacle… then, let’s talk.

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