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Bishop launches probe of priest who posed with fetus on the altar

Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, left, and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City talk before a meeting of bishops from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas at the Congregation for Clergy on March 16 during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (RNS) The Rev. Frank Pavone, a leading anti-abortion crusader and Donald Trump supporter, was jubilant Wednesday (Nov. 9) after his candidate’s surprising win in the presidential race.

But the head of the Staten Island-based Priests for Life group is also facing a stern rebuke and investigation from his bishop over Pavone’s shocking election eve video, in which he posed with an aborted fetus on an altar while delivering a 44-minute appeal to voters to elect the Republican nominee.

Pavone argued that Trump would oppose abortion and that Hillary Clinton would greatly expand the procedure.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director, Priests for Life. RNS file photo by David Gibson

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director, Priests for Life. RNS file photo by David Gibson

Bishop Patrick Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, where Pavone is formally attached as a priest, released a statement late Tuesday excoriating Pavone for an action that Zurek said “is against the dignity of human life and is a desecration of the altar.”

“We believe that no one who is pro-life can exploit a human body for any reason, especially the body of a fetus.”

Zurek added that the diocese “deeply regrets the offense and outrage caused by the video for the faithful and the community at large” and said the presentation “is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

He concluded by announcing that he was opening an investigation of Pavone.

It would not be the first time that Pavone has run afoul of church authorities. Pavone relocated to Amarillo, which was then under another, more sympathetic, bishop, back in 2005 after clashing with then-Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

READ: Priest who posted video with dead fetus on altar is defiant

Always something of a lone ranger, Pavone later angered Zurek, who wrote to his fellow bishops telling them not to support Priests for Life. Pavone was finally declared back in the church’s good graces and allowed to continue his work back up in New York in 2012.

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

A spokesman for Dolan told the Jesuit weekly America that under archdiocesan policy, if a priest is in good standing with his home diocese then he is permitted to minister in the Archdiocese of New York.

A spokeswoman for Pavone said he would not comment on Zurek’s statement but the priest seemed characteristically defiant in an email to supporters on Wednesday celebrating Trump’s victory.

“For what we do, we face much opposition and even hostility,” Pavone wrote. “We are not concerned about any of the criticism that has been launched against us, whether from within or outside the Church. Such opposition is a way of life for those who actively work to end abortion.”

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.


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