For Father Frank Pavone: If you can’t stop ‘em, shock them.
It’s a few days before the election and you want to grab the nation’s attention about the importance of abortion in its presidential candidate choices. How do you rivet the attention of a people dulled by the craziest election in U.S. history?
Put a dead male fetus on a church altar, then post it on your Facebook page, for starters. When the Rev. Frank Pavone did so on Sunday, it didn’t take long for the protests to pour in. The Washington Post, in a story by former getreligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey, had the earliest and lengthiest story on Pavone’s ploy, so I’ll start there:
Ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election, the Rev. Frank Pavone took an aborted fetus, laid it upon an altar Sunday and posted a live video on Facebook. Pavone, a Catholic priest who heads New York-based Priests for Life, said the fetus was entrusted to him by a pathologist for burial.
During an already heated and divisive campaign season, Pavone’s video has raised questions for some about what is appropriate antiabortion and political activism in the church. As of Monday afternoon, the video, which is 44 minutes long, had 236,000 views. In it, he holds up a poster of graphics of abortion procedures.
In Pavone’s Facebook appeal, he wrote, “we have to decide if we will allow this child killing to continue in America or not. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform says yes, let the child-killing continue (and you pay for it); Donald Trump and the Republican platform says no, the child should be protected.”
So I glanced over at Pavone’s Facebook page and read some of the 6,400 (as of Tuesday night) comments along with 407,000 views. I was amazed to see it was still on Facebook, which is usually quick to cut off any content that some reader thinks is offensive. Pavone was working full-time, it seemed, answering all the (mostly negative) comments. He asks why people are so angry about his displaying the dead fetus and not angry at the woman who aborted it.
In case you’re wondering about the second-trimester-aborted child himself, the camera doesn’t zoom in on the body, but you can clearly see the discolored corpse, which is about the size of a small cat.
How does one report on such a gesture?
Well, you quote bloggers, you try to get a hold of Pavone himself (which the Post managed to do) and you get ahold of officials in the priest’s home diocese and you rummage through the priest’s history with Catholic authorities. As the National Catholic Reporter pointed out:
Pavone has been a lightning rod of controversy in the past, and the video is not the first time he has used an aborted fetus to make a point. In 2013 he held an open-casket funeral for a 14-week-old child who was aborted.
In 2011 he was suspended from ministry outside the Amarillo diocese due to questions about the finances of Priests for Life; at the time, Bishop Patrick Zurek slammed Pavone's "incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop." During his suspension he continued to raise money for the organization, and lived in a Texas convent where he served as chaplain.
Zurek and Pavone resolved their differences in December 2013. But continued disputes over finances led New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan to cut ties with Pavone and Priests for Life in late-November 2014, two years after the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy said the organization should answer to the New York archbishop.
But instead of all isn’t-this-sicko coverage, what about covering Pavone’s main point: That of course his action is offensive but what’s more offensive is the nation’s 954,000 abortions that take place every year.
In response to the outrage online against the video, Pavone has replied to several angry Facebook users who saw his post.
In defense against claims he was exploiting a dead baby, Pavone said: “The exploitation was the violent killing of the child, and deprivation, by the government, of the protection of that child’s life. THAT’s the exploitation. This body would have been in the garbage had we not given this child a funeral and a cemetery crypt. Wake up.”
I haven’t found many reporters who’ve gotten inside of Pavone’s head to think through this. As this Catholic site points out, one prophet ran around naked for a time and another lay on one side for 390 days, then rolled over and repeated the act. Does Pavone see himself in that tradition?
Did he read articles suggesting that abortion was not an issue in the race and wondered what he could do to grab peoples’ attention? Black Lives Matter does disruptive actions too and they don’t get condemned. So what’s the difference?
For a lot of folks, this is sacrilege involving a human body and a Catholic altar. I get that. And Pavone’s no fool; he gets that too. But do radical times call for radical methods?
Not according to his own diocese, which aleteia.org is saying is launching an investigation of Pavone. Sadly, the lack of a religion reporter at the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper that covers Pavone's home diocese, shows here. Karen Smith Welch, the reporter who has covered so much of Pavone's past activities, apparently left sometime last year.
HNow, with Trump winning the election, does Pavone feel vindicated?
Someone, please, ask him. There's a lot more going on here, folks. There are stories that need to be covered.