The Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo has launched an investigation into Father Frank Pavone, a priest belonging to the Diocese who is one of 34 Catholic leaders advising President-elect Donald J. Trump, in response to a Facebook Live video featuring a fetus posted Sunday morning to Pavone’s Facebook page.
“Father Frank Pavone has posted a video on his Facebook page of the body of an aborted fetus, which is against the dignity of human life and is a desecration of the altar,” said Amarillo Diocese Bishop Patrick J. Zurek.
“We believe that no one who is pro-life can exploit a human body for any reason, especially the body of a fetus. The Diocese of Amarillo deeply regrets the offense and outrage caused by the video for the faithful and the community at large. The action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”
Bishop Zurek’s comments about Pavone, who has a history of controversy in the Texas Panhandle and New York, were released in a statement Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Diocese said they would not release any additional details.
Priests for Life, a pro-life civil organization of which Pavone is the national director, is not a Catholic institution and does not fall under the Bishop’s authority, the Diocese said.
The controversial 44-minute video featuring what Pavone said is an aborted fetus, which was placed on an altar, is one of a seven-part Election Novena series that preceded Tuesday’s national presidential election.
While the exact location of the video’s filming is unconfirmed, it is believed to have been shot at PFL’s headquarters in Staten Island, N.Y. The background of the video, including a tapestry and paintings, matches the background of previous Facebook videos Pavone posted from PFL’s headquarters.
The fetus, which in the video Pavone said was “entrusted to us for burial,” lies bare and discolored on the altar.
Pavone stands in vestments behind it, speaking about God’s covenant to life.
“Today I am doing something rather extraordinary,” Pavone said to the camera. “Today we are going to pray with this baby and we are going to let this baby’s body bear witness to our nation as we begin the process to elect our next president, our next Senate, Congress, state legislatures, up and down the various levels of government … I am here to present to you today that we have a simple choice: To elect those who are going to affirm the covenant we have with God or those who reject it; those who call the people to obey it or those who want to rewrite it.”
Then with a poster board, Pavone describes an abortion procedure involving fetus dismemberment.
He concluded with a statement of Christian morals being associated more toward those of the Republican Party.
“When you look at the (Democratic) party platform, they are at odds with the God of the covenant,” Pavone said in the video.
He then prays and commends the fetus into God’s hand.
The use of a fetus in the video has also raised questions about medical ethics.
John A. Robertson, Vinson and Elkins Chair at the University of Texas School of Law at Austin and chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said accessing a fetus would require consent of the family or individual from which the fetus came.
Whether the fetus is considered a cadaver by the state or not, Robertson said it still seems to be ethically skewed from Pavone’s specific religious beliefs.
“That would seem to be inconsistent with their views because they certainly wouldn’t want other cadavers to be presented on the altar,” Robertson said. “Even if they have the consent of the parties, it may be illegal or it would be against good pathology practices for taking a fetus and displaying it in that way.”
More concerning is the fact that the fetus was completely exposed on the altar, Robertson said.
Candy Gibbs, executive director for CareNet Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Amarillo, said the exposed visual of the fetus is an issue of honor and respect.
“I love Father Pavone, and appreciate the work he has done for many years for the pro-life movement,” Gibbs said. “I do not believe images of aborted babies are honoring of the innocent lives lost, or of the women who regret abortions in their past. These images are a heartbreaking reminder to them of a child they will never hold. I would never have communicated the value of life this way, nor do I support this video.”
However, Gibbs continued, “Though I disagree with his approach, I do believe I understand Father Frank’s intent. The images associated with abortion are painful and offensive because the reality of this evil and violent practice is more than any humane person can take in. If the images offend our conscience, the legal procedure and its common practice certainly should.”
According to Amarillo Globe-News files, Pavone entered into the authority of the Amarillo Diocese in 2005 when Bishop John W. Yanta, Bishop for the Diocese at the time, promised Pavone he could work full-time for the pro-life movement.
In 2011, Bishop Patrick J. Zurek suspended Pavone due to concerns over PFL’s use of financial donations.
The Vatican Congregation of the Clergy ruled against his suspension, but said that Pavone still needed permission from Zurek to participate in pro-life events.
Pavone remained in good standing as a Catholic priest despite the brief suspension, and at the time he was a chaplain of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ at Prayer Town, Texas.
Breakout / Video Aftermath:
Gathered from the Facebook page, “Father Frank Pavone,” the information below displays reactions to the Facebook Live video Pavone posted Sunday, Nov. 6 at 9 a.m.. More than 6,700 comments were made on the video and the page, believed to be Pavone himself, responded to many of these comments.
More than 900 “love” reactions
More than 4,000 “sad” reactions
More than 6,500 “likes”
More than 9,100 “shares”
“You are a very sick man, if you think this is ok then I feel sorry for you and I am sure it must be against the law for you to do this to this poor baby.”
“People are upset because he showed a dead baby? They should be upset our government allowed the MURDER of this baby and countless more. Time to wake up.”