I want to address the former priest Frank Pavone, and the mystery of the dead infant known as “Baby Choice,” for what I hope is the last time.
I hate talking about Pavone. I hate the harassment I get, from pro-life and pro-choice people, when I talk about Pavone. But since he brought up the topic of the dead baby again, I want to address it just once more.
In the past few days, Pavone published a long document on his personal web page, in which he tried to tell his part of the story. It’s written out like an interview but I don’t see any attribution as to who, if anyone, did the interviewing. It may just have been Pavone writing out questions for himself to answer for all I know.
In this interview, Pavone lays out his apologia for why everyone who’s ever objected to his behavior is wrong. He argues that his laicization is unjust. He complains that people were mean to him and accused him of lying.
He also repeats his story that in 2016, conveniently right before the presidential election, someone just happened to give him the corpse of an aborted baby which he was preparing for burial, and he put it on the altar as part of an “educational video series,” after which the baby was buried in timely fashion. This is a bit inconsistent with the transcript of the video, because in that video he refers to the baby as a baby who “rests in a nearby memorial chapel,” as if he’d been keeping the baby in the chapel and exhumed him or her for the video. If that were the only inconsistency, I’d believe he misspoke.
Pavone’s one shred of evidence for that sequence of events is a certificate of burial of a baby named Ryan from 2016, the same one he showed to me a few years ago. I have already compiled a very thick pile of evidence that in fact, this baby is one of two babies usually called “Baby Choice,” which Pavone had for a very long time and had used for various media appearances. Sometimes he claimed the babies died in 1978 from saline abortion, and in the early 2000s he claimed two identical-looking babies were killed in a prostaglandin abortion. An identical looking baby to one of those infants was photographed in a coffin at a media appearance in 2012. During that media appearance it was admitted that the baby had been traveling with him since 1991. And one of the babies in the coffin from 1978 is identical-looking to the baby from 2016. I don’t believe it’s possible to just happen to be handed several babies, all of the exact same race and the exact same gestational age with identical black and white markings all over the body, at several times during several decades. I believe that he had two babies and kept them in formalin in between media appearances for years while claiming they were properly buried. If there’s some other explanation for all that, I’m happy to hear it. The media appearances seem to have stopped after 2016, so I believe that the burial certificate is genuine and at least one of those babies is now in a grave.
In any case, in this written interview, Pavone protests what he’s been protesting for the longest time: that he didn’t really desecrate a Catholic altar because the table he used in that video wasn’t really an altar. It was a desk from his office, dressed up to look like an altar. He seems to think that makes the stunt okay.
He posts a link to an apology he made in 2017, where he vehemently protests that it wasn’t really an altar that the baby was laid on, but he was wrong to make it look like an altar. He apologizes to anyone who was disturbed by the sight of that altar.
He really seems to think that the problem with his stunt was the altar.
I feel like I am screaming into a void, but I would like to address Pavone for what I hope is the last time:
I don’t care whether it was an altar.
I couldn’t care less whether it was an altar.
I probably should care. I’ve been Catholic since one month to the day after I was born. I don’t have a single memory of not being Catholic. I should probably be sickened at the desecration of anything that even resembled a Catholic altar. But I don’t. I don’t care about the altar. I don’t care about liturgical vestments. I don’t care if you sing “Gather Us In” or if you use blue Advent candles instead of purple. I don’t care if you use a glass or clay chalice. I don’t care about any of that at this point in my life. I care about that baby.
So many people have chided me with “If you care about the baby, why don’t you care about the horrific way in which that baby was murdered?” and I do. I do very much. I’ve changed a lot as a person since 2016. I’ve had to eat my words on so many topics. But I am still convinced that abortion is a tragedy and it ought never to happen. The thing is, next to nobody gets an abortion that late in the pregnancy for a trivial reason. If you were raised in the pro-life movement, you were raised to believe that abortions are sought because a licentious teenager was scared to tell her mom she was pregnant, or because a frivolous woman didn’t want to have stretch marks, or because a greedy woman didn’t want to pay for daycare, but those caricatures aren’t real. Nobody gets an abortion at twelve or fifteen weeks for reasons like that. The later you go in the pregnancy, the more likely it is that the abortion is an emergency and a nightmare for a mother who loved that child. I don’t know that baby’s story, but she does have one. And her mother has one. Anyone who knew that mom is part of the story. An abortion at that stage is almost always a horrible trauma that the mother carries with her for the rest of her life, a tragedy that can scar a whole family– because a baby she deeply wanted had a terminal diagnosis, for example. And you exploited that trauma. If you want to argue about whether she and her doctor made the right choice in her traumatic emergency all those years ago, maybe we can do that some other time. All I’m saying right now is that you exploited her trauma.
And then there’s the fact that I no longer actually think Baby Choice was aborted in the first place.
It’s hard for me to be sure about this, since you’ve changed your story so many times about how Baby Choice died and when. I am not a medical professional. But I’ve talked about this with medical professionals, including a neonatologist, and I’ve been told more than once that Baby Choice doesn’t look like anything you’d expect from any kind of abortion. She looks stillborn. She looks like a little one who died in the womb and had to be removed surgically to prevent sepsis in the mother. I don’t know for certain whether that’s true, but the evidence keeps mounting.
I’m nearly certain you don’t know whether Baby Choice was stillborn or not, because you weren’t there. If I recall, you’ve changed your story on how, exactly, you got ahold of that baby several times. I think once or twice you blurted out that Baby Choice’s mother coldly tossed her in a dumpster, but the rest of the time you claim an unnamed pathologist or a minister handed her to you after she’d been stolen from a clinic or pathology lab.
Why was she in a pathology lab?
Let’s say she was in a pathology lab. Why was she there?
Were they going to do a post-mortem on a stillborn baby to see why she died? Would that perhaps have helped her mother to not have another stillbirth next time? Did she get stolen before or after that?
Did the baby’s parents consent to the minister or pathologist sneaking her out of the lab?
How do you think they felt when they found she was gone?
Did you ever once think about how they must feel?
If I had done something like that– if I had taken part in stealing a dead body from a bereaved family and trying to pass it off as something it wasn’t– I don’t think I’d ever sleep again.
Do you sleep well at night?
You present yourself as someone who speaks out for authentic Catholicism, even against the political bigwigs in the Vatican, and that’s something I can respect. I have very little patience for the Vatican myself. I used to, but I don’t anymore. Still, the Catholic Church has always taught that the end doesn’t justify the means. I’m not even sure what your ends are anymore, but I know your means were evil.
I’m glad you’re getting some of the notoriety you deserve.
And wherever “Baby Choice” is now, I pray she rests in peace.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.