There are pro-life people who make a point of warning others on social media “if you post graphic images of abortion on my feed I will block you.” Their strong feelings on the matter usually include quite valid remarks like:
- If you are on my feed, you are pretty much preaching to a choir member, so your effort is wasted, and needlessly gratuitous.
- The images can trigger readers of my feed who are post-abortive and regretful, or who perhaps were even coerced into abortion. Have a little compassion for the psyches of those you’re assaulting with these images.
- Human beings who have been murdered in the womb do not deserve to be further exploited by the very people who are trying to protect them.
There are people who are sure that exposure to the terrible images of dismembered fetuses are the key to defeating abortion advocates — that if only people could “see” the results of late-term abortions, and glimpse the humanity of the dead children, their minds and hearts would be changed. Others (I am among them) argue that such images simply make abortion advocates dig in their heels and double-down on their commitment to abortion rights, defensively saying, as writer Mary Elizabeth Williams has, “So What if Abortion Ends Life?”
Graphic images rarely attract people to the pro-life movement, but act as a repellent. Most people do not believe one should use the dead body of a child to win an argument.
Yesterday, on the eve of America’s presidential election, Father Frank Pavone — the founder of Priests for Life, who is often moved to use graphic images of abortion in his social media posts — went beyond even that. In an effort to get out the vote for “pro-life” candidates, Pavone posted a video in which he spoke at an altar upon which he had placed the body of an aborted child. “I am showing you this baby, here today, because I want to connect this election with the choice of the covenant, of life or of death.”
Pavone speaks for almost 45 minutes, covering history, the culture war — and yes, politics — as the dead child lays before him, on the altar. “If you can’t get it right on life, how do you get it right on the economy?” he asks. Finally, he commends the infant, and the millions killed through abortion, to God, along with further thoughts about the election. He concludes by pitching his next day’s homily on Facebook Live and saying, “Thanks, go out there and get more votes.”
There is cause for concern, here, on several levels. Primarily, it must be said that to exploit a murdered human being for the purposes of electioneering is a further desecration of that human life. Pavone’s action has reduced that aborted child to stage-prop status, and undercut his own longtime efforts in a fight for a cause that is just.
Secondarily, while Pavone’s work with Priests for Life is undertaken in service to the profound theological teachings of the church on the sanctity of human life, his actions shine a strong spotlight on the dangers of allowing our ideologies to be too closely commingled with our theology, which can too often end up creating a very scandalous and confusing brew. In this case, by placing the fetus upon the altar, and then talking politics before its corpse, Pavone has opened himself to charges of “idolatry” — of placing something other than God before God. In this case, human life itself is centered on the altar which, according to Canon 1239, “…must be reserved for divine worship to the exclusion of any secular usage,” as human concerns and laws both human and divine are discussed.
Yes, human life is sacred, but Christ himself proclaimed that our lives, the lives of others, must still be subjugated to the proper love and worship of God (Luke 14:26). The visual of this video, coupled with the long exposition of earthly political concerns cannot help but sow scandalous confusion over whether some Catholic Christians have in fact made an idol of their political ideologies, to the ultimate detriment of the pro-life cause.
The Archdiocese of New York has published this statement by its spokesman, Edward Mechmann:
The real question is, what about that baby as a human being? That baby is an individual human person, someone’s son or daughter, made in the image and likeness of God, unique and unrepeatable, and deserving of our love and mercy. To use her body in this way is to treat that poor lost girl or boy as an object to be used — which is the antithesis of love — and not as a brother or sister to be mourned.
Who would ever wish that their body be used in such a way? Who would ever want that for a loved one? Can any of us imagine that being the right way to treat the remains of our dead son or daughter?
And to place that baby’s body on an altar, which has been sanctified for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? To treat the altar of God as if it’s a mere podium for a political speech?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” There is no ambiguity there.
A human being has been sacrificed and the altar of God has been desecrated, all for politics. Everyone who respects the dignity of every human person should reject and disavow this atrocity.
Today is a good day to pray for many things, among them for the clear and unambiguous outcome of an important presidential election in a very divided country. It is also a good day to pray for Fr. Pavone, whose questionable actions (and follow up video) suggest an over-attachment to worldly solutions and ideologies, and for the pro-life movement itself, which must always stand for human dignity, and fight for it, with a dignity of its own, and a clear line of demarcation made that says to all: “Human life is sacred, yes, and we defend it in the service of our Creator, who Alone is Holy.”
[Editor’s Note: Take the poll — Do you think graphic images of aborted babies helps or hurts the prolife cause?]