Back when I was covering religion full-time, I had a list of stories I hoped to do when I could get to them.
One of them had to do with Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, one of the country’s most influential anti-abortion groups. It came to my attention a few years ago that Pavone is from Port Chester, that he has family there and that he returns fairly often.
I thought it could make a good story if I was to write about Pavone’s Port Chester roots — sort of how he became the man, priest and activist he is today.
I actually contacted Priests for Life several times over the years. They agreed that it was a good idea, but the scheduling never came together.
But then it did. A couple of months ago, someone I know was able to set things up. So I visited Pavone at his parents’ home in Port Chester not long ago.
It was his home from the age of 4 until he went to college. He does return often and usually preaches on Christmas and Easter at Corpus Christi Church, a Salesian parish in Port Chester where Pavone’s parents are still parishioners.
I talked to Pavone at length in his parents’ living room, where he would do his studies on the floor during his years as a very successful Port Chester pupil. He graduated from Port Chester High School, across the street from the family home, a year earlier than his class (’76 instead of ’77) and was the valedictorian.
My article is up today.
I know from experience that writing about abortion — any issue, any development, any person involved — will provoke passionate responses. People on one side of the debate or the other will inevitably not like what I write.
I have’t read the comments on LoHud.com yet, but I have received a bunch of emails. In general, people who support abortion rights would have preferred that I not write about Frank Pavone. Several have written that they intensely dislike his views and methods of activism and that I should not have presented him as a mainstream, or even a rational, figure.
That’s okay. I did not write the article to “support” Pavone’s views or work, but to flesh out the local roots of an important and interesting figure who is a major player in the nation’s culture wars.
I’ve written in the same way about activists who support abortion rights.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
Pavone’s parents, Marion and Joseph, were as tickled by their son’s success as any parents are when their kids “make it” in their chosen field. As you might expect, they see him as a hero and don’t understand why others might oppose their son and not wish him well.
Marion Pavone told me that she reads the comments — good and bad — that people write on Pavone’s blog.
“You tend to ignore the negative,” she said. “But on his blog, you see the threats, people wishing him dead.”
Father Frank, meanwhile, not only shrugs off any criticism, but kind of relishes it. He is a true “culture warrior” who enjoys mixing it up with the other side.
Because he is certain he is right.
I prodded Pavone to talk about people who support abortion rights. Who are they? Why do they believe what they do? Do you think they are crazy? What gives?
He told me: “Even those who call themselves pro-choice are more pro-life than they realize. They are usually not aware that the policy in this country is that abortion is available for all nine months of pregnancy. They’re often in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest, not as birth control.”
But, I said, a lot of really smart people know plenty about abortion law and policy and still support abortion rights. What about them?
He said: “It comes down to a world view. Some have come up with reasoning that says you have to permit this. But if, in fact, you believe that circumstances take precedence over innocent human life, you have over-thought it. Certain people, no matter the arguments or evidence, will remain in that camp. But similar reasoning can be applied to you or someone else when you don’t want it to.”