Four women who worked for ex-Catholic Priest Frank Pavone have accused him of sexual aggression. And groping is not this bigot's only exercise in misogyny. He is the long-time director of the fanatical anti-abortion group “Priests for Life” and is a luminary in the top ranks of anti-choice crusaders.
His high profile and notoriety led to his selection as a member of “Catholics for Trump." He was also appointed national co-chair of “Pro-Life Voices For Trump.” during the self-confessed pussy-grabber’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In fairness, neither his bigotry nor vocal support for an abuser is evidence of a crime. A reasonable person would ask, are the accusations warranted? Often stories of predatory men degrade into a “he said, she said” morass of claims and denials. How can anyone know the truth? One clue is the number of alleged victims. Is there any case where multiple women have accused an innocent man?
Defenders of serial gropers might point to Bill Cosby’s successful appeal as “proof” women lie. That defense is a non-starter. An appeals court overturned his conviction on a technicality — not because there was a lack of evidence he attacked women after drugging them. The divided court agreed he had done it. The problem was a 2005 non-prosecution agreement the then DA offered Cosby.
The four women have accused Pavone of groping, grooming, and lewd suggestions. They were easy targets for an older man exploiting a young, new employee’s eagerness to please the boss. Abusers are masters at zeroing in on a victim’s vulnerabilities. Take the case of his first known accuser.
In an anonymous account given to The Pillar, the woman said that as a 20-year-old in 1999, she applied for a job with Priests for Life. During a cursory interview, Pavone only asked if she liked roller coasters and if she ate seafood, before hiring her on the spot.
In his Staten Island office, she said Pavone would frequently touch her hair and hug her at her desk. He referred to her as his “spiritual daughter” and told her to call him “Dad,” On a few occasions, she found her bra unhooked after Pavone rubbed her back.
While in Washington for a convention, she said Pavone came into her hotel room late one night and asked if she would like to “slip into something a little more comfortable.”
According to The Pillar’s report,
“She does not recall much of what happened next or how he eventually left her room. She kept repeating that she was very tired and wanted to go to bed.” Eventually, he left, and she dismissed the event as the Father being kind of weird.
That is not weird. That is flat-out abuse.
Another victim, Jenn Morson, worked at Priests for Life as an outreach assistant shortly after graduating from college in 1999. She was 22 when she first met Pavone, then a towering figure in the anti-abortion movement.
She told the Daily Beast, “I did not have the same experience as the other young woman as far as severity. But there were definitely red flags and boundary-crossing.” She said Pavone would put his hands on her shoulders as she worked at the office computer after hours and often took her to dinner alone or invited her into his private living quarters.
Many might wonder why she put up with it. She answers that charge by saying she considered Pavone a trusted father figure - he was a Priest, after all - laser-focused on his work in the movement. She explained that working at Priests for Life "was considered a big honor. Here is this super important person, if you’re from that subculture.”
Since then, Morson has reported extensively on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. She says it took her years to realize that Pavone had been grooming her.
“I’ve listened to women talk about all the stuff that they got confused by when they were being groomed by their abusers. I guess until these women came forward [about Pavone] I never really thought about all of the stuff that made me uncomfortable.”
Predators take advantage of the power advantage they have over their prey. Victims blame themselves, downplay the severity of the offense, and find it impossible to believe a trusted older man — in this case, a Priest — is an evil person intent on taking advantage of their subordinate position.
Another woman, Mary Worthington, has spoken up about being groped by Pavone. She told The Pillar that, in 2004, she was a recent college graduate working at the organization as an intern.
“[Pavone] started on the flirty-flirty touching, paying way too much attention to me, touching my hair, or stroking my back. He would just walk up to me in the office, and keep his hand on my arm, stroke my hair at my desk, or put his hand on the small of my back, where it was also halfway on my bottom.”
She described the harassment as “constant,” saying it made her “dread” going to work. “I always just sat there cringing, thinking “Don’t touch me. Just please don’t touch me.”
Note the consistency of the women’s stories.
The organization dismissed Worthington's distress. Her father told Priests for Life about her experiences. In response, Angelo DeStefano, the group’s executive director, replied that Mary “didn’t understand” and that Pavone was just “very affectionate.” (It would have been more accurate to say “criminally” instead of “very.”)
Besides being a degenerate, Pavone is also a sanctimonious troll so offensive that even Catholic Church management could not abide him. On the day before the 2016 election, Pavone appeared in a Facebook video holding what he claimed were the remains of an aborted fetus, which he laid on an altar while encouraging viewers to vote for Donald Trump. In the video, now deleted, Pavone said,
“I am showing him to you because in this election 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.”
He crossed a line. In a blog post, Ed Mechmann of the Archdiocese of New York wrote,
“A priest of the Catholic Church publicly displayed on a sacred altar a dead baby who was the victim of a terrible crime as part of a propaganda video in favor of a political candidate.
It is hard for me to express in calm, measured terms, the revulsion I feel about this.”
Pavone excused his desecration by saying the table was not a consecrated altar, ergo not a “sacred space.” What a weasel.
The Church was not impressed. For that and “blasphemous communications on social media and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” they defrocked Pavone. Had Pavone limited himself to groping, would the Church have been so quick to lance the boil?
At first blush, there is no reason why sexual abuse should have a political affiliation. After all, Harvey Weinstein is supposedly a liberal. However, if you keep score, abusers are frequently right-wing and often religious. It may well be that the lack of empathy among conservatives enables abusive behavior. And it is for damn sure that religion does little to promote morality.