Request Denied: Philadelphia Won’t Let Church Bury Gosnell Babies

Peter Jesserer Smith

Document Publication: National Catholic Register

June 13, 2013

A request from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia appears to have been rebuffed, but pro-life groups plan a National Day of Remembrance for babies killed by abortions.

PHILADELPHIA — The city of Philadelphia has rejected overtures made by Archbishop Charles Chaput and others to give the babies killed by notorious “House of Horrors” abortionist Kermit Gosnell a fitting burial.

For now, the unclaimed fetal remains of Gosnell’s victims, once stored in the abortionist’s freezer, will have their final resting place at the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office.

At the close of the trial that resulted in Gosnell’s conviction on three charges of first-degree murder, Archbishop Chaput renewed the archdiocese’s request made back in 2011 to gain custody of the bodies of Gosnell’s fetal victims and bury them.

“This would be something that would happen quietly, in a proper and dignified way,” spokesman Kenneth Gavin told the Register.

Gosnell kept the remains of 47 unborn babies stored in a freezer at his Women’s Medical Society facility in Philadelphia. Gavin said the District Attorney’s Office informed the archdiocese that it would revisit the subject of allowing them to bury the remains once they were no longer needed as evidence in Gosnell’s trial.

Gavin said the archdiocese had set aside a grave space at All Souls Cemetery in Brandywine Township and raised more than $8,000 from the parishes to set up a suitable memorial.

“All that money is right now being held in trust, and the space we picked out is certainly being held,” he said.

Gavin said the archdiocese had not yet received the city’s official answer to its request.

The Philadelphia D.A.’s Office has received other offers from other Catholic archdioceses and groups to bury the bodies, said Tasha Jameson, spokeswoman for the office. However, she told the Register that the D.A. no longer has a say in what happens to the bodies.

“Since they are not identified bodies, it will be up to the medical examiner to determine what will happen to those bodies,” Jameson said.

City spokesman Mark McDonald told the Register that the medical examiner’s office is waiting until June 15 before following its procedures for disposing of unclaimed bodies. After June 15, Gosnell will be unable to change his mind on the plea deal, where he waived his right to appeal his convictions in order to avoid the death penalty.

Gosnell was convicted in May on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four infants killed after being born alive, and he is serving life in prison without parole.

Decision Made Already?

However, the M.E.’s office may have already decided to deny all burial requests for Gosnell’s unclaimed victims.

Priests for Life, which also requested permission from the M.E. to bury the victims, received a faxed letter from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino, informing them that, “after much discussion and legal consultation,” he had decided the victims’ remains “would not be released to any third-party organization.”

Priests for Life has protested the decision. It began a petition asking the office to change its mind. It also took to Twitter with the hashtag #Gosnellbabies on June 4 to demand they be allowed to bury the remains of the murdered infants.

“We want to do two things: We want to honor the bodies of these babies by having the opportunity for people to reverence these bodies,” Father Frank Pavone told the Register. “Then, after the proper prayer services and opportunity for reverence, we would give them a proper burial.”

Father Pavone said that providing a proper burial for Gosnell’s victims “flows from the dignity of the human person, who is both body and soul.”

“Reverence for the body flows from reverence for the person,” he said.

City spokesman McDonald said the medical examiner will follow city statutes for bodies not claimed by family or next of kin.

“Our procedure involves cremation and burial,” he said.

However, that office has allowed third parties to bury unclaimed bodies kept longer than 10 years. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the city partnered with the Laurel Hill Cemetery Co. to bury 1,500 unclaimed bodies at the historic Laurel Hill Cemetery in 2010. The year before, the Inquirer reported that more than 2,400 cremated remains were stored in a room off the morgue in the medical examiner’s office.

Repeated attempts by the Register to contact the M.E. and clarify the status of the archdiocese’s request were not returned by publication.

Although the archdiocese intends to give the 47 Gosnell victims a quiet burial, Father Pavone said Priests for Life would prefer a public ceremony as “a step towards the healing of our entire nation from the trauma of abortion.” The group already held a service that named the 47 killed infants.

National Day of Remembrance

Regardless of what happens next, Father Pavone said Priests for Life is co-sponsoring a National Day of Remembrance on Sept. 14, which will feature simultaneous memorial services at more than 30 grave sites dedicated to babies killed by legal abortion in the United States.

“It is not enough to learn the atrocities of what goes on in the abortion industry. We have to start learning to publicly reverence the unborn, especially those killed by abortion,” Pavone said. “And the best way to do that is to give as many people in the public as possible the opportunity to reverence these children. Killed in secret, they must be honored in the broad light of day.”

Register correspondent Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.


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