The Vatican has defrocked pro-life hero priest Father Frank Pavone for alleged “blasphemous communications on social media” as well as “persistent disobedience” of his bishop, who repeatedly told him to stop publicly supporting former President Donald Trump.
The Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, said in a letter to the U.S. bishops that the decision against Fr. Pavone, the founder of the pro-life group, Priests for Life, had been taken Nov. 9, and that there was no chance for an appeal, the Associated Press reported.
In his letter, Pierre cited information from the Congregation for Clergy that Pavone had been laicized — he can no longer present himself as a priest — after being found guilty in a canonical proceeding “of blasphemous communications on social media and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop.” The letter was first reported by Catholic News Agency.
The laicization of a priest is one of the harshest sanctions in the church’s canon law for members of the Catholic clergy.
Fr. Pavone, a faithful priest for 34 years, had long clashed with Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek “over his pro-life and partisan political activities,” the AP reported.
Pavone has been in conflict with the bishop of Amarillo, Texas, for over a decade over his pro-life and partisan political activities that came to a head in 2016 when he put an aborted fetus on an altar and posted a video of it on two social media sites. The video was accompanied by a post saying that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform would allow abortion to continue and that Trump and the Republican platform wanted to protect unborn children.
Even before then, Pavone successfully appealed 2011 restrictions on his ministry that Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek had placed on him.
Pavone remained a firm supporter of Trump and in 2020 disputed the outcome of the election won by Joe Biden. Ahead of the election, the Amarillo diocese denounced Pavone’s use of social media for political ends, distanced the diocese from him and said his positions weren’t consistent with Catholic teaching.
Pavone relocated from Amarillo and was allowed to move to Colorado Springs, Colorado. His Twitter handle still features him wearing a “MAGA” hat with a background photo of former President Trump, who is praised by many conservatives for his Supreme Court nominees who helped overturn the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.
In a tweet Sunday, the pro-life champion compared his fate to that of the unborn.
“So in every profession, including the priesthood, if you defend the #unborn, you will be treated like them! The only difference is that when we are ‘aborted,’ we continue to speak, loud and clear.”
In an interview with Catholic commentator Taylor Marshall, Pavone explained that certain U.S. bishops started “making moves” against Priests For Life about 21 years ago, because they weren’t controlling its finances, messaging and influence over the Catholic pro-life movement.
First, he said, Bishop Eagan of New York said he needed to become a parish priest again because he’d worked long enough at “Priests for Life.” Fr. Pavone said he fought back against that, saying, “with all due respect, this isn’t just an assignment, it’s a vocation. I want to give my life to the unborn.” In addition to his pleading, Pavone said there was “an uproar from the people” who supported his ministry.
Ultimately, Pavone said they reached an agreement in which he was given a parish assignment in a place where he wasn’t needed so he was able to continue leading Priests For Life.
Later, the bishops “tried to take Priests For Life away from me,” Pavone continued, “where they started questioning the finances of Priests For Life.”
“This is a favorite tactic of the other side. You want to discredit someone, call their finances into question,” he explained.
Well, that didn’t work either because we kept sending them clean audits that we get annually from our independent auditing firm, and the Vatican itself looked at our finances and said they were in good order. So that didn’t work.
So if they can’t take Fr. Frank away from Priests for Life, they can’t take Priests For Life away from Father Frank, maybe they have to take the Father away from Frank. And that’s this move that they’re just doing now.
Pavone noted that there is a cancel culture within the Catholic church, “just like we see in politics,” and left-wing forces within the Church weaponize otherwise legitimate processes to thwart ideological opponents.
There was “an effort to blunt the impact of this ministry on the Church,” he told Marshall.
In a statement on his Priest For Life website, Pavone assured supporters that his pro-life ministry would “not be deterred in any way by the continued efforts of some in the hierarchy to ‘cancel him,'” or even by the Vatican’s decision “to strip him of the priesthood to which he has been devoted for more than 34 years.”
“Some in the Church have been trying to silence my voice for 20 years,” he said. “It will not work.”
This is not just an attack on me, but an effort by forces both inside and outside the Church to intimidate every courageous pro-life priest and lay activist. We see this in the arrests of pro-life advocates and the lack of response from law enforcement in more than 100 attacks against pro-life organizations. We see this in when some religious leaders provide cover for pro-abortion politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. And we see it when some priests who violate canon law and also break civil law are supported while others, including myself, are chastised and ostracized for working to protect the unborn.
Ultimately, this is about how the Church will respond to abortion, and whose view of this battle will hold sway in the Catholic Church and beyond. It’s about whom the Church wants to punish: Pro-abortion politicians or pro-life priests. It’s about whom the Church wants to abort: Babies in the womb, or priests who defend them.
Father Frank addressed accusations that he has been “blasphemous” in a Priest’s For Life broadcast on Saturday.
“That is just the latest of a long list of excuses some bishops like to use to attack me. How about we focus on what my ministry and I have been doing for three decades: Helping parishes provide alternatives to abortion, overseeing the world’s largest ministries for healing after abortion and training clergy to promote that healing, leading abortionists back to Christ, leading prayer campaigns to end abortion and prayer vigils at abortion facilities, providing pro-life books and seminars to dioceses free of charge, educating and inspiring pro-life activists in person and through broadcasting with the latest arguments and information, and electing pro-life candidates to every office from President to City Council.”
“To those who want to cancel me, I ask, to which of these works do you object?” he asked.
Pavone added that he has not yet received official notification from the Vatican about his laicization, but said he rejected the idea that there was “no possibility of appeal.”
“Of course there is. I am appealing to the People of God, who are becoming wiser to all that is going on and who will be the judges of whether the work my 50-person team at Priests for Life and I do is worthy of support or not. I have made an irrevocable commitment to defend the unborn and to be a priest. I will not walk away from either one.”
The Bishop of Tyler, Texas, Joseph Strickland, hit back hard at the Vatican’s decision to defrock “this holy priest,” while staying silent about “evil” Catholics like Joe Biden.
“The blasphemy is that this holy priest is canceled while an evil president promotes the denial of truth & the murder of the unborn at every turn, Vatican officials promote immorality & denial of the deposit of faith & priests promote gender confusion devastating lives…evil,” Strickland tweeted.
The blasphemy is that this holy priest is canceled while an evil president promotes the denial of truth & the murder of the unborn at every turn, Vatican officials promote immorality & denial of the deposit of faith & priests promote gender confusion devastating lives…evil https://t.co/ASzjW7IuAv
— Bishop J. Strickland (@Bishopoftyler) December 18, 2022