The Vatican has defrocked Father Frank Pavone — who has been described as “the most vocal Catholic priest in America for the pro-life movement” — in a move that has shocked Church conservatives.
This past weekend the Catholic News Agency (CNA) revealed the full text of a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, addressed to U.S. bishops declaring that Pavone, head of Priests for Life, had been officially been laicized.
Laicization strips a priest of his religious title and powers, returning him to the laity with no official status in the Church.
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“Father Pavone was given ample opportunity to defend himself in the canonical proceedings, and he was also given multiple opportunities to submit himself to the authority of his diocesan bishop,” explains a separate statement attached to Pierre’s letter.
The letter alleges that Pavone was guilty of “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop” and “blasphemous communications on social media.”
The letter doesn’t spell out what the disobedient acts Pavone had engaged in, or identify the “blasphemous communications,” but supporters of Pavone were quick to come to his defense.
“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,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas wrote on his Twitter account Saturday.
“Vatican officials promote immorality & denial of the deposit of faith & priests promote gender confusion devastating lives … evil,” Bishop Strickland continued.
In his letter, Pierre wrote that the decision was issued by the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy on Nov. 9.
Pavone, a frequent guest on Newsmax, told CNA Saturday that he hadn’t been notified about the Vatican’s ruling nor did he indicate what charges Pierre was referring to.
In a one hour, 40 minute video on Sunday, Pavone, still wearing a priest’s collar, said he had been “persecuted in the Church for decades” and derided his critics as “the dumbest in the world.”
Pavone has come under fire in the past over his statements in support of former President Donald Trump and actions he has taken as a leader in the pro-life movement.
According to Canon law, priests are forbidden from actively participating in political activities without permission from their bishop.
Pavone served on Trump’s campaign outreach positions in 2016 and was a co-chair of the former president’s pro-life coalition in 2020.
In November 2016, Pavone filmed a video at the Priests for Life headquarters in support of Trump, which included laying the body of an aborted fetus on what appeared to be an altar.
Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, where Pavone is assigned, said he would investigate the incident, calling it a “desecration of the altar.”
The investigation found that the film did not take place at an altar and Pavone told Newsmax that the matter had been resolved several years ago.
In 2020, Pavone stepped down from his positions with Trump’s reelection campaign, but again faced a confrontation with Zurek before the 2020 election over social posts denigrating Biden.
In one Twitter post Pavone spoke of “supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God-hating Democrat party.”
Pavone referred to that episode in his Sunday video, saying “I used the word G-D in a response to somebody in a Tweet and for that they want to throw me out of the priesthood.”
The Amarillo Diocese at the time issued a statement disavowing his comments, saying he had used “scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest.”
The Vatican’s statement released this weekend referred to Pavone as a “lay person” and as “Mr. Pavone,” and said that Priests for Life is not affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Pierre claimed that the Vatican’s decision was final with no chance of appeal.
A senior journalist who covers the Vatican told Newsmax that the denial of appeal indicated the Pope himself had decided to laicize Pavone.
“It fits with the Pope’s view of the Church, Francis wants to diminish the pro-life movement and reduce the status of traditional Catholics in its institutions,” the journalist said.
Other Church observers tell Newsmax that the misuse of a single word like “goddamn” appears to offer little cause for a charge of blasphemy.
And many priests have crossed the line on both politics and defying Church teachings, with little or no pushback from the Vatican.
For example, Father James Martin, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, embraces same-sex unions and consistently advocates against Church teachings on homosexuality and traditional marriage.
Martin’s advocacy has been met by alarm from some in the Church hierarchy, but not the Pope.
“I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote in 2019.
But Martin has been embraced by Pope Francis, who met with the controversial cleric last month and previously praised his work against traditional Church teachings, encouraging his ministry and urging him to “continue this way.“
Martin has also been active politically and had been a harsh critic of President Trump, calling his administration’s immigration policies “insane,” “sinful” and “close to obscene.”
Pope Francis decision to laicize Pavone appears to be part of a wider effort to undermine the Church’s traditional stand to protect the unborn.
Earlier this year, Francis welcomed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Vatican, after her local San Francisco Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, had banned her from receiving communion for supporting abortion.
Shortly after, Francis not only allowed Pelosi and her husband to receive communion at his mass, but bestowed a blessing on the couple.
While Cordileone was not publicly criticized by the Pope, Francis took the unusual step of passing over the Archbishop to the College of Cardinals, awarding the position to the Archbishop of San Diego.
And, in October, Francis again shocked Church supporters when he appointed a radical pro-abortion advocate to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Church’s institute that had long advanced pro-life teachings.
CNA reported Francis had selected “Italian-American economist Mariana Mazzucato, known for her work promoting the public sector’s role in encouraging innovation,” to the influential academy.
Mazzucato has also been an activist for abortion rights and fierce critic of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Robert P. George, professor at Princeton University and a Catholic advocate for life, was surprised by the Pope’s appointment.
“The Pontifical Academy for Life exists to advance the Church’s mission to foster respect for the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family, beginning with the precious child in the womb. . . . And why would someone with appointment authority appoint someone to the academy? I can think of no explanation that is not shocking and scandalous,” George told CNA.
Meanwhile, Pavone performed a Mass streamed online Saturday, and the Priests for Life website referred to him as a “Catholic priest in good standing” who “exercises his ministry in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
Pavone appears resolute to fight the matter.
“I’m never going to leave the priesthood,” he said in his video Sunday.