Priests for Life’s Frank Pavone: ‘The next pope can reinstate me’ to the priesthood
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 19, 2022 / 17:05 pm
Pro-life activist Frank Pavone on Monday defiantly asserted that the Vatican’s decree removing him from the priesthood is not final, saying “the next pope can reinstate me.”
“This idea that any of this is permanent in terms of dismissal from the priesthood is simply incorrect, because we’re going to continue,” Pavone, the national director of the pro-life organization Priests for Life, said in a Dec. 19 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network posted on YouTube.
“Then there will be a next pope, and the next pope can reinstate me,” he said.
CNA broke the news on Dec. 17 that the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, had informed the U.S. bishops in a letter dated Dec. 13 that the prefect for the Dicastery for the Clergy, Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung Sik, had removed Pavone from the priesthood on Nov. 9, without any possibility of appeal.
Pavone was found guilty in a canonical proceeding of “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” Pierre wrote.
Pavone on Dec. 17 claimed to not know about the Vatican’s action, saying, “How did CNA learn about this before I did?”
On Monday, Priests for Life released a statement saying Pavone has yet to receive any formal notification of the Vatican’s decree.
A spokeswoman for the organization also told CNA that Pavone was most recently incardinated — meaning formally attached to a diocese — in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas.
In addition, she confirmed that Pavone participated in the canonical process that led to his dismissal from the clerical state.
“His canonical team was involved in trying to resolve this situation and to fight back against the ongoing persecution of Father Frank from his bishop,” the spokeswoman said. “The canonical team also was working on Father Frank’s attempt to be incardinated into another diocese. Our canonical team is not at liberty to discuss these subjects now, and we are not releasing the name of the bishop or diocese into which he was hoping to incardinate.”
The statement provides some additional context surrounding the Vatican’s stunning decree removing the well-known Pavone from the priesthood while leaving other important questions still unanswered.
Among them: What specific communications did Pavone make that were deemed “blasphemous”? Who is the bishop that Pavone disobeyed? And what of the Masses and other sacraments Pavone has celebrated in the more than five weeks that have passed since the Vatican rendered its judgment?
Pavone says he’s being ‘aborted’
Pavone, 63, who was ordained in the Archdiocese of New York, is known for his sometimes profanity-laced social media posts and provocative pro-life activism, which included a live-streamed endorsement of Trump in 2016 during which Pavone placed an aborted baby on a table he also used for Mass.
Pavone hosted the television show “Defending Life” on EWTN for many years until Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo revoked his permission to appear on the network. EWTN is the parent organization of CNA.
On both his Twitter and Facebook pages, Pavone continues to present himself as a priest. A laicized priest is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except for hearing confessions and absolving a sinner in danger of death, Father Gerald E. Murray, a canon lawyer, told CNA in an interview Sunday.
“Any other sacramental celebration is unlawful and thus an act of disobedience,” Murray said.
Pavone was still saying Masses online as recently as last week, according to videos posted online. The spokeswoman said Priests for Life would not comment on whether Pavone will continue to do so.
In interviews and social media posts, Pavone has framed the judgment against him as retaliation for his outspokenness on the pro-life issue, rather than an indictment of his conduct.
In a Dec. 17 tweet, Pavone stated that he was being “aborted.”
“[I]n 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,” Pavone wrote. He later tweeted the words “Ecclesiastical #abortion.”
Pavone also claims that his removal from the priesthood stems from a yearslong effort by Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek and others in the Catholic hierarchy to discredit and silence him.
In his interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Pavone called Zurek “one of the ringleaders in all of this.”
“The process has been a one-sided narrative,” he told CBN. “It’s a one-sided effort to just cancel out what we are trying to do.”
Pierre’s letter to the bishops, however, included a clear statement that the Vatican’s decree has no bearing on Pavone’s involvement in Priests for Life.
“Since Priests for Life, Inc. is not a Catholic organization, Mr. Pavone’s continuing role in it as a layperson would be entirely up to the leadership of that organization,” the statement said.
In a tweet Monday morning, Pavone said his board, pastoral team, and staff at Priests for Life are “1000% united with me in moving forward with our work.”
“We will not slow down. My vocation is to be a priest and a #prolife leader and I will not walk away from either one of those!” Pavone wrote.
Which bishop did he disobey?
Pierre’s letter, obtained and verified by CNA, does not elaborate on the specific “blasphemous communications” at issue.
Canon 1369 of the Code of Canon Law states, “A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.”
Incardinated in Amarillo in 2005, Pavone has been in a running battle there with Zurek, who became the diocese’s bishop in 2008.
Zurek suspended Pavone in 2011, a decision the Vatican overruled in 2012 after Pavone appealed. Zurek also stated in 2016 that Priests for Life, now based in Florida, is “not a Catholic institution, but a civil organization, and it is not under the control or supervision of the Diocese of Amarillo.”
Pavone’s political activism reached a crescendo in recent years in his public embrace of Donald Trump. He served on official Trump campaign outreach positions in 2016 and was originally a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 pro-life coalition, as well as an advisory board member of Catholics for Trump. He eventually stepped down from those 2020 posts. Canon law forbids clerics from having an active role in political parties unless they receive the permission of their bishop.
In 2020, the Amarillo Diocese chastised Pavone for profanity-laced Twitter posts denouncing then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. Pavone also implied that he would withhold absolution from someone he felt was not repentant for supporting the Democratic Party and its pro-abortion policies.
Neither the Diocese of Amarillo nor the office of the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., have responded to CNA’s requests for comment.
Priests for Life’s statement Monday that Pavone most recently was incardinated in Amarillo clarifies a different statement posted on the organization’s website, which says Pavone received permission from the Vatican in 2019 to transfer away from Amarillo but does not say where.
In 2020, Pavone told CNA he was seeking a transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs. On Monday, Bishop James Golka of Colorado Springs issued a statement saying that Pavone was never incardinated there.
Golka, who took the helm in Colorado Springs in June 2021, said Pavone has referred to a “supposed 2019 agreement to transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs under my predecessor, the late Bishop Michael Sheridan, that was blocked by the Vatican.”
“I regret that, in the time that elapsed between my arrival in Colorado Springs and Bishop Sheridan’s death, I did not have the opportunity to speak with him about many of the things that occurred during his tenure, including this matter. Therefore, I am unable to comment on Mr. Pavone’s assertion other than to say that he has never been incardinated in the diocese,” Golka stated.
CNA’s Joe Bukuras contributed to this story.