The Vatican has cut its canonical ties with Priests for Life head Frank Pavone, following years of virulent and aggressive anti-abortion work and his support of former President Donald Trump, according to a letter made public over the weekend. A representative for Pope Francis wrote that Pavone was “found guilty in canonical proceedings of blasphemous communications on social media, and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop.” Spicy!
The letter does not explicitly mention which posts were the “blasphemous communications” in question, but I can make an educated guess: In 2020, Pavone condemned “supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party.” Pavone also threatened to withhold absolution from Democratic voters. (In Catholicism, absolution is given from God, via a priest, in the confessional. Pavone’s diocese condemned those actions and urged members to pray for him.)
You might also recognize the name Pavone from an unhinged incident in 2016, in which he released a video just before election day telling Catholics to not vote for Hillary Clinton by putting a supposed aborted fetus on the altar. “My followers agree that the truth about abortion has to be seen, because the word has lost all its meaning,” Pavone said in a statement at the time. “We sanitize it.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo opened an investigation into Pavone’s actions afterward. Pavone remained a spiritual adviser to Donald Trump and was connected to the campaign until 2020, Catholic News Agency reported.
The laicization decision was made on Nov. 9, according to a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. There will be no appeal. (The Associated Press has embedded the entire letter here.) A statement approved by the Dicastery for the Clergy and released by Pierre described the situation thusly:
“Rev. Frank Pavone, the founder of the organization, Priests for Life, Inc., was dismissed from the clerical state by the Holy See on 9 November 2022. This action was taken after Father Pavone was found guilty in canonical proceedings of blasphemous communications on social media, and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop.
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. It was determined that Father Pavone had no reasonable justification for his actions.
Since Priests for Life, Inc. is not a Catholic organization, Mr. Pavone’s continuing role in it as a lay person would be entirely up to the leadership of that organization.
Pavone told the Catholic News Agency (which broke the news of his dismissal) that he had not been notified about the sacking. However, despite losing his priestly collar, Pavone will stay on with Priests for Life, according to a tweet. Pavone assured his followers that he “will not be silenced or canceled.”
The lay man tied his laicization to greater church politics. “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,” Pavone said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
Pavone’s dismissal from the priesthood is an interesting move that mirrors the increasing split between the American Catholic leadership and the Vatican. American Catholic leaders continue to talk about abortion, using it as a regular talking point to rally voters as a political cudgel. Comparatively, the Vatican remains anti-abortion but prefers to mention the issue sparingly while emphasizing other familial policies and staying out of the political fray, even after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Just last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected a slate of notorious and vocal anti-abortion bishops to lead its group. Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson said in a statement that the USCCB is the “most powerful and notorious anti-choice organization in the country.”
Archbishop Timothy Broglio “is a divisive pick” for USCCB president whose leadership of the Archdiocese for Military Services “has been characterized by culture-war grandstanding and fear-mongering on everything from abortion to marriage equality, as well as the spreading of vaccine misinformation at the height of the deadly global COVID-19 pandemic,” Manson said.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, 71, was selected as vice president. It’s expected that Lori will serve as president next term. “Baltimore Archbishop William Lori represents so much of what is wrong with Catholic leadership in the United States today: He’s served as the Vatican’s ‘fixer’ in the United States, spearheading the bishops’ assaults on abortion rights and marriage equality, writing policies that protect bishops at the expense of victims of clerical sexual assault, and serving as Supreme Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, which has been one of the largest funders of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ crusades all across the country,” Manson said. “The election of Lori sends a clear message that the U.S. bishops will not back down from their persecution of pro-choice Catholics, but double down.”
The anti-abortion policies will remain in place—from Amarillo to the Holy See—but Pavone will have to remove his clerical collar while praying for aborted fetuses in front of the Supreme Court.