This has been a long time coming.
Father Frank Pavone, a well-known pro-life activist and national director of the organization Priests for Life, has been dismissed from the clerical state for “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” CNA has learned.
In a Dec. 13 letter to U.S. bishops obtained by CNA and confirmed by multiple sources as authentic, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, wrote that the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy issued the decision on Nov. 9, adding that there was “no possibility of appeal.”
“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. “It was determined that Father Pavone had no reasonable justification for his actions.”
Pavone, however, told CNA Saturday that he had not been notified about the Vatican’s judgment.
The communication from Pierre does not specify the actions that led to Pavone’s dismissal or name the bishop he disobeyed.
The statement refers to Pavone as “Mr. Pavone” and calls him “a lay person,” underscoring the dramatic and immediate nature of the Vatican’s action.
“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,” the statement says.
Pavone is still saying Masses, including one streamed online Saturday. The Priests for Life website states that Pavone “is a Catholic priest in good standing, and exercises his ministry in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
In an email to CNA on Saturday, Pavone said that he was not aware of the Vatican’s action.
“How did CNA learn about this before I did?” he asked. In a subsequent email he added that CNA’s inquiry was “the very first communication that came to me about this.”
Pavone’s troubles with the hierarchy date back many years — most notably when New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan undertook an audit of Priests for Life in 2014 and met fierce resistance:
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has revealed, in a letter to the bishops of the US, that the Vatican conducted an apostolic visitation of Priests for Life last year. After that investigation, the cardinal says, he was asked by the Congregation for the Clergy to “assist Father Pavone with several necessary reforms.”
However, Cardinal Dolan writes, Father Pavone has not cooperated with the reforms. As a result, the cardinal has told the Vatican that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”
“What the Apostolic See intends to do, I have no idea,” Cardinal Dolan tells his brother bishops in his letter, dated November 30. (CWN has obtained a copy of the letter.) The cardinal’s letter, reporting Father Pavone’s refusal to undertake reforms, points toward the possibility of action by the Vatican against the controversial priest.
In his letter Cardinal Dolan reminds the other American bishops that Father Pavone has a history of clashing with the prelates who have sought to oversee his work. PFL was founded in New York, but after disputes there with Cardinals John O’Connor and Edward Egan, the pro-life activist sought and received a transfer to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas. But his troubles continued there, and he was eventually suspended by Bishop Patrick Zurek. The suspension was lifted in 2012 after an appeal to the Vatican, but the difficulties persisted, leading to the apostolic visitation.
UPDATE: J.D. Flynn at The Pillar tweeted the following late Saturday night:
FWIW, I’ve confirmed w/ sources CNA’s report regarding the laicization of Frank Pavone.
Sources tell me that Pavone was laicized after a penal process re: “consistent disobedience” of his bishop, and “blasphemy” in a social media context.
Will report more when able.
— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) December 18, 2022
And The New York Times has even picked up the story:
On a live broadcast on social media shortly after the report, Mr. Pavone said he had received no communication from the Vatican about his removal. Wearing a leather jacket over his priest’s collar, he said he would continue his work for the anti-abortion cause.
“I’ve been persecuted in the church for decades, decades. This is nothing new for me,” he said. “They just don’t like the work I’m doing for these babies.”
He seemed to refer to a comment on Twitter from 2020 in which he referred to “supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party.”
“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,” he said.
The letter about his removal makes no specific reference to this incident, or to abortion beyond his affiliation.
Online, Mr. Pavone seemed to compare his removal itself to abortion.
“In every profession, including the priesthood, if you defend the #unborn, you will be treated like them!” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. “The only difference is that when we are ‘aborted,’ we continue to speak, loud and clear.”
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s representative to the United States, called the apostolic nuncio, addressed the letter dated Dec. 13 to bishops, alerting them of the decision from the Vatican. The New York Times obtained the letter from a person who had access to it but who was not authorized to share it.
“As you will know, Father Pavone was a very public and high profile figure associated with the Right to Life Movement in the U.S.,” Archbishop Pierre states. “His dismissal from the clerical state may, therefore, be a matter of interest among the faithful. In anticipation of that potential interest, the attached statement regarding Father Pavone is provided for your information.”
The statement said that Mr. Pavone was given “ample opportunity to defend himself” as well as “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,” it says.