Abortion Access

‘MAGA Priest’ Finally Sent Packing By Catholic Church Officials

  Rob Boston

The Vatican recently defrocked a Christian nationalist Catholic priest who has a long history of using his nonprofit organization to unlawfully intervene in partisan elections.

Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, was stripped of his duties as a priest for “blasphemous communications on social media” as well as “persistent disobedience” of his bishop, news outlets reported over the weekend.

Pavone is no stranger to Americans United; we’ve clashed with him frequently over the years. In 2000, Pavone labeled Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore an “apostle for abortion” and vowed to launch a campaign targeting pro-choice candidates for defeat. AU warned Pavone that a nonprofit could not sponsor such a partisan endeavor because it would violate the Johnson Amendment, the federal law that prevents nonprofits from endorsing or opposing political candidates. But he remained defiant.

Pavone has long been a controversial figure within the church. Although Priest for Life is based in Staten Island, N.Y., Pavone was attached to the diocese of Amarillo, Texas. In 2011, his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, recalled him to Amarillo after a scandal over Priests for Life’s finances. Zurek was so concerned that he sent a letter about the matter to every bishop in the country.

Pavone’s exile in Amarillo lasted only about a year, and soon he was back at the helm of Priests for Life. In 2016, he was among Donald Trump’s religious advisers. Shortly before the 2016 election, Pavone, during a sermon that was posted online, placed what he said was an aborted fetus on an altar and told viewers to vote for Trump.

“I am showing him to you because in this election we have to decide if we will allow this child killing to continue in America or not,” Pavone said. “Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform says yes, let the child killing continue – and you pay for it. Donald Trump and the Republican platform says no, the child should be protected.”

After video of the incident spread online, the Amarillo Diocese issued a statement saying it was investigating Pa­vone. It said the action was “against the dignity of human life and is a desecration of the altar.”

More recently, Pavone has joined the chorus of cranks who insist that Trump really won the 2020 election. In a Twitter post (since deleted) from that year, he blasted “supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party.” (Pavone’s Twitter page shows him wearing a clerical collar and a MAGA hat against a backdrop of a rendering of him standing with Trump.)

It’s unclear what led the Vatican to move against Pavone now after so many years of his disturbing behavior. In a statement, church officials announced that Pavone was “given ample opportunity to defend himself in the canonical proceedings.” He has no right of appeal.

Since Priests for Life is not a project of the church, Pavone could continue to run it as a layperson. He’s also insisting that he’ll never give up being a priest, but, while church law states that defrocked clergy technically retain the title of priest, Pavone has been “dismissed from the clerical state,” meaning he can no longer perform the functions of one.

Pavone’s antics have flouted the law and embarrassed the church for decades. One can only wonder why it took so long to rein him in.

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