We Must Not Become Like Frank Pavone

We Must Not Become Like Frank Pavone December 21, 2022

Adapted (cropped) photo from American Life League: Pavone / flickr

When a particular, limited good, is treated as or turned into the absolute good, those who embrace it in this fashion level off or deny all other goods which they believe interfere with or deny the promotion of that particular good. In this fashion, they enter into an idolatrous relationship with that particular good; they treat it as the absolute good which it is not. And, as the absolute good is holistic, integrating and engaging all particular goods,  purposefully ignoring or turning away from other particular goods which get in the way of their chosen good undermines the actual execution of the good even as it leads to the promotion and production of various evils. This is why consequentialism fails. Saying the ends justifies the means says one is satisfied in the lesser good and the evil which  it promotes. This leads consequentialists to be willing to sacrifice many necessary goods at the foot of the idol which they created.

Time and time again, we can find people so consumed with some ideological mission, perhaps founded upon some particular good, that they end up doing all kinds of great evil to produce the one good they want to establish. They say they stand with and promote what is good, but in reality, as with all idolatry, they end up making blasphemous statements to defend their defiance of the greater good. This, it can be said, is one of the many problems with the political pro-life movement. While, in theory, they believe life is sacred, and everyone should be respected, they do not uphold this in their actions. They are quick to undermine the dignity and free agency of others, ignoring and downplaying their lives, and all that is happening in them, in order justify their political, legal theory as to how life should be affirmed. And once they do this, no life is truly held as sacred by them; it is all a prop for their own political power and control, as can be seen in the way they downgrade and sacrifice the dignity even of those they claim to promote (such as the embryos they say they want to protect). Is this not what happened when Frank Pavone used human remains for what could be said to be a photo-op? Such a disregard for human dignity demonstrates the blasphemous places Pavone is willing to go in his political actions, and though he tries to justify it by saying it was necessary for his mission, the whole act undermines the principle of human dignity, and so abandons the cause he claims to promote. It should not be surprising, then, that after many years of such unbalanced activity, disobedience to his bishop, and constant political speech riddled with propaganda and falsehoods, he would find himself removed from clerical status.

Pavone should serve as a warning to all of us. We should not let ourselves become so focused on some particular good, however important we think it is, that we lose sight of the greater, holistic good. We must remember every good is to be integrated with every other good, so that each good should connect with each other and draw us in to the true absolute good which is found with God. This is not to say we might not find some particular good to be the good which we are to engage in our life, for obviously, we cannot do all things ourselves. However, we must acknowledge the fullness of the good and make sure our engagement of some particular good  does not  become unbalanced and hinder the greater good, but rather, serve it. We must not think we can and should be able to do anything we want in service of some particular good, and think, if people question us, we can question them in return, acting like they are not interested, or deny, the good which we work for. If we have undermined the greater good, since the particular good finds its value from its participation in the greater good, we undermine the particular good itself.  We must always remember that moderation is important, for moderation keeps us balance. When we treat some particular good as being more than it is, we are immoderate, and with such immoderation, as St. Hildegard warned us, we find ourselves losing our connection to the greater virtues we need:

Where such lack of moderation prevails, the ethereal virtues (that is, humility and the beautiful flowers of love) perish, because immoderate abstinence lacks the viridity of the virtues. For immoderate abstinence breeds in an arrogant boastfulness, which has no foundation; and, besides, it produces many terrors, which appear to be holy, but are not.[1]

Pavone, in his lack of moderation, lost his humility, which is why he was unwilling to listen to and follow his bishop; he lost his sense of compassion, his sense of kindness, as can be seen in the way he treated others, which is why, though he could say he was constantly serving his mission, he undermined it as he only led people away from considering what little good he still followed. If we want to help others, if we want to promote what is good, we must always adhere to the order of the virtues, remembering what pride can and will do to is if we embrace its deadly suggestions:

It can happen, therefore, that someone avoid real sins, and be conscious of real virtues in himself, and give thanks for them to the Father of lights, from whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes, yet be damned because of the vice of pride if in his superiority he despises the other sinners, especially those who confess their sins in prayer, or even only in thought, since this is evident to God. Such sinners, indeed, deserve not an arrogant upbraiding, but mercy untouched by despair.[2]

We should look to Pavone, not with hatred, but with sorrow and compassion, hoping and praying that whatever good he still has in him can and will take effect and transform him so he will see the error of  his ways and repent. We should hope he will find his way back to the greater good which he has left behind. We must also be concerned with and help those who he has harmed through his actions. They must not be forgotten, and whatever injustices they have suffered, we should do what we can to make sure they are justly rectified. We must not, therefore, be like him, so consumed with our own apparent rightness in regards him that we begin to take the path away from the greater good ourselves. We must, of course, acknowledge the need was there to correct him, and remove him from ministry in the church, because of the harm he was doing; but we must not then take on his ways and find ourselves ending up causing the same harm he did. We must remember the virtues, and how every good should be integrated with each other, even as there is an order within the virtues, so that we must embrace what is represented by faith, hope, and love first and foremost. For in and through them, we will find ourselves drawn to the greater good, and through the greater good, to every other good.

Pope Francis, tells us we must move beyond simplistic, fundamentalistic approaches to the world, for they harm the world and our relations with each other:

At a time when various forms of fundamentalist intolerance are damaging relationships between individuals, groups and peoples, let us be committed to living and teaching the value of respect for others, a love capable of welcoming differences, and the priority of the dignity of every human being over his or her ideas, opinions, practices and even sins. Even as forms of fanaticism, closedmindedness and social and cultural fragmentation proliferate in present-day society, a good politician will take the first step and insist that different voices be heard. Disagreements may well give rise to conflicts, but uniformity proves stifling and leads to cultural decay. May we not be content with being enclosed in one fragment of reality. [3]

This is what happened with Pavone. It can, if we are not careful, happen with us. While we must serve justice, we must not neglect charity and the expectations placed upon us by charity, even as we must not use charity as a way to ignore justice. We must integrate them together, always remembering that we should treat others with kindness and compassion, listening to them, even if and when they disagree with us, so as to make sure we do not become so closed in on ourselves we lose sight of whatever good others have. Those who would be leaders in the world, more than everyone else, must work to embrace charity and justice together in and through all their actions. This is because the authority they have gives them that much more power to affect and change the world for good or for ill. Those who are not willing to moderate themselves, making sure they avoid fundamentalistic intolerance and fanaticism, should be replaced by those who can and are willing to do so. And while, sometimes, common ground and agreement between people of divergent views might be difficult to find, it is imperative that those who hold positions of power try to do so:

Political charity is also expressed in a spirit of openness to everyone. Government leaders should be the first to make the sacrifices that foster encounter and to seek convergence on at least some issues. They should be ready to listen to other points of view and to make room for everyone. Through sacrifice and patience, they can help to create a beautiful polyhedral reality in which everyone has a place. Here, economic negotiations do not work. Something else is required: an exchange of gifts for the common good. It may seem naïve and utopian, yet we cannot renounce this lofty aim. [4]

If, of course, no compromise can be made, government must still work for and promote the common good; those who would obstruct it must not be given power to do so. That is, those who do not seek convergence, but absolute control, should not have such power, for all they will do with their power is undermine and subvert the common good.  If people truly seek after the good, and have differences of opinion on how to balance it out,  they can and will work together,  and so help promote the common good in and through their cooperation. Pavone, sadly, showed he was unwilling to do this, even when he was told by his bishop, indeed, by the Vatican, to change his ways. The Vatican rightfully said enough was enough, and removed his clerical status. It had to do so because the church holds life to be valuable, while Pavone, despite all his words, showed he did not, as he was willing to sacrifice the value and dignity of life for his political mission. We must not ever let ourselves become like that.


[1] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 234” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume III. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 33.

[2] St. Augustine, “Holy Virginity” in Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects. Trans. John McQuade. Ed. Roy J. Defarrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955),  181.

[3] Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti. Vatican translation. ¶191.

[4] Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, ¶190.


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N.B.:  While I read comments to moderate them, I rarely respond to them. If I don’t respond to your comment directly, don’t assume I am unthankful for it. I appreciate it. But I want readers to feel free to ask questions, and hopefully, dialogue with each other. I have shared what I wanted to say, though some responses will get a brief reply by me, or, if I find it interesting and something I can engage fully, as the foundation for another post. I have had many posts inspired or improved upon thanks to my readers.

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