Patience; I’ll get to that tweet presently. But first things first. At a general Audience in 1993, Pope St. John Paul II delivered a catechesis entitled “Priests Do Not Have a Political Mission.” (For those who don’t know, a catechesis of the pope during a general audience is part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church. It belongs to the pope’s teaching authority.) The entire text is worth reading, but here are a few highlights.
Jesus never wanted to be involved in a political movement, and fled from every attempt to draw him into earthly questions and affairs (cf. Jn 6:15). The kingdom he came to establish does not belong to this world (cf. Jn 18:36). For this reason he said to those who wanted him to take a stand regarding the civil power: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21). …
[T]he role of priests in social and political action is not identical to that of the laity. This is said more clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where we read: “It is not the role of the pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (CCC 2442). …
Following Christ, the priest is more directly concerned with the growth of God’s kingdom. Like Jesus, he must renounce involvement in political activity, especially by not taking sides (which almost inevitably happens). Thus he will remain a man for all in terms of brotherhood and, to the extent that he is accepted as such, of spiritual fatherhood. …
In particular, he will keep in mind that a political party can never be identified with the truth of the Gospel, and therefore, unlike the Gospel, it can never become an object of absolute loyalty. …
It should be added that the [priest’s] right to express his own personal choices is limited by the requirements of his priestly ministry. This limitation too can be an aspect of the poverty he is called to practice following Christ’s example. In fact, he can sometimes be obliged to abstain from exercising his own right so that he can be a strong sign of unity, and thus proclaim the Gospel in its fullness. …
[And here’s the key part.]
In their generous service to the gospel ideal, some priests feel drawn to political involvement in order to help more effectively in reforming political life and in eliminating injustices, exploitation, and every type of oppression. The Church reminds them that on this road it is easy to be caught in partisan strife, with the risk of helping not to bring about the just world for which they long, but new and worse ways of exploiting poor people. In any case they must know that they have neither the mission nor the charism from above for this political involvement and activism.
Fr. Pavone angered many people in 2016, when he took a dead fetus and put it up on an altar and filmed a campaign commercial for Donald Trump. As I pointed out then, this was in violation of Canon 1239. Canon 1239 says: “An altar, whether fixed or movable, is to be reserved for divine worship alone, to the exclusion of any secular usage.” I said Fr. Pavone should have his faculty to say Mass suspended. Many people called or wrote his diocese and asked his bishop to do something to discipline Fr. Pavone. The diocese of Amarillo, Texas, said they would investigate. In the end, the diocese did nothing. So it goes. It appears it is not in the habit of bishops to do anything to address corruption and malfeasance among the clergy. Yet they dare to wonder why Catholics are leaving the Church.
And so now it is three years later, and Fr. Pavone is still acting less like a priest of Jesus Christ and more like a shill of Donald Trump. With no shame, or fear of reprisal from his bishop, Fr. Pavone freely posts pictures like this on his Facebook page:
His Twitter feed is glutted with propaganda in support of Mr. Trump. In one tweet, he denies that we need to help migrants at the border so long as abortion continues to be legal. (That is not what the Church teaches.) In another, he says that what he did during the 2016 election—I assume he means his stunt with the dead fetus—was justified because it got us SCOTUS nominees like Brett Kavanaugh. (Never mind that St. John Paul II taught that Consequentialism is a heresy. The ends do not justify the means.) The USCCB has rules that forbid political advocacy by priests. Thus not only is it illicit that Fr. Pavone be so deeply involved in such advocacy, but he defies the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II, as well as the U.S. bishops, who have said that we must welcome migrants and treat them justly. One bishop even suggested the Church withhold communion from Catholic politicians who support Trump’s border policies.
Would that include removing the faculty to say Mass from a priest who supports them?
And now Fr. Pavone tweets these words:
Given that the Church has long taught that an unjust law is no law at all, Fr. Pavone’s appeal to the law here is still one more defiance of teaching he is obligated as a priest to defend. Pavone would rather defend his idol Trump and the ICE raids than Catholic doctrine.
Does Fr. Pavone forget that abortion is the law? Should Trump fund Planned Parenthood in furtherance of the law? Slavery was the law. Segregation was the law. The killing of Jews in Nazi Germany was the law. Herod’s murder of the innocents was the law. But we must carry out the law, the law, the law. No king but Caesar.
(Incidentally, on Pavone’s staff at Priests for Life is Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Didn’t Dr. King write a letter from the Birmingham jail about how an unjust law is no law at all, and defending his moral right to defy it?)
The U.S. bishops have condemned the ICE raids, so Fr. Pavone defies the bishops in this too. As early as January 2016, the USCCB called for an end to deportation raids. (Yes, this was during the Obama administration.) They said it again in May of the same year. Then, on June 22 of this year the USCCB said:
We recognize the right of nations to control their borders in a just and proportionate manner. However, broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration. Instead, we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good. We stand ready to work with the Administration and Congress to achieve those objectives.”
The last I checked, Catholic priests in this country are under the authority of the U.S. bishops. They’re under the authority of the pope too, and in Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II named deportation as an offense against the gospel of life. By his shameless and loud support of an action the bishops have called ineffective and unjust, Fr. Pavone defies the successors of the apostles (and the successor of Peter). That is action unbecoming a priest, and he ought to be disciplined for it. He ought to be shut down from engaging in any public activity; and he ought to be sent off somewhere to live a life of prayer and penance.
But the worst was still to come. Fr. Pavone’s idol Donald Trump, for whom he has abandoned Christ to shill, tweeted that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib should leave the United States and go back to their original countries. Mr. Trump wrote Sunday morning:
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!
This is dangerous nativist, racist rhetoric—leave and go back where you came from, and make it fast, schnell, schnell—and it has never ended well.
What’s more, Trump’s facts are false, as they often are. (Pavone shills for a liar.) AOC was born in the Bronx. Tlaib is from Detroit. Omar is the only one of three who was not born in the U.S. (she’s from Somalia); but she’s lived here since she was ten and has been a citizen since she was seventeen. They are all Americans. The idea that some Americans are not welcome and should leave, because they are not white, because they are liberals, is bigotry and racism. And it’s certainly not something a Catholic priest ought to be supporting.
But Alt! You’re assuming that because Pavone supports Trump in general he automatically supports everything Trump says. You can’t do that!.
Really? Take a look.
Let’s recall what St. John Paul II said about the danger of priests becoming politically involved:
In their generous service to the gospel ideal, some priests feel drawn to political involvement in order to help more effectively in reforming political life and in eliminating injustices, exploitation, and every type of oppression. The Church reminds them that on this road it is easy to be caught in partisan strife, with the risk of helping not to bring about the just world for which they long, but new and worse ways of exploiting poor people.
There is no better example of the truth of this than Fr. Frank Pavone. He started out in “generous service” to the idea that the unborn ought to be saved from abortion. And in his effort to achieve that goal, he sought to change hearts, and then laws. And then he sought to elect a politician who promised to save babies. But then he got caught up in partisan strife. By supporting Trump, he defiled a Catholic altar and became a shill, not a priest. He ended up supporting everything that Trump would say. And that has led him into supporting injustice against migrants and the poor and desperate. And in this latest example he supports a nativist attack on American citizens (including one Catholic, by the way) of a different race than his own.
That is a large reason why the Church has told priests not to involve themselves in political advocacy. Leave that to the laity. A priest is supposed to be another Christ. He is supposed to be a witness to the Gospel to all men and women, of any political party or no political party, of any race, of any nation. A priest such as Pavone ends up becoming a witness of an anti-gospel to white Republican racists only.
Just as big a problem, however, is that no bishop has shut Pavone down. No bishop has told him to pack it up. No bishop has ordered him into a life of seclusion and prayer. And yet these same bishops wonder why people are leaving the Church and what they can do to bring them back. I have some ideas.
Fr. Pavone is far from the only priest whom political advocacy has distorted beyond his ability to witness to the Gospel. But he’s one of the most prominent. And I mean the Gospel that says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The Gospel that says there is no respect of persons with God. The Gospel that says we will be judged by whether or not we welcomed the stranger, because to not welcome the stranger is to turn Christ away. I was a stranger and you tweeted that I should go back where I came from.
Fr. Pavone is no longer witnessing to the Gospel, and he is no longer witnessing to the sacredness of all life. He is witnessing to the entire racist agenda of his true christ, Trump. That’s not something his bishop ought to tolerate. If he does tolerate it, if he gives lip service to looking into it but does nothing, then I don’t want to hear any tears from the bishops about why Catholics are leaving the Church.
The last I heard, Fr. Pavone’s bishop is Patrick Zurek of the diocese of Amarillo, Texas. You can write or call Zurek. And you can pray that Fr. Pavone repents and believes the Gospel.