I cannot stand writing about Frank Pavone. I don’t even like to think about him. I can’t stand the nasty things his disciples say about him in my com box. I don’t like the man himself.
I keep coming back to the topic of Frank Pavone, because I am deeply concerned about the scandalous example he keeps giving to the faithful– yes, with his fawning and toady admiration of President Trump, but also just for his callous and cruel behavior online. He’s always bullying people. He’s cruel and mocking to women; he even famously mocked Megan Markle for complaining about feeling stressed and traumatized by the paparazzi after having a baby. I am shocked that such a man runs two charities which are supposed to counsel post-abortive women. He seems incapable of compassion for any kind of woman. Maybe he’s very different in person, but he’s a bully online.
I also keep coming back because I am appalled at what appears to be his persistent pattern of disrespect for corpses at Priests for Life. We all know that Pavone publicly desecrated a naked baby corpse on an altar (or, as he claims, just a table that looked exactly like one) in 2016. His own organization has publicly stated that they kept an unborn baby without proper burial from at least 1991 until 2012. That much, they’ve freely admitted. Those are facts. In addition, thanks to research from several of my readers who asked to be anonymous, I’ve tried to establish a timeline of exactly how long Pavone keeps corpses without proper burial. My conclusions absolutely shocked me; you can form your own if you read the timeline here.
To me, those are the big stories about Pavone.
I don’t think that the issue of Pavone’s canonical status is nearly as important as the way he seems to have violated our Christian obligation to treat the bodies of the dead with respect, or the way he constantly bullies people online. I’m rather surprised and saddened that squabbling about whether he’s a priest in good standing always gets far more attention than his behavior in public or the question of “Baby Choice’s” ultimate resting place. But since that’s in the news again, that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
Yesterday, Catholic News Agency published a very strange, milquetoast interview with Frank Pavone and his canon lawyer, where Pavone claims that he’s in good standing and in the process of “transferring” to a new bishop, whom he doesn’t ask for permission to do anything and who he absolutely refuses to name. A secret bishop, if you will. CNA, which is an “apostolate” of EWTN, doesn’t seem to have bothered to do any fact checking short of calling the diocese of Amarillo which refused to comment. But even this article seems awfully damning; they mention that the most recent information Pavone puts on his own website about his canonical status is from the eighties. Pavone also did not like the article, it seems; they had to update it with an angry email from him where he threatens civil AND canonical action against anyone claiming “in any form” that he’s not in good standing.
I’ve publicly speculated about Pavone’s canonical status, so I figure I’d better say something.
In October of 2019, which seems like a thousand years ago now, I called the Diocese of Amarillo and told them I was writing an article about Frank Pavone. I asked them if he was in good standing in their diocese and they answered– and this is a direct quote– “No, actually, he’s not.” They went on to say “We won’t give him a letter anymore. Nothing has changed.” I wrote a blog post about that which went viral, and people accused me of calumny, but several other people told me that they, too, had been calling the diocese to complain about Pavone and gotten the same answer. On the one hand I don’t blame the diocese for wanting to keep quiet about Pavone– as I have admitted, I hate writing about him too. His fans are as toxic as he is. But on the other, they’re supposed to be in charge, and I find it scandalous that they won’t be clear with the faithful about what’s happening.
Within hours of writing this post, someone directed me to the photo of the “Celebret,” the card a diocese issues a priest allowing him to say Mass in other dioceses and declaring him in good standing, which Pavone posted on his website to prove that he was a priest in the Diocese of Amarillo. The photo was of a celebret that expired years ago in early 2016. I added that to my article.
After my blog post went viral, as my colleague, Sean P. Dailey, has pointed out, Pavone changed his website. I don’t have any evidence that he did it because I caught him in a fib. I only know that people were tagging him in replies to my post on Twitter, and then I found I’d been blocked by Pavone, so I presume he saw their concerns.
I’m going to use the wayback machine to show you the Priests for Life website as it appeared on certain relevant days. Thanks to another reader who pointed this out to me. In September of 2019 and right up until at least the day I wrote my blog post, indeed while my blog post was going viral and I was updating it, Pavone’s website stated, “Fr. Frank is a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, and is in good standing and possesses full canonical faculties. If documentation is required for one of his trips to another diocese, please inquire at our Priests for Life office.” And it showed the badly expired celebret. That he was a priest in good standing at the time was denied to me over the phone by the diocese itself.
Between October 17 and January of 2020, there’s a big gap in snapshots on the wayback and the URL changed. But a different archive site shows that at least by January, the celebret page just said “Fr. Frank is a priest in good standing, possesses full canonical faculties, and exercises his fulltime ministry with the permission of his bishop. If documentation is required by a diocese attesting to the same, please request it from our Priests for Life office, 321-500-1000.” A couple people I know called Priests for Life and asked who the bishop was to see what would happen, but they didn’t get any information. Going by his own website, we can presume that if Pavone is under a bishop, he was transferred to that bishop by January.
Then, right in time for the 2020 March for Life, Pavone’s website changed again, to its present form. It now says “Fr. Frank is a Catholic priest in good standing, and exercises his ministry in full communion with the Catholic Church.
By a decree of the Vatican dated November 11, 2019 (Congregation for the Clergy, Prot. N. 2019 4532), he was transferred out of the Diocese of Amarillo and granted the opportunity to continue to carry out his pro-life work under a new and supportive bishop.” But it doesn’t say who the bishop is or provide a new celebret. So, by his website’s declaration, we can be sure that he actually was transferred from Amarillo to the new bishop five months ago, less than a month after Amarillo told me he was not in good standing and he quickly got rid of the old celebret. The only question is who the bishop is. I don’t have that information. The only information I was given from something other than Frank Pavone’s testimony, is what was said to me by his diocese in Amarillo in October– the diocese Pavone was claiming to belong to and be in good standing with at the time. According to the website, the transfer is old news, from last year.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, we have the previously linked article from this week from CNA, where Pavone claims his transfer is still pending: “Pavone told CNA that he is in the process of “transferring” from the Diocese of Amarillo, where he has been incardinated since 2005, to a new diocese, adding that he considers himself to be already under the authority of a different bishop. The Priests for Life website says that “By a decree of the Vatican dated November 11, 2019 (Congregation for the Clergy, Prot. N. 2019 4532), [Pavone] was transferred out of the Diocese of Amarillo and granted the opportunity to continue to carry out his pro-life work under a new and supportive bishop.”Pavone said he is not at liberty to name the diocese or bishop under whose authority he will operate in future, saying only that his political advocacy is well-known, and unopposed.“They know—‘they’ being the old bishop, the new bishop, the Vatican—they all know,” he said.”
What’s that? The transfer hasn’t happened yet? It’s still in the process?
Pavone’s own website says he was transferred on November 11, 2019, and the transfer was a done deal. Now he’s saying he’s still in the middle of transferring and can’t say who the bishop is. How long do these things usually take? Whose authority is he under just this minute? We can’t ask Amarillo what’s up because they refused to talk to CNA and they’re certainly not going to talk to me again. Someone is gravely mistaken here. I don’t know if it’s Pavone, CNA, the bishop or me. Maybe we all are.
Canon 265 states: Every cleric must be incardinated either in a particular church or personal prelature, or in an institute of consecrated life or society endowed with this faculty, in such a way that unattached or transient clerics are not allowed at all. I thought that that meant that a priest always must be under the sway of one or another ordinary. A priest cannot be excardinated from his old bishop until he has his incardination letter from the new one. Meaning that he can’t be excardinated from Amarillo until the new bishop officially takes charge, meaning that Amarillo is still his diocese until this “transfer” is complete and whether or not he’s in good standing is 100% the call of the Bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo– and Amarillo told me he wasn’t in good standing in October. But I could be reading that canon wrong.
As I mentioned, Pavone didn’t seem to like this article and emailed CNA: “The Congregation for Clergy, after a thorough investigation, has declared that I am a priest in good standing.Whoever denies this, in any manner and in any forum, will be called to respond before the competent civil and canonical authorities. The unjust and prolonged accusations against me were rejected by the Congregation for the Clergy both for their abuse of process law and for the lack of merits in canonical discernment. I continue my priestly life and pro-life apostolate following the directives of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, in communion with the Ecclesiastical authorities.”
So I’d like to publicly state: I have no idea what in tarnation is going on here. None. I don’t know who Frank Pavone’s new bishop is or who is not telling the truth; I only observe that it seems to me that someone is not telling the truth or else the chain of events would have gone quite differently. I do not know whether Frank Pavone is a priest in good standing with his current mystery bishop or not, because the only evidence I have seen that he is, is his own testimony which does not seem to me to be consistent. Maybe the mistake is not his. Maybe I’ve just made a silly mistake. Maybe the diocese of Amarillo lied AND Priests for Life made a silly mistake. Maybe I hallucinated the pages in the wayback. What I know for sure is that Pavone is, in my opinion, a bully and a weirdo.
I also want to observe that it is gravely scandalous that the Church is keeping secret from us any information about Pavone’s canonical status or who his new bishop is. The laity need to be able to inform the bishop when Pavone verbally abuses people and when he creates a scandal by publicly boasting about violating canon law: and he does boast about doing so. This screenshot was shared widely by me, my colleagues, and by CNA itself:
He’s bragging about violating canon law, on Twitter. I don’t see any other way we can take that tweet.
And I would like to reach out publicly to Frank Pavone. He has me blocked on Twitter and Facebook, but I know we have mutual acquaintances who will pass this along. Please be frank, Frank: If you are a priest in good standing under some bishop or other, please set the record straight. I apologize if I’ve made a mistake in anything I’ve believed to be true about you, but I need somebody to reach out.
No, don’t tell me about it yourself. I already know what you think. I understand your opinion of the chain of events. I want to hear from someone over your head. If the Diocese of Amarillo lied to me or made a mistake, I want to know. It’s as much in my interest as yours for me to know, because I trusted them and believed and published what they said and I don’t like lies. I have the same egg on my face as you do if Amarillo lied.
Have your new bishop, or the Congregation of the Clergy, or the Pope, or somebody else in authority over you, make a public statement I can read online. If they don’t want to make a public statement that reveals who they are, I can work with that. Have them contact my editor, Rebecca Bratten Weiss. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Have that person contact her and explain what’s going on, and Rebecca will gladly forward the email to me. I can then email back to your new bishop my concerns about your public behavior and all the photos of the unborn baby or babies you posted publicly– and then, I will publish the statement of your mystery superiors right here at Steel Magnificat. If they want to maintain their secret identity I’ll use Microsoft Paint to put a naughty bits filter over the name. I am willing to do that if it will get to the bottom of this. I’ll say I’m sorry for anything I’ve said that was mistaken, because it was never my intention to make a mistake or mislead the faithful. I have never claimed to be a journalist or anyone people should listen to, but they somehow listen anyway. For their sake, for yours and for mine, let’s set the record straight. Lay your cards on the table.
We’ll all be waiting.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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