Fr. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life and President Trump’s former religious advisor, was recently removed from the clergy for “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop.” Much of the reporting on the case has emphasized the blasphemy charges, while the question of persistent disobedience has received little attention.
Most of the stories covering Pavone’s case discuss the accusation of blasphemy on social media, focusing on a famous YouTube post that depicted the defrocked clergyman campaigning for former President Trump while displaying an aborted baby on what looked like an altar adorned for Catholic Mass. In a Fox News article, Pavone suggested that the abortion issue was central to the decision to remove him from the clergy. He also claimed that some Catholic bishops are afraid to “offend” powerful Democratic leaders and members of Congress.
According to a commentary by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza of the National Catholic Register, the main reason for Pavone’s dismissal was disobedience to his bishop.
The blasphemy charge can be set aside as a distraction. Priests are not dismissed for taking the Lord’s name in vain on Twitter, however unbecoming that might be. Disobedience to his bishop is the reason for Pavone’s dismissal.
Apparently, Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas and Fr. Pavone had been at odds for a number of years. Reportedly, Zurek, who wanted Pavone to work at the parish level within his diocese, sought the former priest’s dismissal when he continued to reside in Florida, where Priests for Life is based.
The question of obedience in the Catholic Church is a serious one. At a theological and spiritual level, it is equated with adherence to the whole body of the Church. If an individual, especially a priest, is perceived to act outside of what the Catholic Church calls the ‘communion’ of that body, he is considered as posing a threat not only to the integrity of that union, but to the faith of its individual members.
It is true that Fr. Pavone’s defrocking has caused confusion and pain among the Catholic faithful and members of the pro-life community alike. No one can deny the appearance of sharp inconsistency between the chastisement of people like Pavone – who are fighting for THE just cause – and the impunity of President Biden and other publicly pro-abortion Catholics; let alone the “untouchability” of priests like James Martin who creates public scandal by glorifying sexual immorality. Nonetheless, the circumstances of Fr. Pavone’s purported disobedience cannot be ignored.