CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Amarillo has spoken out about election-related comments from Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of the pro-life group Priests for Life, and asked prayers for the priest.
In a Sept. 16 statement, the diocese noted that Pavone, in videos posted online, had condemned the act of “voting for candidates of a particular political party” and had reportedly suggested he might need to refuse absolution if such votes were confessed with contrition.
According to the diocese, Pavone also used “scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest.”
“These postings are not consistent with Catholic Church Teachings,” the diocese said in its statement. “Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”
Pavone served on official Trump campaign outreach positions in 2016, and was originally a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 pro-life coalition, as well as an advisory board member of Catholics for Trump.
Canon law forbids clerics from having an active role in political parties unless they receive the permission of their bishop.
Although he has since stepped down from the two positions at the request of “the competent ecclesiastical authority,” he has still maintained public support for the re-election of President Trump, citing abortion and religious freedom as key issues of concern.
In tweets that were subsequently deleted, Pavone last weekend reportedly called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a “[expletive] loser” and said the Democratic party was “God-hating” and “America-hating” and that Biden’s supporters “can’t say a [expletive] thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump.”
“What the hell do you have to say for yourselves, losers?” Pavone asked.
As the diocesan statement indicated, Pavone also reportedly tweeted that he would hear the confession of a Catholic who votes Democrat, “but we are trained that in the absence of repentance, absolution has to be withheld.”
In other videos posted on the Priests for Life Facebook page, Pavone referred to the “terrible mistake of even considering voting Democrat.”
Asked by CNA in April whether he had obtained permission from his bishop to officially campaign for Trump’s re-election, Pavone would not answer directly; he said that he had not been forbidden from doing so, and that communication with his bishop was a “dysfunctional process.”
The priest faced criticism from Church leaders ahead of the 2016 presidential election as well.
In November 2016, Pavone filmed a video at the Priests for Life headquarters, urging support for Trump. The video was staged with the body of an aborted baby laid before Pavone on what appeared to be an altar.
Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo said soon after the video’s release that he would open an investigation into the incident, calling it “against the dignity of human life” and “a desecration of the altar,” and adding that “the action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”
Pavone told CNA in April that “nothing happened” after the incident, and the Amarillo diocese has not responded to questions about its investigation or its outcome.
Pavone said he had done similar things before that incident.
“[W]ould I do it again? Absolutely,” he told CNA.
Pavone was incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, in 2005, when he transferred to that diocese from the Archdiocese of New York with plans to begin a pro-life religious order of priests. Those plans did not materialize, and Pavone found himself at odds with Bishop Patrick Zurek, soon after the bishop was installed in 2008.
In 2011, the dispute between Pavone and Zurek became public, after the priest was recalled to the diocese and suspended by the bishop. Pavone appealed to the Vatican, and the suspension was eventually lifted in 2012.
In April, the priest told CNA that his relationship with Zurek remained rocky, and that he was in the process of transferring to a new diocese.
The Diocese of Amarillo has not responded to repeated requests from CNA for clarity about Pavone’s political activity or ecclesiastical status, including requests to clarify whether he has faculties to minister publicly as a priest.
Pavone told CNA in July that he remains incardinated in the Amarillo diocese, “but my transfer has been canonically completed to a different bishop who has good will toward me and my work.”
He declined to name that diocese, saying that “the announcement of what diocese I’m in now is up to the same ecclesiastical authority to make.”
Pavone sought a transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs in 2016. Asked by CNA in April if his pending transfer was to that diocese, he would not say. The diocese told CNA then that Bishop Michael Sheridan had not received information from the Vatican indicating that Pavone was being transferred there.