Frank Pavone Timeline

Since the laicization of Frank Pavone, I have wanted a timeline from some official or semi-official source. None has been forthcoming, but with the letter of bishop Zurek reported by the Pillar, a somewhat complete timeline can be constructed. This is probably still somewhat incomplete as I am almost certain there was more communication between Pavone and his bishop not listed, and multiple incidents are condensed, like his repeated use of language unbecoming of a priest.

Right after the laicization was made public, I tweeted:

Most of this was relatively public but divided between different articles and sources, here and there. This article attempts to collect it all in one place.

These repeated incidents are important, as a canon lawyer noted about laicization:

Timeline of Fr. Frank Pavone Before First Restrictions

November 12, 1988: Pavone ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York.

Priests for Life image of Frank Pavone (Public domain)

1993: Pavone leaves parish ministry to dedicate himself full-time to Priests for Life (PFL) with Card. John O’Connor’s permission.

2005: after disputes with Card. Edward Egan, Pavone transferred incardination to the Diocese of Amarillo, intending to start a society of apostolic life composed of priests dedicated to pro-life work. PFL stayed headquartered in Staten Island.

2005-2006: Pavone sets out to start a society of apostolic life (similar to a religious community) called the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. He formally becomes the first member in August 2006.

January 3, 2008 & February 22, 2008: Bishop Patrick J. Zurek is named and then installed as the bishop of Amarillo. By several accounts, Bishop John Yanta, who preceded him, viewed Pavone’s ministry with PFL more favorably than Zurek.

August or September 2008: plans for the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life are scrapped, and the community is dissolved. Pavone returns to being simply a diocesan priest of Amarillo. It is unclear if this was done by Pavone or if suppressed by the bishop. There were major concerns with the finances of this as it seemed like the society of apostolic life would be financially an arm of the secular corporation Priest for Life. Also, a lot of money was raised specifically for the society of apostolic life but under Priests for Life financially. This concern likely contributed to questions about financial transparency in subsequent years.

2009-2010: several reports of sexual harassment, grooming behavior, and coercive physical contact with young women were sent to the diocese of Amarillo. The incidents that we have details on happened back in the late 1990s.

Timeline: First Restrictions to Election 2016

September 2011: Pavone is restricted from any ministry outside Amarillo. Bishop Patrick Zurek claims that he has not been transparent with finances: a claim that he disputes. Pavone appeals his case to the Vatican. The tax returns of Priests for Life show dramatic increases in costs for fundraising and management between 2006 and 2008: they also show a financial shortfall.

May 2012: Pavone partially wins an appeal to continue work with Priest for life.

November 2012 & over the next two years: after Pavone won a partial appeal, the Archdiocese of New York was considered the competent authority to oversee PFL’s finances. So an apostolic visitation was done, and Card. Timothy Dolan asked for several reforms, including a forensic audit. Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo states, “I am happy that this process is at an end and I hope and pray that Father Pavone and Priests for Life may now continue its important work in the defense of all human life, especially that of the unborn.”

June 6, 2014: Zurek asks Pavone to cease broadcasting on media, a restriction that Pavone ignores by regularly broadcasting Masses, live streams, and podcasts.

December 2014: having been asked to “assist Father Pavone with several necessary reforms,” Card. Timothy Dolan explained that Pavone had not cooperated with the needed reforms. Dolan thus stated, “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

2016 and onward: Pavone starts being overly partisan towards Republicans. In the same period, he increasingly uses the Lord’s name in vain and is rude and vulgar towards those who disagree with him. This is a repeated action throughout his live streams, tweets, etc.

2015-2018: Fr. Stephen Imbarrato worked for Priest for life. During this period, he counseled one staffer for more than two years over alleged sexual harassment from Pavone.

November 6, 2016: Pavone posted the infamous dead baby (died via abortion) on the altar video right before the presidential elections. This is sacrilegious! A priest using a dead baby as a partisan political prop is problematic even without the sacrilege. Both New York (where it happened) and Amarillo (where Pavone was incardinated) started investigations.

Timeline: No Public Ministry to Request for Laicization

December 6, 2016: Pavone was reminded by Zurek that he did not have faculties. This would be the normal procedure during an investigation like the one initiated after the dead baby on the altar incident. Pavone was not to celebrate public Mass or wear clerics in public: he directly went against both rules on an almost daily basis. (It is somewhat unusual that no public statement or press release was made as dioceses usually announce this, so everyone has clarity on a priest’s status.) He would regularly stream Masses in contradiction of this decree and the 2014 decree about media. He also continued to wear his clerical attire in other media and public events.

February 7, 2017: Zurek met with Pavone over the dead baby on the altar incident. Pavone seemed to lack any remorse for this gravely sinful action.

February 21 & 25, 2017: Pavone asked Zurek for permission to celebrate the funeral of Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) and preach the homily: Zurek denied both requests. Yet, four days later, he not only celebrated the funeral but preached the homily as well.

May 5, 2017: Bishop Zurek sent a letter to Pavone asking him to request laicization and indicated he would pursue removal from the clerical state as a punishment if Pavone did not request it on his own within a few weeks. Near the end of the letter, he writes, “Frank, you are incorrigible.”

Timeline After His Bishop Had Already Started Laicization Process

mid-2017: Priests for Life moved from Staten Island, New York, to Titusville, Florida.

January to July 2020: Pavone was a co-chair of “Pro-Life Voices for Trump” and an advisory board member of “Catholics for Trump,” which seems to contradict canon law rules about priests staying out of partisan politics. In July, he told Catholic News Agency, “I’ve been requested by the competent ecclesiastical authority not to have an official title/position on the advisory boards. So, as a priest in good standing, I’ve followed that request.” (Given the above, this was clearly incorrect as he was not “a priest in good standing” by any remotely normal definition of the term.)

April 2020: Pavone tells Catholic News Agency that he is in the process of transferring to a new diocese. His website then states: “By a decree of the Vatican dated November 11, 2019…, [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.” (This is of questionable veracity given all else such as the bishop saying he would not support a transfer and the same congregation for clergy having presumably received a request for laicization from his bishop, which they would later act on.)

January 2021: the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome proposes then retracts honoring Pavone with a lifetime achievement award. Although I was on the sidelines for most of the above, I likely contributed to the retraction of the award behind the scenes as a member of the religious congregation that runs Regina Apostolorum (Legionaries of Christ).

November 9, 2022: Pavone was laicized (removed from the clerical state) by the Pope via the Dicastery for Clergy in the Vatican. This follows from Zurek’s 2017 letter. There was almost definitely an attempt to communicate this to him from the diocese of Amarillo, but if he refused to answer his phone for them or open mail from them, he might not have been informed (if this is the case, it would be vincible – that is morally culpable – ignorance).

December 13, 2022: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, wrote all the bishops to inform them of Pavone’s laicization.

December 17, 2022: Catholic News Agency breaks the story of his laicization via the letter from Pierre. When contacted for the story, Pavone claims he had not been previously informed of his laicization a month earlier. (This claim may technically be true, but the timeline above makes it clear he should have been aware.)

Conclusion to Timeline of Pavone

Hopefully, this helps you make sense of the situation. It definitely helped me. When I entered the seminary 21.5 years ago, Pavone looked in many ways like a model priest, but unfortunately, we get to this place where he is removed from the clerical state due to his repeated actions.

Updates:

  • Jan 5, 2023: I added two items (switch of bishop in early 2008 & claimed transfer in 2020) as people pointed out they further help explain the situation. If new items are revealed, I can add them as well.
  • Jan 24, 2023: 2009-2010 accusations added.
  • Jan 27, 2023: Fr. Stephen Imbarrato note added.
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5 comments

  1. How is it that gay priest or priest that support gay unions, transgender, and abortions, are in good standing? Is there a way for the laity to know when a priest is not in good standing? Prayers

    1. “How is it that gay priest or priest that support gay unions, transgender, and abortions, are in good standing?” There are some other priests who should have significant restrictions on ministry. Back in 1999, Fr. Robert Nugent who was promoting things contrary to CHurch teaching in this area was asked to step away from this ministry by the Vatican (https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19990531_gramick-nugent-notification_en.html). He left any ministry in this are, or he likely would have had significant restrictions. I think this was the right move then and there are others this likely applies to as well.

      “Is there a way for the laity to know when a priest is not in good standing?” Usually, the bishop will inform people is a priest is restricted from public ministry. It was unusual that Zurek did not do this in Pavone’s case. Had he simply posted something on the website like “Fr. Frank Pavone is temporarily suspended from public ministry until further notice as we investigate the baby on the altar incident,” that would have resolved a lot of confusion of the faithful now.

  2. Still reads too much like ego driven clerics arguing on “I don’t like the way you oppose abortion” to justify the response to date. Is/was he a rebel, yes indeed. Was he doing a common good? Seems so. Was he a good admin? Maybe not.

    1. “Was he doing a common good? Seems so.”

      As an outsider to the Catholic faith part of the reason to oust him was undoubtedly to avoid alienating, or even making hostile, non-Catholics. There are some pretty extreme stances in that timeline.

  3. Bless you Father for compiling this. My mother, as a subscriber to OSV, used to receive frequent solicitations from PFL. They were virtually identical, with multi-page polemics that exuded a certain sketchiness. With the recent events, I can understand why.

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