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In Pavone case, the Vatican’s silence is damaging

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 21, 2022

The apostolic nuncio in the US says that Frank Pavone was laicized in early November. Pavone says that, as of mid-December, he had not been informed of the Vatican’s disciplinary action. Something is very wrong here.

Bear in mind that we have only heard Pavone’s side of the story. Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, who initiated canonical proceedings against the pro-life activist, has not commented on the recent announcement. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, has provided two terse, vague paragraphs of explanation. The Vatican Dicastery for Clergy, which imposed the sentence, has told us nothing. In the absence of a clear explanation for this unusually severe penalty, many Catholics who admire Pavone’s work are understandably confused, upset, even outraged. Still the hierarchy remains silent.

If it is true that Pavone was not personally informed of the Vatican’s decision, that is inexcusable. He has never been hard to find; a letter or telegram, phone or email message, would have found its way to him. And if the Dicastery for Clergy did make a good-faith effort to reach him, is it asking too much to say that the Vatican should produce evidence of that effort? Otherwise we are left with the impression that the Vatican was primarily interested in reassuring the American bishops that a ticklish problem had been solved, rather than in reining in a wayward priest. It is absurd to criticize Pavone for continuing to present himself as a priest, if no one has given him official notification that he should not.

In this case the silence of the Vatican—and of the hierarchy generally—does real damage to the Church. Pavone and his supporters continue to suggest that he has been disciplined simply because of his outspoken defense of life. Doesn’t the Vatican have an interest in rebutting that charge? Silence betokens consent.

Canonical proceedings are routinely wrapped in secrecy—often for good reason—and the Vatican is notoriously parsimonious with information. But a public uproar cannot be handled on a “need to know” basis. Or rather, the entire American Catholic community has a need to know: to know the actual charges against Pavone, to know how the case was handled, to know how the announcement was handled.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: ewaughok - Dec. 27, 2022 8:47 PM ET USA

    So Fr Pavone didn’t obey his bishop. And he did it over a period of several years. Plus he did distasteful things involving a table sometimes used as an altar and the body of a dead baby. These are serious offenses, and in a virtuous church they would merit serious penalties. However, In a church led by Francis, where Cannon Law is applied ad personam rather than ad iustitiam, where we know that Fr Rupnik SJ disobeyed his superiors right under the nose of the Holy Father, this stinks to heaven!

  • Posted by: IM4HIM - Dec. 26, 2022 11:58 AM ET USA

    The Pope's silence on many things is deafening. That's why more and more people aren't listening when he does speak. As Catholics we must respect him as Pope, but not idolize him. History has shown us that there have been bad popes, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he is one.

  • Posted by: howwhite5517 - Dec. 25, 2022 9:05 PM ET USA

    Yes we do. Very disturbing.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Dec. 21, 2022 3:16 PM ET USA

    Very well stated. If the Pope's response is as deafening in this matter as was his response to the Dubia who will be surprised. The accumulation of seriously questionable behavior is doing much to offend the very catholics our church needs to fortify.

  • Posted by: rghatt6599 - Dec. 21, 2022 2:35 PM ET USA

    What is there to say? We know that Pope Francis routinely disregards canon law in his decision-making. Additionally the Pope is a man of the left and a very political pope. We have 10 years of evidence that Francis is petty and vengeful towards those he views as on the Right. It makes perfect sense that the merciful pope would be harsh and laicize an activist American priest who talks about abortion too much, openly supports Trump and says Catholics cannot in good conscience vote for Democrats.

  • Posted by: frjt - Dec. 21, 2022 1:11 PM ET USA

    We know what's wrong: pachamama is ruining the Church