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Why Pavone is defrocked—not Martin, not Rupnik

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 20, 2022

Yesterday I did my best to explain that the laicization of Frank Pavone is neither unjust nor surprising—although the Vatican’s handling of the case leaves much to be desired. But many faithful Catholics continue to ask a very sensible question: Why is Pavone severely disciplined, when priests like Father James Martin and Father Marko Rupnik continue in good standing?

I can answer that question, too. Don’t blame me if you don’t like the answer; I don’t like it either.

Pavone was laicized, we are told, because of his “blasphemous communications” and his “persistent disobedience” to his ecclesiastical superiors. The charge of “blasphemous communications” has not been explained, and it is a charge that could be levelled against other clerics who denigrate the Church, her teachings, and her sacraments. Would “blasphemous communications” alone be enough to warrant laicization? It seems unlikely. So let’s acknowledge that we don’t know exactly what the apostolic nuncio meant by that charge, set it aside, and focus on what is relatively clear: the charge of disobedience.

Pavone did refuse to accept orders from his bishop; that much has been established. The bishop disciplined him, Pavone appealed the matter to Rome, and after years of canonical wrangling, a harsh sentence was imposed.

Whereas Pavone has devoted his life to the defense of human life—a quest fully in keeping with the teachings of the Church—Father Martin has focused his energies on promoting a change in Church teachings and policies regarding homosexuality. If you think this mission is fundamentally incompatible with his status as a Catholic priest, I wholeheartedly agree. Has his incessant criticism of Church teachings approached the level of blasphemy? We could argue that question. But on one question there can be no argument. Father Martin has not disobeyed his religious superiors. On the contrary he has their enthusiastic support.

The charges against Father Rupnik are even more serious. He has been charged—and found guilty—of molesting nuns, and of abusing the confessional. These matters are easily as grave as “blasphemous communications.” Yet he remains in ministry (albeit theoretically restricted). You see, Father Rupnik did not disobey his religious superiors. On the contrary he has their enthusiastic support.

By the way, Fathers Martin and Rupnik are both Jesuits, as are the superiors who support them. Coincidence?

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: johnhinshaw8419405 - Dec. 22, 2022 8:33 PM ET USA

    Excellent final sentence. Explains so much of the Catholic Church problems and why so many are manning the ramparts for Fr. Pavone.

  • Posted by: rbnglnsr19563 - Dec. 21, 2022 10:44 PM ET USA

    The similarities between the actions of the catholic hierarchy and the secular, liberal, progressive democratic party's cancel culture are so striking. And, that is exactly the problem the bishops have with Fr. Pavone's conduct. So long as you obey, after that, you are free to do as you please. Yes, Fr. Pavone's disobedience is wrong but, the use of profanities and disgust with the actions of the catholic president, in comparison to others perverse actions hardly warrant laicization.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Dec. 21, 2022 7:50 PM ET USA

    Martin and Rupnik are not "challenged" to be obedient to God's laws which, in turn, means their superiors (all up the line) are disobedient, Judas-like even with their support of these "ministries". In addition, it is reasonable to be suspicious of Pavone's superiors at every turn. Pile on the fact that this is scandalous behavior no wonder people are leaving the church and the young are disillusioned.

  • Posted by: rsnewbill7950 - Dec. 20, 2022 6:58 PM ET USA

    True, but just who are the superiors of these religious superiors you mention? All the way to the Pope himself. And then on up to the Triune God. So, Frs Martin and Rupnik have both disobeyed their superiors and their ultimate superior. They are both without excuse, and that goes for their immediate superiors also.

  • Posted by: feedback - Dec. 20, 2022 12:52 PM ET USA

    The reflection on priestly and religious obedience points directly to the need for saintly bishops and saintly religious superiors. And a saintly Pope. Obedience to them makes sense when they themselves are obedient to Christ, to the Commandments, and to the Magisterium of the Church. As an extreme example, could a priest who slept with McCarrick call it an act of obedience to his bishop? It's why I'm not impressed with the "obedience" of Martin and Rupnik. I'm disappointed with their superiors.

  • Posted by: IM4HIM - Dec. 20, 2022 11:47 AM ET USA

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful analysis. It does anger many faithful Catholics that the words and actions of liberal priests and bishops are either condoned or promoted while conservative or traditional priests and bishops are ostracized or marginalized. It appears that the Devil has influenced our Church leaders by way of diabolical disorientation.