A story broke recently that Fr. Frank Pavone, a priest (forever like Melchizedec of old, but apparently no longer in the eyes of the Catholic Church) who ran/runs an organization called priests for life (although he was the only member of the clergy I'd ever seen officially associated with the organization) was laicized with only “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” being used as the explanations.

There's quite a bit of Internet whataboutism going on here with regard to dissident priests of a liberal bent so I'm wondering what authority would be required for his dismissal. The Catholic Register says only the pope can do it but I'm asking if the authority can be transferred to a nuncio or a bishop under the authority of the Pope or if it's the Pope himself.


1 Answer 1


Under what authority was Fr. Frank Pavone defrocked?

The Prefect of the Roman Discastery for the Clergy may laicize priests who are living with women, who have abandoned their ministry for more than five years or who have engaged in seriously scandalous behavior.

On January 30, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI conceded to the Congregation for the Clergy the Special Faculty to handle and present to the Holy Father for his approval cases of dismissal from the clerical state with dispensation from all obligations including celibacy.

However, one must acknowledge that situations of grave lack of discipline on the part of some clergy have occurred in which the attempts to resolve the problems by the pastoral and canonical means foreseen in the Code of Canon Law are shown to be insufficient or unsuitable to repair scandal, to restore justice or to reform the offender (cf. Canon 1341).

This dicastery, with the intention of promoting the salus animarum, the supreme law of the church, and responding to the exigencies often sadly experienced by not a few bishops in their day-to-day-governance, decided that it was opportune to place the aforementioned special faculties before the sovereign pontiff for his consideration, and last Jan. 30 the supreme pontiff conceded to this congregation:

I. The special faculty to treat and present to the Holy Father, for his approval in forma specifica and his decision, cases of dismissal from the clerical state in poenam with dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy, of clerics who have attempted marriage, even if only civilly, and who, having been admonished, have not withdrawn from this state, therefore persisting in an irregular and scandalous life (cf. Canon 1394, Section 1); and of clerics guilty of grave sins against the Sixth Commandment (cf. Canon 1395, Sections 1-2).

II. The special faculty to intervene in accord with Canon 1399, either by taking direct action in a case or by confirming the decisions of ordinaries, were the competent ordinary so to request, due to the special gravity of the violation of law and the need or urgency to avoid an objective scandal.

This is granted along with the derogation from the prescriptions of Canons 1317, 1319, 1342, Section 2 and 1349, with respect to the application of perpetual penalties, to be applied to deacons only for grave reasons and to priests for the gravest reasons, always requiring that such cases are presented to the Holy Father for his approval in forma specifica and for his decision, and

III. The special faculty to handle cases of clerics who having freely abandoned the ministry for a period of more than five consecutive years and who, after careful verification of the facts insofar as this is possible, persist in such freely chosen and illicit absence from the ministry, taking this situation into account, to declare then their dismissal from the clerical state, with dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy.

Quicker Administrative Procedure for Laicizing Some Priests

Rarely do Sovereign Pontiffs directly sign an act of laicization themselves. It usually is from the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, who has jurisdiction in this domain. Besides that the text of the laicization has not been made public yet... Sometimes it is noted the the Holy Father has read the decree and has authorized it. Some have claimed that Fr. Frank Pavone took an aborted fetus, laid it upon an altar. If true that poses serious problems for him. The implications of this action are very dark indeed, if true. A Catholic priest put an aborted fetus on the altar in an appeal for Donald Trump

It seems logical that the “blasphemous communications” may indeed be a reference to the 2016 placement of the body of an unborn child on an altar while Pavone made a last-minute plea for voters to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

It is clear from your linked article that the Prefect of the Discastery for the Clergy issued the decree of laicization. Given the notoriety of Fr. Pavone, I feel certain that Pope Francis was aware of the document, especially in the fact that the Apostolic Nuncio wrote to all the US bishops about the matter. Going through such diplomatic channels, for me, implies that that Holy Father was aware of the outcome and approved it.

The National Catholic Register’s article Canon Lawyer on Father Pavone’s Dismissal from Priesthood: Only the Pope Can Issue a Decision Without Appeal is not absolutely true. The pope only has to approve of a decision-without-appeal!

Personally, I believe that although Fr. Pavone can not appeal his case to the Congregation of the Clergy, I believe he may be able to appeal to the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis himself. One can usually appeal to Rome as St. Paul did, but in this case there may be an option to appeal directly to the pope.

In any case, his placing a fetus of an aborted baby on a consecrated Catholic altar is not going to abode well with him, as some will consider this an act of blasphemy which also posted on social media.

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