Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Where Are the Women?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Frank Pavone. Grifter? Priest?



Anyone who observes or interacts with Catholic on twitter knows that Twitter has a toxic priest problem. Being more focused on more prominent, less conspicuously maniacal clerics, I admit I was not paying close attention to “Father” Frank Pavone until recently when I read a tweet by a Catholic writer and noted his history of fiscal misconduct. I’d spent a little time researching him on a whim last summer after I had become interested in the Rachel Project to which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops refers women who feel conflicted, confused remorseful about terminating their pregnancies, and Pavone’s name surfaced in connection with this minisitry for women. It quickly became clear that he had made something of a career of thumbing his nose a multiple bishops and that he was grifter whose game seemed to me to modeled on the style made popular by Rev. Jim Bakker and the Praise the Lord Club. Pavone, to his credit, does not even aim conceal his unwavering support for Donald Trump, and his twitter output is heavy with MAGA messages. Because I have long been interested in the violation by cleric of tax law as it pertains to the tax-exempt churches, I wondered, why do the Bishops allow grifter Pavone to cash in on his ordination thus? Where the heck is this guy’s bishop? 


My concerns about Pavone and ministering to women escalated rapidly, by the way, when I learned that he had been disciplined (not defrocked!) for using a dead human fetus as a prop in his celebration of the Holy Mass. 

Pavone claims that his aim an hope was that the dead fetus might “witness.” This is perverse. Why did Rome not step in and remove him immedately?The intensely unrelenting misogynist messaging in Pavone’s bizarre and hysterical output alarmed me still further when the thought that this “priest” might be conducting himself with in this manner in the physical presence of vulnerable women in search of some kind of healing. (While I recognize the need for some women to find healing after having abortions within their Roman Catholic practice, I have always found Rachel ProjectRachel’s Vineyardthey are connected—from a theological standpoint. and indeed suspect. There are far better approaches.) Frank Pavone has engaged in public blasphemy, is campaigning for Trump in plain sight, spends more time on social media than a 13 year-old (Remind you of anyone?) and uses donation dollars to fly around the United States giving speeches, rubbing elbows with pols and lobbyists and gobbling up Narcissistic feed. Why do the Bishops allow grifter Pavone to cash in on his ordination thus? My concerns about Pavone and ministering to women escalated rapidly, by the way, when I learned that he had been disciplined, but not defrocked, for using a dead human fetus as a prop in his celebration of the Holy Mass. Pavone claims that his aim an hope was that the dead fetus might “witness.” This is perverse. Why did Rome not step in and remove him immedately?

The church which ordained Pavone, from whom his authority as a cleric emanates, is a tax-exempt organization prohibited by lawfrom campaigning for a particular candidate.

 Over the past two days, I researched Pavone further. In 2016, his organization Priests for Life travel expenses alone in 2016 amounted to over $490,000 , during which year “expenses” were in excess of $9 million. His bishop Patrick J. Kurek in Amarillo Texas first embraced, but then cut Pavone loose. Pavone moved to Staten Island where Cardinal Timothy Dolan ostensibly, publicly, “cut ties with” Pavone. Pavone moved to Titusville, Florida in 2017 where, according to the generally unreliable Church Militant (They like Pavone.) media outlet, Pavone’s bishop circulated a letter exhorting his brother priests in the Orlando Diocese to refrain from allowing Pavone to speak in their parishes. Currently, Pavone is using donations to travel about the United States defending “the babies” and stumping for Donald Trump. The church which ordained Pavone, from whom his authority as a whose authority is a tax-exempt organization prohibited by law from campaigning for a particular candidate. Although high ranking priests in that church have detached from the con-artist lens louse, they have not moved to defrock Pavone. The Canon Code prohibits desecrating the altar and mass. A priest who has not been officially defrocked and who is stumping daily for a presidential candidate may, possibly be violating (I’m not a lawyer.) Tax Law. Pavone appears regularly as “Father Frank Pavone” on his Facebook ‘television channel’ sporting a Roman collar. It is not clear to me yet whether they are airing Pavone’s programming at present, but EWTN, Eternal World Television Network, the largest religious media outlet in the world (of Mother Angelica fame) helped to put Pavone on the map. A cabal of clerics run Priests for Life, as priests, not as private citizens. Why have the United States Bishops and the Vatican not moved to stop Pavone?

Pavone went rogue. He began to run his Staten Island-based “ministry” via Skype from a Texas convent, an Alex Jones-style desert father, besieged by snakes and other menacing creatures:

Pavone caught a bit of trouble with his superior, Bishop Patrick J. Zurek in Amarillo, Texas, in 2011, in connection with his fund-raising tactics and possible fiscal misconduct. Here's some of what he wrote:
"I had to reach you [the donor] right away and address some important issues that concern you, me, and our work together at Priests for Life, and the entire pro-life movement here in the United States. Before I go into that with you, I must first tell you that it is critically important that you send me a response of any kind to this letter”…
The demand for immediate action is classic a 700 Club move, the call for: 
 unconditional support for Priests for Life … Right now…that means doing whatever is necessary to send Priest for Life the largest gift you possibly can today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But right now!
Bishop Patrick J. Zurek was still direct donors to Pavone in 2012, after The Amarillo News-Globe exposed the grifter priest: Pavone lost his tax-exempt status in 2010, but continued to run his Gospel for Life Ministry as a Roman Catholic priest:
Gospel of Life Ministries — one of three nonprofits at the heart of a dispute between Pavone, the charities’ self-described frontman, and Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek — continued to feature on its website an online donation form that refers to contributions as tax-deductible. The IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status in May 2010…
“If it still is collecting tax-deductible donations, it’s collecting under false pretenses,” said Vaughn James, a Texas Tech University Law School tax law expert.
Pavone was finally removed from ministry by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek who alerted his brother bishops about the thieving priest:
Patrick J. Zurek… sent a letter to every other U.S. bishop declaring that he had so many concerns about the group's $10 million budget that Pavone shouldn't be trusted with donors' money. 
It was then that Pavone went rogue. He began to run his Staten Island-based “ministry” via Skype from a Texas convent, an Alex Jones-style desert father, besieged by snakes and other menacing creatures: 
the New York-born priest was stuck in a convent in the Texas panhandle where he served as chaplain to an order of nuns in a place called Prayer Town, a virtual prisoner in a war of words with Zurek, who had blasted his "incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop." 
 As I write this, on the morning of October 17, 2019, Frank Pavone’s twitter feed ( @FrFrankPavone) is filled mostly with images of Frank. Frank waxing prosaic about “the babies,” Frank asking devout Catholics on fixed incomes for more money because abortion is worse than nuclear war, Frank quote- tweeting Trump booster Candace Owens. Frank wearing a red MAGA cap. Pavone’s tweets announcing his Facebook programming feature Pavone front and center, always upstaging Jesus, God and Mary, Blessed Sacrament monstrance and Rosary are featured; moved by the spirit no doubt, but dashing the spirit of the law which prohibits clerics from using their religious authority to stump for a political candidate to unholy smithereens. 

I don’t believe the US. Bishops wish to restrain him. He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a forceful if doltish cleric, in their view, to be tolerated but not celebrated.

He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a cleric to be tolerated but not celebrated. Until two years ago Pavone’s Gospel of Life Ministry operated out of the Archdiocese of New York, yet somehow it was not until 2014 that Cardinal Timothy Dolan cut ties with Pavone , perhaps due to Pavone’s history of fiscal misconduct. (By the way, I think this cutting of ties was pro forma. Done for reasons of Optics.) Pavone has been disregarding bishops in plain sight for more than a decade. I don’t believe the US. Bishops wish to restrain him. He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a forceful if doltish cleric, in their view, to be tolerated but not celebrated. This is why Pavone’s superiors in the Roman Catholic hierarchy continue to go back and forth about whether to banish or support Frank Pavone. In 2014, Pavone’s own bishop cut ties with him. In 2015 in time for Election Day 2016 (in November of 2015). Cardinal Renato Martino, a longtime supporter of Pavone and Priests for Life, sent Pavone a letter of commendation. Currently, Pavone’s center of operations appears to be in Titusville, Florida, today. (I write “appears to be” because it is, by Pavone’s design—part of the lack of trasnparency—hard to know.) Although Bishop Noonan of Orlando Diocese circulated a written exhortation addressed to priests in his diocese to refrain from inviting Pavone to speak in the his parishes, he seems not to be doing much to stop Pavone from operating what looks quite a bit like a Ponzi scheme out of Titusville, Florida.

Are Frank Pavone’s fiscal misconduct, disregard for his bishops, maniacal support of Trump and public blasphemy being... because “no investment is too high for the diffusion of the word of God?”


Who are the people who actually pay for Pavone’s elaborate stumping for Trump speaking schedule? Do they have any sense of how this cash is being spent?  Pavone’s bio on this Priests for Life travel itinerary, by the way, includes his status as “Pastoral Director, Rachel’s Vineyard.” The United States Bishops’ website still directs women to “the Rachel Project.” Are vulnerable women still being directed to obtain support from to this deranged huckster? Has EWTN (Eternal World Television Network) the global network funded by billionaires, aligned with the traditional Catholic Church and by extension with Catholic pro-Trumpers, broken with Pavone? ETWN’s Chairman and CEO Michael C. Warsaw is a consultant to the Vatican's Dicastery of Communications. (Reverend James Martin, S.J. is, as well.) Just last month at the plenary assembly for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Pope Francis said the following in a text statement:
“No investment is too high for the diffusion of the Word of God”… 
Are Frank Pavone’s fiscal misconduct, disregard for his bishops, maniacal support of Trump and public blasphemy being tolerated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States because he’s an earner committed to overturning Roe v. Wade,  and because “no investment is too high for the diffusion of the word of God?” Yes.

Many Catholic women have abortions. Some agonize over it. Others do not. Roughly half of Catholics reject Magisterial teaching on abortion, and many of them are women. Perhaps because I know so many Catholic women who continue to worship Catholic without feeling any need of special formal religious interventions in the wake of terminating their pregnancies, the Rachel projects had long rather fallen off my Catholic radar. Although I find the idea that Pavone, who identifies as the “Pastoral Director” of Rachel’s Vineyard might still be “counseling” vulnerable women horrific, I find my sense that Pavone is not really interested in the women or “the babies” strangely comforting. I think Pavone is interested in the money, attention, and power.

Unless Pavone does something truly egregious in the eyes of the Vatican—something truly heinous, like, say, ordaining a woman—Pavone will decompensate unchecked. He's helping. to keep the Roman Catholic Church safe for misogyny; no Catholic bishop will much obstruct him in this. 

So why do the Vatican and Roman Catholic hierarchy in the nation in which Pavone operates allow him to grift amok? I am not sure. I worry, however, that Pavone enjoys this license because bishops, the media network that made him, anti-abortion Catholics too refined to favor the use of a dead human embryo in a mass want him to continue to stump for white supremacist, nationalist candidates. They find Pavone distasteful. They dislike his means, but very much approve of his ends. Half of Catholics do not embrace Catholic teaching on abortion. The other half, roughly speaking, voted for Trump. The factions are at war, in a sense. Saints are always a little off, deranged, Narcissistic. Frank Pavone, is, like his fellow grifter hero Donald Trump, a Malignant Narcissist, a television-loving lens louse who wants to give speeches, get rich, and feel powerful. Priests for Life is a front, a kind of Ponzi scheme, but it also gets the message out. The U.S. Bishops know it. At least one cardinal in Rome knows it. The pope knows it. Unless Pavone does something truly egregious in the eyes of the Vatican—something truly heinous, like, say, ordaining a woman—Pavone will decompensate unchecked. He's keeping the Roman Catholic Church safe for misogyny; no Catholic bishop will obstruct him in this way.




Priests for Life 2016 Tax Returns:

2016-943123315-0f9b5138-9.pdf



Priests for Life 2016 Travel Expenses:


Michele Somerville, 
October 17, 2019, Brooklyn