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Defrocked priest Frank Pavone now faces multiple sexual misconduct allegations
The MAGA-loving, anti-abortion priest was laicized last year. Women are now speaking out about his inappropriate behavior.
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Frank Pavone, the former Catholic priest who was kicked out of the priesthood late last year, has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. This comes after spending years building his reputation as the ultimate moralist—a man with a take-no-prisoners approach to abortion who became far better known for his anti-choice extremism and MAGA cultism than anything Jesus-related.
He was so toxic that Vatican laicized him—revoking his priestly credentials, so to speak—on November 9 with “no possibility of appeal,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Before discussing the allegations, it’s important to know who this guy is and why he became too extreme for the Church given that his anti-abortion views seemed perfectly in line with the Vatican.
Pavone, a former leader with the group “Priests for Life,” got a lot of attention in 2016 when he urged Catholics to vote for Donald Trump in a (now-deleted) video in which he used an actual dead fetus as a political prop.
He became emblematic of the problem with the anti-abortion movement. People like Pavone claim to be “pro-life,” but they rarely talk about the life of the women or how to care for the babies they want to “save.” They oppose contraception, even though that could prevent a lot of unwanted pregnancies. They oppose the sort of public policies that would make it easier to raise a child in a safe environment.
Frank Pavone never urged women to use birth control. He never put condoms on his altar. He never fought for health care for babies whose parents couldn’t afford it. He never showed empathy for victims of sexual assault.
The biggest concern for the Church may have been the explicit political endorsement, which, of course, the Church is not supposed to make. (Pavone was also the chair of a group called Catholics for Trump.) But Pavone remained a priest.
He also remained in his job despite the fact that no one seemed to know where Pavone actually worked:
It is not clear in what diocese Pavone, 63, is incardinated as a priest. On the Priests for Life website, it says he received permission from the Vatican in 2019 to transfer from the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where he was incardinated in 2005, to another, unnamed diocese.
Pavone hosted the show “Defending Life” on EWTN for many years until the Bishop of Amarillo, Texas, revoked Pavone’s permission to appear on the Network. EWTN is the parent organization of CNA.
The Vatican didn’t cite any of those things in their letter revoking his credentials.
What they did mention were his childish tweets from 2020:
In tweets that were subsequently deleted, Pavone reportedly called then Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a “[expletive] loser” and said the Democratic party was “God-hating” and “America-hating” and that Biden’s supporters “can’t say a [expletive] thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump.”
“What the hell do you have to say for yourselves, losers?” Pavone asked.
(“Goddamn.” He said “Goddamn.”)
The Church’s letter dismissing him referenced “blasphemous communications on social media,” suggesting the use of a profanity was more of a problem than his publicity stunt and political endorsements. More than anything, it seemed, Pavone’s biggest problem was not obeying orders from someone above him in the Catholic hierarchy:
“Father Pavone was given ample opportunity to defend himself in the canonical proceedings, and he was also given multiple opportunities to submit himself to the authority of his diocesan bishop,” explains a separate statement attached to [Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe] Pierre’s letter. “It was determined that Father Pavone had no reasonable justification for his actions.”
He disobeyed a bishop, repeatedly, for some unnamed reason.
That’s what turned him from Father Pavone into Frank the Creepy Fetus Dude who participates in Catholic cosplay to convince people God wants them to support the MAGA Republican agenda.
Shortly after his dismissal became public news, Pavone complained on Twitter about being persecuted:
That… was not the problem. The Catholic Church fully agrees with his anti-abortion extremism. Pavone was probably angry because his demotion had been made public in a letter that said Priests for Life was “not a Catholic organization.”
The biggest mistake the Church made was not booting this guy earlier. By revoking his title, the Vatican arguably gave Pavone even more of a platform to promote himself and his extremism, as if the Catholic Church’s problem was that it wasn’t anti-abortion enough. Even today, his bio on the Priests for Life website says “Some Church leaders… tried to cancel him and in 2022 convinced Pope Francis to dismiss him from the priesthood.” He has no remorse for his actions, believes he’s been wronged, and thinks he will be reinstated under the next pope, whoever it may be.
But now Pavone’s troubles may be getting even worse.
Last month, the conservative outlet The Pillar (which once outed a hypocritical priest who was using Grindr to meet men) published a report saying Pavone had been accused of “sexual harassment, grooming behavior, and coercive physical contact with young women.”
The Pillar has learned that at least two reports of misconduct were sent to the Diocese of Amarillo during or before 2010, with additional complaints also likely filed, sources said. Reports involved allegedly inappropriate behavior toward interns and junior employees of Priests for Life, the non-profit organization Pavone has headed since 1993.
One woman, who served as Pavone’s assistant while in college, said he began “grooming” her as soon as she began working for him. He would touch her inappropriately, rub her back (leading to her bra being unclasped), sit on her hotel bed during a work trip and ask if she wanted to “slip into something more comfortable,” among other things.
Other women said similar things:
Sources say the reports describe Pavone making unwanted advances and acting inappropriately toward young women who idealized the priest because of his self-proclaimed importance to the pro-life movement — and who allegedly used his status as both a priest and the director of Priests for Life to gain isolated access to women in their homes or during trips for the organization.
A spokesperson for Priests for Life said all complaints were “resolved satisfactorily” and that the Amarillo diocese issued multiple letters saying Pavone remained in “good standing.” (The first woman said her case was not, in fact, “resolved satisfactorily.”)
That article came out about a month ago, on January 24.
A few days later, OSV News (a wire service for news about Catholicism) reported that another Priests for Life employee, a male priest, confirmed that sexual misconduct was a problem when he worked there:
In a telephone interview with OSV News Jan. 25, former Priests for Life employee Father Stephen Imbarrato gave an account of how, while he was working at the nonprofit from 2015 to 2018, he had counseled one staffer for more than two years over sexual harassment she had allegedly experienced from Pavone.
“She made it clear she was not comfortable with his inappropriate advances,” the priest said. “It did not stop, and I actually personally confronted (then-Father) Frank about the situation, and it still did not stop. And she was eventually forced to quit.”
The most damning thing about that? Imbarrato was not speaking about the woman in the previous story.
A couple of weeks later, another woman—different from the previous two—spoke with The Pillar and said she was “serially sexually harassed” by Pavone while working for Priests for Life. Despite reporting the incidents to Priests for Life officials and the Diocese of Amarillo, nothing of consequence occurred to stop him.
“He kept file cabinets in his bedroom, and he’d have me filing things in his bedroom, which felt completely inappropriate. Especially because he’d try to make me his little pet — he’d call me his ‘favorite college student,’ and when I’d say that I’d graduated, he’d say, ‘That’s so cute, you’re my favorite college graduate.’”
She recalled that Pavone “would have me drive him to the airport … and he would touch my legs.”
Worthington said she decided to quit her job in 2006, after an incident in which Pavone “had me backed up against a wall, and was stroking my hair, and stroking my shoulder. And he was trying to tell me to go downstairs and get his camera or something, but he was standing way too close to me. And I wonder why I didn’t knee him in the groin,” she said.
Pavone denied those allegations while admitting he may have “unintentionally made someone feel uncomfortable.”
Last week, American (a Jesuit media outlet) published its own piece by writer Jenn Morson in which she says she was also a victim of Pavone’s aggression. Her story aligns with the earlier ones, including the detail that her interview before getting hired at Priests for Life involved answering whether or not she enjoyed “roller coasters and seafood” (Pavone’s favorite things). Even though she and her female friend said no to both, they were brought on anyway, despite no one looking into their actual qualifications.
Morson says she faced the same unwanted advanced from Pavone during her time there. She didn’t recognize it as sexual misconduct at the time, but it’s become clear in hindsight how inappropriate his actions were:
What I experienced pales in comparison to what other young women say they endured at Mr. Pavone’s hand. But what makes grooming particularly insidious is how easily it allows a person to be manipulated. That I experienced many of the same inappropriate behaviors and yet continued to defend Mr. Pavone against such speculations sends chills down my spine. Why did no one else intervene? Others stood by and made excuses for Mr. Pavone’s behavior “for the greater good.”
… I can’t help but think of the women whose abortions were filmed without their knowledge and consent, whose safety was not a priority for Mr. Pavone, either. We were all a means to an end. And tragically, it seems that a just cause was allowed to absolve anyone of concern for injustice done to us.
While Priests for Life has stood by Pavone’s side as all these allegations have come out, at least one former board member (who served as recently as 2021) has called for his resignation. So has Imbarrato, who is also calling for an independent investigation.
As the Daily Beast noted yesterday in its own summary of the incidents, these allegations “span a period of almost twenty years, from the late 1990s until 2018.” Even when the women involved reported what was happening, their complaints were dismissed by Priests for Life as well as the Catholic Church. Everyone in positions of power acted like Pavone’s anti-choice activism overrode any alleged harassment. Even today, the non-profit organization is standing by his side, with some of Pavone’s allies treating all these reports as part of some political hit job.
At least for now, the Catholic Church can say it has wiped its hands of Pavone. But the people still working for him can’t say the same. They are defending him while dismissing or downplaying the multiple women who faced misconduct at work. It’s a reminder that, sometimes, the people who claim to advance a moral position actually care the least about morality.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)