Frank Pavone

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The Reverend

Frank Pavone
Father Frank Pavone.jpg
Pavone speaking at an event
Frank Anthony Pavone

(1959-02-04) February 4, 1959 (age 63)
EducationDon Bosco College, St. Joseph's Seminary
OccupationCatholic Priest
Known forPriests for Life, national anti-abortion leader & speaker[1]

Frank Anthony Pavone (born February 4, 1959) is an American Roman Catholic priest and an anti-abortion activist. He is the National Director of Priests for Life (PFL) and serves as the chairman and Pastoral Director of its project Rachel's Vineyard. He also is the President of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, an umbrella group of various anti-abortion Christian denominations, and serves as Pastoral Director of the Silent No More campaign.[2]

Early life[edit]

Pavone was born in 1959 in Port Chester, New York to Marion and Joseph Pavone.[1] His father was a hardware salesman. Pavone aspired to be an astronaut as a child but decided to become a priest after volunteering at his parish. He attended the 1976 March for Life, where he became an anti-abortion activist. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, he enrolled in the Don Bosco College, a Salesian Major Seminary in Newton, New Jersey, later leaving the Salesian Order and joining the Archdiocese of New York.[1]


Father Frank Pavone was ordained to the priesthood on November 12, 1988, by Cardinal John O'Connor, then Archbishop of New York, and was assigned to St. Charles's Church (Staten Island).[3] During that time, in addition to parish duties, he began producing television broadcasts on local cable TV channels.[4] In 1993, he sought and obtained permission from the Cardinal to devote his ministry to protecting the unborn and ending abortion, and O'Connor appointed him as director of Priests for Life.[5]

In the late 1990s, Pavone served at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family,[6] an office which coordinated pro-life activities for the Catholic church worldwide and his role included encouraging pro-life leaders to establish local projects.

In 2001, Pavone announced a $12 million advertising campaign designed to welcome women who'd had abortions back into the church, and worked to combine this work with existing efforts underway through the healing outreach of the National Council of Catholic Bishops. Pavone was also honored at the annual "Proudly Pro-Life" award dinner which was organization by the National Right to Life Committee and hosted at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Pavone joined the ranks of previous honorees including Cardinal John O'Connor, Mother Theresa, former US President Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II.[7]

Diocese of Amarillo[edit]

After a difference in opinion with Cardinal Edward Egan in New York, Pavone sought and received a transfer to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas.[8] Pavone informed Cardinal Egan that he wanted to continue to pursue anti-abortion work on a full-time basis and that Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, TX agreed to support this.[9] The transfer occurred in 2005. Later that year, Pavone became a priest there, serving in anti-abortion ministry with his bishop's permission. Pavone formerly served as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.[10]

In March 2005, the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo announced that Pavone would establish a religious community called Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, a collective of priests and seminarians exclusively dedicated to anti-abortion work.[11] In 2007, Bishop John Yanta, with the approval of the Holy See, suppressed the community.[12][13] In 2008, the Diocese of Amarillo and Priests for Life issued a statement indicating that Missionaries of the Gospel of Life would merge with Priests for Life. Pavone indicated that the priestly formation activities of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life were interfering with his anti-abortion advocacy efforts.[7]

As of July 2021, Pavone remains active with Priests for Life after the Vatican eased the restrictions placed on him in 2011.[14]


Pavone provided much commentary during the Terri Schiavo controversy, having been on the limited visitors' list and having been at her bedside many times, including during her final hours. He delivered the homily at Schiavo's funeral Mass at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Gulfport, Florida on April 5, 2005.[15]

He serves as a member of Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family Institute.[16]

Pavone was threatened with death by Theodore Shulman, an abortion rights advocate. Shulman indicated that Pavone would be killed if Scott Roeder, the murderer of George Tiller (who had been an abortion provider from Wichita, Kansas), was acquitted. Commenting on the threat, Pavone said, "I have already publicly forgiven Mr. Shulman and pray for him every day."[17][18]

Norma McCorvey[edit]

McCorvey was the lead plaintiff "Jane Roe" in the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States.[19] After Pavone's friend Rev. Flip Benham baptized McCorvey, in 1998 Pavone received her into the Catholic Church,[20] and together they began a collaboration on anti-abortion activities. Pavone was both a long-time friend[21] and spiritual mentor to McCorvey in the later years of her life as she came to regret her involvement in the abortion rights issue in the early 1970s, and attempted to "right the terrible wrong."[22]

Joseph Maraachli case[edit]

In 2011, Pavone was involved in assisting the family of Moe Maraachli, a Canadian man who, with his wife, sought a medical procedure for their dying son, who came to be known as "Baby Joseph", but were refused the treatment in Canada. They turned to Pavone for assistance, and he arranged, through his Priests for Life organization, to have the baby transferred to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, where the child received a tracheotomy,[23] and then to have him flown back home, breathing on his own without a machine.[24] After successfully receiving the procedure in March 2011, "Baby Joseph" Maraachli returned home, where he died in September 2011.

Kermit Gosnell[edit]

In 2013, Pavone presided over a service to give names to the 45 human fetuses found in Kermit Gosnell's Philadelphia abortion clinic. During the service, Pavone asked, "Who are these children, and whose are these children? Are they medical waste or are they our brothers and sisters?" The service also called for prayers and healing for the parents of the aborted babies.[25] Pavone contacted the Philadelphia Medical Examiner to request permission to bury the "Gosnell babies".[25] The request was not granted.[26]

Supreme Court insurance case[edit]

Along with his Priests for Life organization and some of its other leaders, Pavone was a petitioner at the US Supreme Court in the case Priests for Life v. Burwell.[27] The case was later consolidated with six other cases in Zubik v. Burwell.[28] These cases challenged an Obama administration mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that the petitioners said violated their religious freedom by forcing them to be complicit in the process of providing insurance coverage for contraception and certain forms of abortion. These cases successfully relieved Priests for Life and the other petitioners of the mandate.[29][30][31]

Baby Alfie Evans[edit]

In 2018, Pavone advocated for baby Alfie Evans -- a UK toddler suffering from an unknown neurological disorder -- in order to help transfer the child to Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome,[32] a move that was supported by Pope Francis.[33][34] The family of Alfie Evans got an unexpected ray of hope in April 2018 when an appeals court agreed to examine their case. In the lower court's decision, Evans was to remain in a government-run hospital where doctors had ordered the removal of life support and a cessasion of care. [35]

Political activity[edit]

In September 2004, Pavone addressed a group of delegates to the Republican National Convention in New York, saying, "Isn't it great to be among Catholics who aren't afraid to be political? And isn't it great to find a few priests who aren't afraid to be political?"[36] Pavone said that abortion was the "single issue" for him in the election of 2004, and indicated the politics of abortion was the reason he endorsed George W. Bush.[37]

Pavone has made statements comparing supporting the legality of abortion to supporting terrorism. Pavone said "abortion is no less violent than terrorism".[38] When 2008 presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, Pavone said he believed that Palin was a better Catholic than Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, due to her opposition to abortion, despite Palin's having been raised a Protestant in the Assemblies of God church.[39]

In January 2010, Pavone commented on the special election victory of Republican Scott Brown to fill the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat. Although Brown has a moderate stance on abortion, supporting certain restrictions, while still supporting its legality,[40] Pavone considered his victory as an example that "elections are the answer".

In August 2012, after Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan invited President Barack Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner, Pavone criticized the decision, saying it "amounts to scandal", due to Obama's support of legal abortion.[41]

Pavone served in leadership positions in former President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign. Pavone served on the Catholic Advisory Board, and was named national co-chair of Pro-Life Voices For Trump. At that time, any concerns about his political and ecclesiastical activity were resolved.[42] When the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy requested that Pavone decline from using any formal title within the campaign, both he and the campaign complied with the request although he continued in his role of advising and advocating for the campaign.[43]


PFL finances[edit]

In 2011, PFL came under scrutiny for failing to disclose financial details, reporting a $1.4 million deficit in 2010 despite collecting tens of millions of dollars in donations during recent years.[12] On September 6, 2011, Pavone was ordered back to his diocese by his bishop, Patrick Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas. Zurek limited Pavone to duties within the Diocese of Amarillo because of a protracted disagreement over financial transparency for Pavone's nonprofit Priests for Life and its affiliates – Rachel's Vineyard, which counsels people affected by abortion, and Gospel of Life Ministries, a lay association affiliated with Priests for Life. Pavone remained a priest in good standing, and the bishop did not allege fiscal impropriety.[44] In addition to suspending Pavone from ministry outside Amarillo, Bishop Zurek prohibited the priest from appearing on the Eternal Word Television Network. Zurek also questioned the management of Priests for Life affiliates Rachel's Vineyard and Gospel of Life Ministries, the latter of which lost its tax-exempt status in 2010, according to IRS records.[45]

A Catholic World News analysis of tax returns indicated that between 2006 and 2008, Priests for Life spent less than 63% of its revenues on its programs. It also found that Pavone did not draw any salary from the organization.[46]

In September 2011, Pavone appealed to the Holy See to review Bishop Zurek's decision that suspended Pavone's ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo.[47] Bishop Zurek's initial use of the term "suspended", which under Canon Law indicates a loss of the authority to perform religious ministry, was not supported by the Congregation of the Clergy, which at the same time affirmed a bishop's right to assign clerics incardinated in his diocese.[48] The Holy See's decree allowed Pavone to minister outside the Diocese of Amarillo; however, he still must obtain specific permission to do so from Amarillo's bishop.[49] Pavone was to continue as chaplain to the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ religious order, as assigned by the bishop.[50]

In November 2012, the Congregation decided that since the principal office of Priests for Life was in the archdiocese of New York, the archbishop of New York was the competent authority to exercise vigilance over the association.[51] Pavone subsequently complied with demands to straighten out the group's finances and returned to New York to become accountable to his home diocese.[52]

In November 2014, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the bishops of the United States to advise them that the Congregation of the Clergy had conducted an apostolic visitation of PFL the previous year, and had subsequently requested that he "assist Father Pavone with several necessary reforms." Cardinal Dolan wrote to advise the bishops that Pavone had not cooperated with the reforms. As a result, the cardinal told the Holy See that "I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization."[53]

Pre-election videos[edit]

On November 7, 2016, Pavone, a member of Donald Trump's 33-member Catholic advisory council,[54] presented a live video in which he appeared with what he claimed was the body of an unclothed aborted fetus and placed it on an altar. Pavone preached for about 45 minutes on the subject of abortion. Negative reactions were widespread.[55] Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York, said that "A human being has been sacrificed and the altar of God has been desecrated, all for politics. Everyone who respects the dignity of every human person should reject and disavow this atrocity."[56] Bishop Patrick Zurek of the Amarillio, Texas diocese, said the video was "... against the dignity of human life and is a desecration of the altar," and "is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church. We believe that no one who is pro-life can exploit a human body for any reason, especially the body of a fetus." The bishop stated that Priests for Life, which was then based in Staten Island, N.Y., was not a Catholic, but a civil institution and therefore not under the diocese's supervision. He added that the diocese was opening an investigation of Pavone "about all these matters."[54][57]

Transfer and continued diocese support[edit]

On November 11, 2019, by a Vatican decree, the Congration for the Clergy dismissed Bishop Zurek's restrictions formerly placed upon Pavone and authorized him to transfer from the diocese of Amarillto, and move under a bishop who supports Pavone's ministry.[58][59]


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