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Vatican defrocks MAGA priest for 'blasphemous' social media posts, 'persistent disobedience'

The Vatican has laicized, or removed from the priesthood, prominent anti-abortion and political activist Frank Pavone, the Vatican's ambassador in Washington informed U.S. bishops in a Dec. 13 letter reported Saturday night by Catholic News Agency (CNA) and posted online Sunday by The Associated Press. Pavone, national director of the group Priests for Life, can no longer present himself as a Catholic priest or administer the sacraments. He has "no possibility of appeal," the letter states.

The letter does not detail what led the Vatican to defrock Pavone on Nov. 9, but it includes a statement saying he was "found guilty in canonical proceedings of blasphemous communications on social media and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop."

Pavone was a campaign adviser to former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 and has questioned President Biden's win. His "Twitter handle still features him wearing a 'MAGA' hat with a background photo of former President Trump," AP notes. He suggested that his punishment stemmed in part from a 2020 tweet in which he criticized "supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party."

"I used the word G-D in a response to somebody in a tweet and for that they want to throw me out of the priesthood," Pavone said in a live social media broadcast Saturday night.

But Pavone has clashed with his bishops — including the late Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas — for more than 20 years. Zurek suspended Pavone in 2011 — Pavone appealed and won — and opened an investigation into him after he posted a video in November 2016 urging support for Trump and displaying an aborted fetus on an altar. After Pavone tweeted in 2020 that he wouldn't administer absolution to Catholics who voted Democratic, the Amarillo diocese said Pavone's "postings are not consistent with Catholic Church teachings," adding: "Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone."

Pavone celebrated Mass on Saturday, but he canceled an online Mass on Sunday, CNA reports. He told CNA on Saturday that its inquiry about his laicization was "the very first communication that came to me about this." Even though the Vatican letter said his defrocking was not subject to appeal, Pavone told The New York Times he "would have to appeal to the next pope" and "to the people of God."

The Vatican said it isn't stopping Pavone from continuing his anti-abortion advocacy: "Since Priests for Life Inc. is not a Catholic organization, Mr. Pavone's continuing role in it as a lay person would be entirely up to the leadership of that organization."