Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, speaks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 24, 2020. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) See stories marked LIFE- Jan. 23 and 24, 2020.

ROME (CNS) -- For a variety of reasons, “especially in relation to the political situation” in the United States, the Legionaries of Christ university in Rome will not honor Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the head of the university’s bioethics faculty.

The bioethics department of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum had announced Jan. 7 on the university’s website that it would give Father Pavone its “A Life for Life” Award and that a Switzerland-based association would provide a monetary prize “to recognize and support Father Pavone’s mission.”

Less than a week later, the university’s academic vice rector issued a statement saying, “Taking into account elements that were not considered at the time of the original decision, the Faculty of Bioethics will forego the awarding of the prize to Father Frank Pavone.”

“We are very sorry for the misunderstandings and objections this situation caused,” said the statement signed by Legionaries of Christ Father David Koonce.

For a variety of reasons, “especially in relation to the political situation” in the United States, the Legionaries of Christ university in Rome will not honor Father Frank Pavone.

Asked what the additional “elements” were, Legionaries of Christ Father Gonzalo Miranda, dean of the bioethics faculty, told Catholic News Service Jan. 14, “It was a sum of factors, especially in relation to the political situation, but also ecclesial.”

Father Pavone, a staunch supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, had been in the news for his political rhetoric and for his continuing tensions with his bishop.

In an email Jan. 14, he told CNS that the university, which he has worked with for years, did not inform him of any specific concerns. “All they told me was that ‘controversy’ was stirred up because of this. But that is no news to us, and in the end it helps us, because the only bad press is no press.”

“It is no secret that some bishops don’t like our work,” Father Pavone wrote. “That’s fine, because the feeling is mutual. This is nothing new in the church.”

The initial plan was for Father Pavone, a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, to receive the award Jan. 25 during an online event.

When it announced the award, the university said it would recognize the priest’s “decades of service in the promotion of a culture of life,” and his role as founder and director of Priests for Life. “In addition,” the original announcement said, “it will recognize his activism in speaking in defense of the unborn.”

But in addition to his role at Priests for Life and with the Rachel’s Vineyard program of retreats for women who regret having had an abortion, Father Pavone has engaged in very public, very controversial election support for President Trump.

Father Pavone, a staunch supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, had been in the news for his political rhetoric and for his continuing tensions with his bishop.

Father Miranda had told Catholic News Service Jan. 11 that members of the faculty considered possible objections to honoring Father Pavone, including the “political questions where people can have different opinions, but that is not what we are rewarding.”

The faculty initially had decided to move ahead because “the award honors a person who has dedicated his life to defending the sacredness of human life,” he said.

As recently as Jan. 8, Father Pavone’s “End Abortion” podcast included a prayer in which he said, “Lord, we acknowledge the blessings you have given us -- you are still giving us -- through President Donald Trump. We thank you for all the accomplishments. Lord, we pray for our fellow citizens who are so very blind -- blind with a capital b -- so blind that they do not see the greatest political leader that we’ve ever had.”

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

“Lord, we pray their eyes would be opened and their hearts will repent. Lord, we pray for those who embrace the Democrat Party, that they may repent,” he continued. “We pray in reparation for all the damage done to our country, to our values, to our church, to our faith, to our freedom, to our economy, to our military by those who vote Democrat. Lord God, cleanse their hands of blood because they are ruining our nation.”

“This Democrat Party is sunk deep in evil,” he said.

Asked if he believed his political rhetoric was the cause of the university’s change of plans, Father Pavone told CNS Jan. 14: “We need to be far more outspoken as a church. Otherwise, we end up with an irrelevant church and a godless politics.”

Asked if he believed his political rhetoric was the cause of the university’s change of plans, Father Pavone told CNS: “We need to be far more outspoken as a church.”

“I served both of President Trump’s campaigns. Some fake news reporting gave the half-truth that I ‘resigned’ from my role with the campaign.” He said that was a “half-truth, because the reporting didn’t explain the reason, namely, that priests cannot have official titles with political campaigns -- I had asked for an exemption, which canon law envisions.”

“But the impression was left that I somehow backed away from the campaign,” he said. “On the contrary, although I was obedient to the law and no longer kept an official title, I became MORE involved with the campaign, not less. Church leaders and groups should be overflowing with gratitude for all that President Trump has done for the freedom of the church in America and around the world.”

He had already caused controversy before the November presidential election by using profanity on Twitter and claiming that it would be sinful to vote for Democratic candidates and even appearing to threaten that Democrats who do not repent of their political choice could not receive sacramental absolution.

He tweeted Aug. 15: “I’ll be ready to hear the confessions of those who vote #Democrat, but we are trained that in the absence of repentance, absolution has to be withheld.”

In 2014, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan cut ties with Father Pavone and Priests for Life, saying the priest refused to allow an audit of the group’s finances.

In response, the Diocese of Amarillo posted a statement Sept. 16 saying both his remarks about confession and “and the use of scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest” are “not consistent with Catholic Church teachings. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Diocese of Amarillo condone any of these messages. Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”

Before the 2016 election, Father Pavone broadcast live on Facebook an appeal to voters to support Trump over Hillary Clinton. He did so by placing on the altar what he told viewers was the body of “a baby killed by abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy.”

After sharp criticism, including from his bishop, Father Pavone apologized.

In 2014, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan cut ties with Father Pavone and Priests for Life, saying the priest refused to allow an audit of the group’s finances. At the time, Priests for Life was based in Staten Island, New York. It has since moved its headquarters to Titusville, Florida.

Father Pavone was ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese in 1988 but was incardinated into the Amarillo Diocese in 2005 by Bishop John W. Yanta, then head of the diocese, who served on the board of advisers of Priests for Life. In 2011, Bishop Zurek, who succeeded Bishop Yanta, told Father Pavone he was “suspended” from ministry outside the diocese; in 2012, the Vatican Congregation for Clergy upheld Father Pavone’s appeal of the suspension, but said the priest must obtain specific permission from his bishop, Bishop Zurek, to minister outside the diocese.

An official at the Congregation for Catholic Education told Catholic News Service Jan. 11 that while pontifical universities and institutes must check with the Vatican before awarding an honorary doctorate degree, there is no such requirement for the granting of other awards.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq, on March 7. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis concluded his three-day trip to Iraq with a stadium Mass in which he said the country “will always remain with me, in my heart.” America's Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, reports.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 07, 2021
On the final day of his historic trip to Iraq, Pope Francis said, “To cleanse our hearts, we need to dirty our hands, to feel accountable and not to simply look on as our brothers and sisters are suffering.”
Pope FrancisMarch 07, 2021
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of Shiite Islam's most authoritative figures, meets with Pope Francis in Najaf, Iraq, on March 6. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
On the second day of his trip to Iraq, Pope Francis met with a Shia Muslim leader in Najaf and delivered a message of religious unity in the ancient community of Ur. Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell reports.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 06, 2021
Pope Francis is pictured with religious leaders during an interreligious meeting on the plain of Ur near Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis' prayer at the interreligious meeting at Ur, Iraq on Saturday, March 6.
Pope FrancisMarch 06, 2021