Former Priests for Life officials call for Pavone to step down

Frank Pavone Frank Pavone gives a reflection on Scripture on his YouTube channel. | Credit: Screengrab YouTube Jan. 7, 2023.

Two former officials of Priests for Life are calling for laicized priest Frank Pavone to step down as national director of the pro-life organization to allow for an independent investigation of his conduct.

In a joint statement released Friday, Andrew Smith, a former employee and board member of Priests for Life, and Father Stephen Imbarrato, who served as a member of the organization’s pastoral team, said they have been dismayed by Pavone’s defiant response to being dismissed from the priesthood, as well as allegations first published by the Catholic news outlet The Pillar that he sexually harassed women who worked for Priests for Life.

“It is with this mindset that I now say that for the good of the Church and the pro-life movement, it is necessary that an immediate, impartial, and independent investigation take place into the recent allegations against Frank Pavone,” Smith, who worked for Priests for Life from 2000 to 2004 and served on its board from 2014 to 2021, said in his statement.

“These allegations go back more than two decades and involve at least 4 women that we know of. They raise very disturbing concerns that cannot be simply covered up or shoved aside,” he said.

“An investigation should ensure that a thorough examination of the conduct of Frank Pavone, his treatment of the women in his employment, and the concerns surrounding financial payouts can be addressed and resolved in a fair manner,” Smith’s statement continued.

“It would also be appropriate for Frank Pavone to step down from any leadership position he currently holds, in any organization, to not only ensure the integrity of the investigation but the integrity of the mission as well," he added. "There is a need to step back, discern, investigate, and evaluate future actions in a transparent way since the actions of Priests For Life affect so many in the movement.”

Neither Pavone nor a spokesperson for Priests for Life was immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Smith maintained that Priests for Life is not capable of doing an impartial investigation because several of its paid employees serve on its board of directors. Priest for Life’s website identifies Pavone as board chairman. He recommended a halt to donations until the investigation can be completed.

Priests for Life reported $10.6 million in revenue on its 2018 federal tax filing, the most recent tax filing available on Guidestar, a data site for nonprofit organizations. The filing shows that Pavone's salary that year was $14,434.

Imbarrato, who worked for Priests for Life from June 2015 until his resignation in December 2018, said he was in full agreement with Smith’s call for a thorough investigation.

“And I do agree, in light of everything that has become public, that Frank Pavone should immediately resign to insure that any investigation be independent,” he added.

The Pillar last month published allegations by an unnamed woman who claimed Pavone stroked her hair, put his arms around her while she sat at her computer, and engaged in other “grooming” behavior while she worked at Priests for Life.

In a second story published Wednesday, The Pillar quoted, by name, another former Priest for Life employee who makes similar claims against Pavone. Both women said they complained to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where Pavone was incardinated before his laicization, but neither ever heard if any action was taken.

Pavone has denied both sets of allegations, saying in a statement to CNA Wednesday that the accusations are filled with “numerous inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and mistruths, that have already been addressed.”

In his statement, Smith also criticized Pavone for his defiant response to the Vatican’s Nov. 9, 2022, judgment dismissing him for what the papal nuncio to the United States called Pavone’s “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop.”

In the time since CNA broke the news of his laicization on Dec. 17, 2022, Pavone has vigorously asserted that he has for years been “persecuted” by the Church hierarchy for being “too aggressive” in his pro-life advocacy. He continued to present himself as a priest for a time.

“I have been very surprised to see the reaction from Priests For Life has been solely one of victimization and self-aggrandizement,” Smith said. “I frankly expected better. I have seen no public expression of sorrow or regret at these events, in interview after interview all that has been claimed is victimhood.”

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