Monday, December 19, 2022


Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1979
Per a Catholic News Agency
story, "the Vatican" has removed Fr. Frank Pavonne from the clerical state: i.e. "defrocked - laicized - no longer permitted to present himself as a priest. 

So some thoughts.

First, amongst the pro-life laity, Fr. Pavonne is an immensely popular priest. He has dared to tread where few other priests - or maybe none - have dared to tread. (The CNA news story has most of the details.) 

Priests like Fr. Pavonne, who break out of the mold - especially in this age of instant Media, and become more famous, more popular, and more respected than their superiors (in this case Pavonne's bishop) are usually asking for trouble even if there is no disobedience the likes of which Pavonne has been accused of.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was probably the first major Catholic media star, even winning an Emmy for his 1950's to 1960's television show, "Life is Worth Living." On top of being brilliant, Sheen was quite the actor and his Emmy Award verifies that. 

Being a bishop, Sheen had some autonomy, but not much. In the political power world of the U.S. episcopate, Sheen was still the underling of the immensely powerful Cardinal Spellman, who, in time, would step on Sheen, and some say, crush him, driving Sheen to his physical collapse and death.

Mother Angelica ("Mother"), who launched the largest Catholic Television Network in the world (EWTN), is probably the most well-known and beloved modern Catholic media star. And for good reason. Like Sheen, she was brilliant, even though, unlike Sheen, her brilliance was in her ability to "not act," and just be "Mother" to millions who loved her...and needed a "Mother" to lead them the Catholic Church which they loved...but - post Vatican II - did not recognize anymore. 

In the eyes of the U.S. Bishops Conference though, Mother became too popular and powerful, especially as their own competing television network failed; and she became a target, especially of the then very powerful Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahoney. 

Note: All of this is detailed in "Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles,"  by Raymond Arroyo

Mahoney would later retire in disgrace and even go into a sort of hiding * after he was linked to a monster clergy sex abuse scandal that cost the Catholics of his diocese more than a billion dollars. But before Mahoney was taken down, he took down Mother Angelica. 

Mahoney had no direct control of Mother as she was not operating in Mahoney's diocese; but Mahoney used his weight to go after Mother's bishop and everyone and anyone in the Church's political scheme who could make Mother's life hell. 

Whether or not it was Mahoney's actions and the stress Mother suffered at his hands that brought about the final stroke that silenced her in 2000 and eventually led to her death, we can only presume. 

As Mother went down to her own physical stroke, EWTN survived Mahoney's onslaught due to Mother's signing EWTN over to a lay corporation which the bishops could not touch. 

And it is here that there might be a lesson for us...and for Fr. Pavonne. 

Pavonne's "right to life" political and secular activities - which made him both loved and famous - are really the proper domain of the non-ordained - the laity - us. But because we laity are mostly cowards and don't want to put ourselves "out there" because we are "waiting for father," otherwise good and faithful priests get caught up in taking leadership in activities that are not properly theirs - such as heading up lay organizations, despite its name, is not an organization of priests but lay persons.

Pavonne, and his fellow clerics, from the pope down to the lowliest deacon, should know that they already have the largest and most powerful stage in the world: the Catholic pulpit at the thousands of Masses that are offered each and every day at every minute and every hour around the world. 

All Pavonne and every Catholic cleric ever need to do is cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.

There is nothing more for them to say other than to develop what the Church already says, e.g. what are the eternal consequences of living (and dying) in a state "gravely contrary to the moral law." 

I'll come back with more later after I see how this plays out a bit. 

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