(LifeSiteNews) — The shocking decision to laicize pro-life priest Father Frank Pavone without appeal could only have come from Pope Francis himself, according to a prominent canon lawyer.
In an interview Sunday with Catholic News Agency (CNA), canonist Father Gerald Murray, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and a regular contributor to EWTN’s “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo,” noted that the Pope alone can issue a decision “against which there is no possible appeal.”
“Only the Pope, who enjoys ‘full and supreme power in the Church’ (canon 332, 1), can issue such a decision against which there is no possible appeal,” Murray said.
As first reported by CNA, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced Pavone’s laicization in a December 13 letter to U.S. bishops.
According to Pierre, the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy approved a decree on November 9 dismissing Pavone from the clergy. Pierre described the pro-life priest’s removal as a “Supreme Decision admitting of no possibility of appeal.”
Moreover, The Pillar reported Monday that the Vatican laicized Pavone using special faculties granted to the Dicastery for the Clergy in 2009, and that method requires the “personal authorization” of the Pope.
“Because every ‘special faculties’ laicization is presented to the pope for his personal authorization, it is a legal act of the pope himself,” the outlet stated.
The Dicastery for the Clergy’s special faculties are an “extrajudicial process” that doesn’t allow for a formal trial in front of a tribunal of judges, according The Pillar.
The Pillar also reported that Bishop Patrick Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where Pavone was incardinated, petitioned the Vatican for his laicization.
Zurek has publicly clashed with Pavone for years and was one of more than 60 prelates who signed a letter in 2021 urging the U.S. bishops’ conference to halt discussions about denying Communion to politicians who facilitate the murder of children in abortion. Pavone, the longtime national director of Priests for Life, is well-known for his strong public condemnation of pro-abortion politicians and his opposition to giving them the Eucharist.
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Legal issues with Fr. Pavone’s laicization
The Dicastery for the Clergy charged Pavone with “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop” – accusations that Pavone has refuted.
In Murray’s Sunday interview with CNA, however, he noted that laicization is not listed in the Code of Canon Law as a penalty for alleged blasphemy or disobedience:
Furthermore, the Code of Canon Law does not state that the possible penalties for these two offenses include dismissal from the clerical state. Canon 1368 states that a person who utters blasphemy is to be “punished with a just penalty.” Canon 1371 states that “a person who does not obey the lawful command” of his Ordinary “and after being warned, persists in disobedience, is to be punished, according to the gravity of the case, with a censure or deprivation of office or with other penalties mentioned in can 1336, 2-4.
What’s more, Pavone has attested that he has not received formal notice of his removal from the priesthood, which may also present problems under canon law, according to Murray:
Ordinarily, the priest who has received such a penalty is informed in a timely fashion. It would be interesting to know if and when Father Pavone received a copy of the decree in which the Supreme Decision was handed down and to see if the decree further specified the grounds upon which a decision was reached that he was guilty of blasphemy and disobedience.
Since the Holy See has chosen to impose this punishment that goes beyond what is foreseen in the Code of Canon Law, it would have been incumbent upon the diocesan bishop and the Holy See to warn Father Pavone that, if found guilty, he would face such a punishment that went beyond the provisions of the Code.
Puerto Rican Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, whom Pope Francis abruptly removed from his diocese earlier this year over his opposition to vaccine mandates, similarly did not receive formal notice of his dismissal even months after news of the decision went public.