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Former priest Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, faces sexual misconduct allegations

Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, gives an interview in the media tent prior to the 50th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 20, 2023. Pavone is facing allegations of sexual misconduct by women who used to work for him. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

(OSV News) — Embattled former priest and pro-life activist Frank Pavone is facing accusations of sexual misconduct that took place prior to his laicization in November 2022.

Pavone, national director of the nonprofit Priests for Life, was the subject of at least two reports sent to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, “during or before 2010,” according to a Jan. 24 article in The Pillar, an online outlet that covers the Catholic Church. The Pillar’s article cited allegations of inappropriate behavior by Pavone toward several Priests for Life employees.

The Pillar noted reports also were submitted to the Archdiocese of New York, for which Pavone was ordained in 1988 and where he served as a priest until he transferred to the Diocese of Amarillo in 2005, where he was incardinated.

Due to what he called years of “disobedience and scandalous behavior,” Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek moved in 2017 to have Pavone dismissed from the clerical state, a process that was finalized Nov. 9, 2022.

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, told OSV News by telephone Jan. 25 that with respect to the sexual harassment allegations, “any information we may have received regarding (then-Father) Pavone would have been shared with the diocese where he was incardinated.”

The Pillar said it was “not clear” how the diocese “handled the allegations against the priest,” who was officially a priest for Amarillo from 2005 until his 2022 laicization. A call from OSV News to the Diocese of Amarillo has not yet been returned.

Calls and emails placed by OSV News to Priests for Life requesting comment on the allegations also have not yet been returned. Priest for Life communications director Leslie Palma told The Pillar that “any complaints Father Frank was made aware of were handled with respect for all involved and under the supervision of the bishop of Amarillo, and were resolved satisfactorily.”

A detailed account of Pavone’s alleged misconduct in one case was provided to The Pillar by a woman who had filed a report in 2009. The Pillar stated it had obtained a copy of a 2009 report, written by a diocesan employee, that summarized the woman’s complaint. In addition, The Pillar sought additional comments from the woman in an interview.

In a telephone interview with OSV News Jan. 25, former Priests for Life employee Father Stephen Imbarrato gave an account of how, while he was working at the nonprofit from 2015 to 2018, he had counseled one staffer for more than two years over sexual harassment she had allegedly experienced from Pavone.

“She made it clear she was not comfortable with his inappropriate advances,” the priest said. “It did not stop, and I actually personally confronted (then-Father) Frank about the situation, and it still did not stop. And she was eventually forced to quit.”

Father Imbarrato told OSV News that the Priests for Life colleague he had counseled was “subsequently compensated” after her resignation, adding he did not know the terms of that compensation or whether the woman was satisfied by the settlement.

The woman interviewed by The Pillar, who as a 20-year-old in the 1990s was employed as Pavone’s assistant, said she had been subjected to numerous physical advances, some of which took place in the presence of fellow employees at the office and in public locations.

She also told The Pillar her experiences with Pavone had left emotional and spiritual scars, making employment, relationships and the practice of her faith difficult.

Speaking to OSV News at the National March for Life — prior to The Pillar’s publication of these allegations — Pavone said he had “the full support” of the Priests for Life board and team to continue his pro-life activities.

Pavone said he and his supporters are also “working within the church to get (his) priestly faculties reinstated,” and that he was “confident” of a successful outcome.

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Kate Scanlon, OSV News national reporter covering Washington, also contributed to this report.

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