As CPAC opened its 2022 conference Thursday morning in Orlando, it did so with a Christian nationalist flourish, thanks to Fr. Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest with dubious credentials and the founder of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life.
In a morning mass, Pavone asked the Holy Spirit to direct attendees' anger in the right direction. In an opening invocation for the conference he delivered soon after, Pavone prayed for assistance as "we stand before the forces of falsehood, the enemies of freedom, the kingdom of death," and asked that God might "impel us forward to victory" as we "continue the work of making America great again." With a flourish, after the prayer, he donned his red MAGA cap again before walking offstage.
Pavone, who said he will also be offering a Catholic mass each morning of the four-day conference, is one of the most bombastic figures on the Catholic or broader Christian right.
An outspoken Trump supporter, and a member of the Catholic and Pro-Life advisory boards for his campaigns, in the days before the 2016 election, Pavone, incredibly, delivered a pro-Trump speech from an altar bearing the remains of an aborted fetus. When I interviewed Pavone in 2020 about the role of Catholicism in the campaign, he explained that he'd obtained the fetal remains from a sympathetic medical worker who had brought it to him to bury.
"I was doing a series of videos prior to Election Day, bringing up the question of how to vote when it comes to abortion. And I had the idea of well, why don't we just go right ahead and show visually what I'm trying to put into words," Pavone said. "So I put it on the altar."
Although Pavone was compelled to step down from Trump's 2020 reelection advisory board, since the Catholic Church discourages overt political campaigning, he released a statement calling on "all of my fellow patriots" to set aside anything else and "make it their first priority, as it will be mine, to re-elect President Trump."
He also led a "Day of Prayer in Reparation for Democrats"; claimed that "The Democratic Party has made a convenant with evil"; said that "not only can Catholics not vote for Biden in good conscience, but they can't vote for Democrats, period"; and suggested that he would deny absolution to any Catholics who said in confession that they had voted Democratic. (The Texas Diocese of Amarillo, which technically oversaw Pavone at the time, released a statement saying Pavone's word were "scandalous" and "not becoming of a Catholic priest." In a statement, the diocese wrote, "These posting are not consistent with Catholic Church teachings. Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.")
In the wake of Trump's defeat, Pavone spoke at the December 2020 Jericho March, centered around the false claims that the election was stolen, and delivered a speech in front of a portrait of Trump, calling him "the greatest president we've ever had."
"Give him victory over his enemies," Pavone prayed to God for Trump. "Bless his campaign as it fights against voter fraud."