ROME – Father Frank Pavone, a long-controversial figure for his unconventional pro-life advocacy, and who recently resigned from a position in the Trump campaign but insists he still backs the president, has said that he is not acting for the Catholic Church in his advocacy for Donald Trump’s reelection.

“I’m not sure in what sense people consider me ‘a representative of the Catholic Church,’” Pavone said in an interview with Crux.

“I’m a Catholic, and I’m a priest, but beyond that I don’t claim any special role in representing the Church. I head up a large ministry and represent those ministries, but nothing more than that,” he said.

National Director of the Priests for Life organization, Pavone was put into the spotlight following his January appointment as co-chair of the Pro-Life Voices for Trump coalition and his April announcement that he would be joining the Catholics for Trump advisory board.

For years, Pavone, 61, has been a divisive figure in the American Catholic Church due to his rhetoric and tactics, which have at times caused friction with U.S. bishops, including Bishop Patrick Zurek, who oversees the Diocese of Amarillo where Pavone is incardinated, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who in 2014 had been tasked with helping Pavone reform Priests for Life.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, while also serving as co-chair of the Trump pro-life coalition, Pavone produced a livestreamed video in which he placed a basket containing the body of an aborted fetus onto an altar.

The video, which urged Catholics to oppose Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, caused immediate backlash, with Zurek insisting that he would open an investigation into the incident.

Recently, Pavone announced that he would be stepping down from his position on the Catholics for Trump advisory board in compliance with a request from the Congregation for Clergy that he not hold formal titles with campaign advisory boards based on Canon 287 of the Code of Canon Law, which states in its second article that clergy “are not to play an active role in political parties…unless, in the judgement of the competent ecclesiastical authority, this is required for the defense of the rights of the Church or to promote the common good.”

“My agreement to that, however, does not indicate the slightest change in my advocacy for the president,” Pavone said, insisting that his support for Trump “will only increase, because this is not primarily a political advocacy but a moral one.”

Despite the pressure he has faced, Pavone insisted in his interview with Crux that he is a priest “in good standing,” and that while he had requested to hold a leadership position in Catholics for Trump under the exception outlined in Canon 287, he is “following the directives of competent authority.”

Pavone insisted that his role in the coalition is like “any other citizen who joins,” in that he is attempting to showcase accomplishments of the Trump presidency while also demonstrating “the moral bankruptcy of the Democrats’ assault on America, the Constitution, the Church, and the unborn.”

Actions taken by Trump during his first term in office that Pavone highlighted include ridding the world “of its top terrorist leaders,” strengthening borders, and providing exemptions to President Barack Obama’s HHS Mandate for companies who refuse to provide abortion and birth control in insurance coverage because of their religious or moral beliefs.

He also praised Trump’s “bold and decisive” action to “protect America from an unnecessary influx of infected individuals” at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and applauded Trump’s appointment of some 200 “pro-life and pro-religious freedom” judges to federal courts, and his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The fact that so many people who care about these things are unaware of these accomplishments and these dangers is why we have these coalitions,” he said, insisting that his role in the campaign is not “compromised” by his past run-ins with Church authorities, but that his widespread social media support is illustrative of how appreciated his work is.

Pointing to the 2016 incident with the fetus on the altar, Pavone said, “Democrats are the ones who should be ashamed, not me, because they advocate the killing of these babies and want us to pay for it. That’s what I preached against in 2016 and that’s what I’m preaching against now.”

“Some people will try to use controversies to distract from the point. Some will try to put a wedge between the Catholics for Trump advisors and the more ‘mainstream’ Catholic population. It won’t work,” he said, insisting that this year’s election is a critical choice about the future of the United States.

“This is not simply a choice between Trump and Biden. It’s a choice between two worldviews, two types of America. It’s a choice between the culture of death and the culture of life, between mob rule or the rule of law, between judicial activism and the Constitution, between globalism and patriotism, between religious oppression and religious freedom, between open borders and national security, between poverty and prosperity,” he said, adding that in November, “we’ll make the right choice.”

Pavone also took issue with what he called the “hypocrisy” of Catholic media outlets he said are misrepresenting his relationship with the Trump campaign, and highlighted non-partisan work he has done such as prayer campaigns and awareness building about the Church’s teachings on life issues.

While Pavone has stepped down from his official position as an advisor for Catholics for Trump, he is not the only controversial figure to join its ranks.

Last week, Catholic traditionalist author and YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall, who has been openly critical of Pope Francis, announced that he would be joining the advisory board for Catholics for Trump.

In his recent book, Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within, Marshall implies that current Church scandals are the result of “an orchestrated plot” by Modernists and Marxists to destroy the Catholic Church from the inside by infiltrating seminaries, the priesthood, the episcopacy, and ultimately to elect one of their own as pope.

In a video announcing his decision to join the coalition, Marshall noted that since Trump is not Catholic while his Democratic opponent Joe Biden is, it might seem natural to align with the Catholic candidate.

However, he then went on to criticize Biden’s pro-choice stance, insisting that Trump’s pro-life policies make him a more solid moral choice for Catholics casting a vote.

Marshall did not respond to Crux requests for comment.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen