Fr. Frank Pavone Facing Restrictions – UPDATED

Fr. Frank Pavone Facing Restrictions – UPDATED September 13, 2011

Heard a few whispers about this the other day, but couldn’t mention it because I really didn’t know; seems the story is out:

Father Frank Pavone, one of the country’s most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about the priest’s operation of Priests for Life.

The suspension was made public in a Sept. 13 letter from Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek to his fellow bishops across the country, but Father Pavone told Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there.

“My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization,” Bishop Zurek wrote. “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”

Bishop Zurek said “persistent questions and concerns” from clergy and laity about how the millions of dollars in donations the organization has received are being spent led to the action.


To be clear, Pavone is still in active ministry within his own Diocese; there is not yet any clear accusation of wrong-doing, but who knows what will develop? Perhaps the bishop simply wants to keep his priest from falling into the same challenges and difficulties that can strain priestly perspective, as we’ve seen happen with other priests who have achieved a degree of fame, influence and independence.

We’ll watch the story, as ever, and reiterate (as ever) that we don’t actually know much.

And (as ever) pray for all priests as they face this challenging age, and especially Father Pavone and his bishop, in this issue.

UPDATE: Here is a copy of the bishop’s letter to his fellow bishops. And it is pretty strongly worded:

I have decided to suspend Father Frank A. Pavone from public ministry outside of the Diocese of Amarillo to take effect on September 13, 2011. For an indefinite period, I am withdrawing my permission to him to minister outside our diocese and am calling him back to spend time in prayer and reflection. My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priest For Life (PFL) organization. The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight. There have been persistent question and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently. These financial questions and concerns have persisted with no clear and adequate answers since the time when Father Pavone was under two previous bishop ordinaries. Since he has consistently refused to subject the PFL to a transparent and complete auditing of all expenditures, I have reasons to be alarmed at the potential financial scandal that might arise if it were the result of my failure to correct Father Pavone’s incorrigible defiance to my legitimate authority as his Bishop. Additionally, the PFL financial resources have afforded Father Pavone with a formidable civil and canonical counsel which he utilized to rebuff my every attempt at calling for financial transparency. Thus, my decision to intervene and to call him to accountability is meant to express the dire need to safeguard his priestly ministry to which I am obligated as his father and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work. At a certain point, for me to hold all this knowledge about the PFL and to turn a blind eye would increase my culpability and quote possibly amount to material cooperation.

Then, it starts to sound a little personal:

In his relationship to his bishop ordinaries, Father Pavone has gradually lost his need to show appropriate obedience to his Bishop. It seems that his fame has caused him to see priestly obedience as an inconvenience to his unique status and an obstacle to the possible international scope of his ministry. I would venture to say that the supreme importance that he has attributed to his PFL ministry and the reductionist attitude toward the diocesan priesthood has inflated his ego with a sense of self-importance and self-determination. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has give me the impression that I cannot invoke obedience with him because he is famous. It is my desire to help him readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal in order to recapture that essential priestly hallmark of respect and obedience. It is also my desire to strengthen Father Pavone’s sense of communio sacramentalis with me so that he may be fortified with a healthy zeal to live in an authentic way his sacramental gift and mystery as a priest of Jesus Christ.

If you judged it to be prudent, I would like to ask that you would inform the Christian faithful under your care to consider withholding donations to the PFL until the issues and concerns are settled.

Taking this opportunity to express my esteem and to ask for your prayers, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Patrick J. Zurek, STL, DD
Bishop of Amarillo

Wow. I am so grateful the good Lord has given me a bit of a jaundiced eye and thus spared me the cross of admiring anyone too much (because I rarely get shocked by anything.) I imagine that if I was a “fan” of Pavone’s, I’d feel pretty upset right now (to see an admired priest under fire). And if I had donated to Priest for Life, my curiosity would be picqued.

UPDATE II: Pavone’s Official Statement: He’s clearly got a good canon lawyer, cuz he’s got the lingo:

[…]Now, although Bishop Zurek is my Ordinary, he is not the bishop of Priests for Life. Each of our staff priests has his own Ordinary, and the organization has an entire Board of Bishops. We keep them all informed of our activities, and of our financial audits.

I want to say very clearly that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it receives from dedicated pro-lifers, raised primarily through direct mail at the grassroots level. To this end, Priests for Life has consistently provided every financial document requested by Bishop Zurek, including annual financial audits, quarterly reports, management documents—even entire check registers! Priests for Life has been completely transparent with Bishop Zurek and any other bishops who have requested information regarding our management and finances. Indeed, we have 21 bishops and cardinals who sit on our Advisory Board, and they are kept fully informed about our finances.

Therefore, in the interest of preserving my good reputation as well as protecting the valuable work done by the Priests for Life organization, I have begun a process of appeal to the Vatican. This process aims to correct any mistaken decisions of the bishop in my regard and to protect my commitment to full-time pro-life activity for my whole life. We are very confident that the Vatican will resolve this matter in a just and equitable fashion. Because of this confidence, we are not currently making any changes in any positions at Priests for Life, or in any of our projects and plans.

I also want to point out that, according to the canon law of the Catholic Church, because I have begun this process of appeal to Rome, the Bishop’s order that I return to Amarillo has been effectively suspended. Nevertheless, because of my great respect for this Bishop and my commitment to be fully obedient at all times, I am reporting to Amarillo this Tuesday, in hopes that I can sort this problem out with the Bishop in a mutually agreeable and amicable way.

Read the whole thing: “He is not the ordinary of Priests for Life.” And,

“I want to be clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards the Bishop of Amarillo, nor do I foster suspicions about his motives. I am merely confused by his actions. It is impossible for me to believe that there is no place in the Church for priests to exercise full-time ministry in the service of the unborn.”

Whooboy. “I do not foster suspicions about his motives.” Then why say that at all? Seems like a classic passive-aggressive move.

This is going to be interesting. These two men seem loaded for bear!

Over on Facebook a friend notes: Guidestar doesn’t have any Form 990s for Priests for Life. That could mean the organization is really bad at administration, right? PFL is apparently a $10 million operation.

UPDATE III: EWTN’s statement, which I found on a twitter feed(!):

“EWTN is aware of reports that Bishop Patrick Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, has recalled Fr. Frank Pavone and restricted his faculties to function as a priest outside of that diocese. EWTN is in ongoing conversations with both the Diocese of Amarillo and Father Pavone to clarify the exact nature of the restrictions and their potential impact on EWTN’s ability to continue to air programming featuring Fr. Frank. ‘While these discussions are continuing, the network encourages our EWTN family to keep this matter in your prayers.”

I feel bad for EWTN — they’ve been going through a lot, lately. It sounds like they are in the dark and looking to see how all of this plays with their standing policies.

Prayers all around.

Full Disclosure: I once met Fr. Pavone after attending a “prolife” Mass. A mere handshake, and I’m sure he would not remember me, but my impression was that he was no glamor-puss; I somehow doubt we’ll see anything about an abuse of personal expenditures. I am betting this is more about a bishop going out of his way to insure proprieties are being seen to, than anything else. And maybe a little turf-warring. My gut is saying all of this will end up resolved in a positive way. But I am very sad to see another priest/bishop dust up, and pray for a speedy reconciliation of all of this.

I know nothing about this bishop; anyone know of him? What’s he like? I can’t tell how much of this is about concern for the organization and how much spills over into the personal. And neither can you! :-) We’ll have to just wait and see what develops.

I do worry about this troubling trend of celebrity-priests and all of the challenges that they encounter with that celebrity. A priest is a priest first, before he is an activist or a fundraiser or a speaker or an administrator. When that becomes disoriented or out of balance, it is a hairy thing, I think. Again, pray for all of our priests, and for this priest and his bishop.

FINAL UPDATE: David Gibson is covering the story in the WaPo, and this bit makes me wonder if — as with Corapi — a big part of this issue is about incardination:

Since taking charge of Priests for Life, Pavone has led something of a nomadic existence. He initially moved the organization’s headquarters from California to New York, where he was ordained a priest in 1988 by the late Cardinal John O’Connor.

Pavone reportedly had a falling out with O’Connor’s successor, Cardinal Edward Egan, and in 2005 he put himself under the jurisdiction of the Amarillo diocese, and moved some PFL operations there. In 2007, Pavone tried to establish his own religious order dedicated to the pro-life cause, but abandoned it for lack of recruits.

PFL’s offices are now based in Staten Island, N.Y., but Pavone remains a priest of the Amarillo diocese.

This post is becoming very long, so this will be my final update. If anything else shows up on the story it will be in a new post. Meanwhile, Max Lindenman has decided that Father Pavone is one cool cat!

And Deacon Greg has a post here

Related: Pavone on Terry Schiavo

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