Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fr Pavone Vindicated

It seems Fr Frank Pavone of Priests for Life has been vindicated by the Vatican.  Fr Pavone had been "suspended" by his Ordinary, Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, and not allowed to continue his work with Priests for Life, and sent to an isolated monastery in Texas to work as chaplain.

The Bishop alleged that there were financial irregularities in the charity and that the accounts had not been submitted to him.    The charity had responded, with evidence, proving that there were no financial irregularities and that the accounts had always been available and financial reports had been submitted.  The board of Priests for Life include a few bishops who were aware of the charity's financial situation.  In a letter to his fellow bishops, Bishop Zurek asked them to encourage their people not to support Priests for Life financially. It seems the bishops followed this advice and the pro-life charity has suffered.   Bishop Zurek also alleged that Fr Pavone had not shown him the proper respect and deference due to him as bishop.

Fr Pavone appealed to the Holy See, and on the 12 May 2012 a decision was made in the priest's favour: Priests for Life have issued a statement.  In its decision the Holy See recognised that a bishop has the right to assign a priest to whatever appointment he chooses. 

Bishop Zurek has also issued a statement confirming the Vatican decision and indicating that Fr Pavone will remain in the monastery as chaplain for the time being.  He has indicated that he will consider, on a case by case basis, any request Fr Pavone may make to participate in certain pro-life activities, providing he (the bishop) decides on what Fr Pavone's role and function in those activities may be.  NCR has an interesting article on the decision here.

On one level this is all very strange, and there may be more going on beneath the surface.  We do know that the Holy See rarely makes a decision against a bishop, even innocent priests tend to lose out so the Vatican may not be seen to be undermining a bishop - priests must accept the sacrifice in a Christ-like way.  Whenever the Vatican does make a decision against a bishop it will do so very carefully and I think that is what is going on here.   My reading of this decision is that the Holy See has said that Fr Pavone was right and unjustly treated, but it is being careful not to hang Bishop Zurek out to dry and so confirmed that as the priest's superior he may reassign him whenever he likes.

Perhaps there has also been a word in the bishop's ear, and perhaps a move might be on the cards in the near future, who knows.  At the moment Fr Pavone, now vindicated, must be obedient to his bishop, and wait on the Lord.  If God wants him for the service of the pro-life cause, then things will happen to ensure that.  In the meantime we must keep Fr Pavone, Bishop Zurek, Priests for Life and the pro-life cause in our prayers. 

This debacle has seriously damaged the cause for life in the US and given fuel to the pro-abortion lobby as they have danced on Fr Pavone's reputation, and the good work of Priests for Life has been damaged and hampered.  Let's hope things will get back on track for them and donations will come in once again for the fine work the charity is engaged in.


  1. Fr. John
    This is a simple enough case. Did Bishop Zurek follow due process before he suspended Fr. Pavone. It would appear he did not. However on the substantial question Bishop Zureck was proven right. He does have the power to move Fr Pavone.
    Contrary to what you have written above , it is not unusual for the Holy See to protect the rights of priests and many times priests have won against their Bishops. Most of the times it is because of due process. Bishops tend to jump the gun instead of going through the slower process. That is what has happened here, the Bishop suspended Pavone without going through the procedure step by step.

  2. Not so sure I agree with you, Fr Burke. We are not privy to the Vatican decree, all we know is that it was decided that Fr Pavone was not suspended from activities outside the diocese.

    Given that no substantial accusation was made against Fr Pavone (the accusations of financial impropriety in Priests for Life made by the bishop were proven to be false, and we have only the bishop's opinion on whether Fr Pavone was not deferential enough to him)the suspension was unlawful and perhaps could even be considered unjust. In stating that the bishop had the right to assign a priest to a new appointment the Vatican was only stating the obvious. I see no indication that the decision was based on the view that the bishop jumped the gun.

    As for the Vatican not supporting priests over bishops - I agree with you there, but there are cases where priests have been sidelined so as not to undermine a bishop - I know of one myself. The priest I know was told to "stick with it". The bishop just quietly carried on as if nothing had happened.

    At the end of the day, the Curia is as political as anywhere else, and unless serious issues are at stake, they tend not to discipline in public a bishop they have appointed.

  3. The priest was not suspended.

    Canonist Edward Peters explained last September, Bishop Zurek “should not have used the term ‘suspend’ in regard to Pavone, for ‘suspension’ is a canonical penalty for crime (c. 1333), and Pavone has not been accused of any crime.”

  4. I am glad that Fr. Pavone has been vindicated, but in the end it is obedience. I agree that if it is God's will he will be appointed to Priests for Life ministry. I have wondered if Fr. Pavone stepped on other Bishops's toes in some of his pro-life work and his re-assignment was politics in American bishopric circles. He could at least be reappointed to the ministry, and be restored to director of PFL soon. I am glad his reputation is restored. His work with the Terri Schiavo case changed my perceptions of supposed human "vegetables" and has also changed science and therapy for patients who have similar injuries. He brought the right to life issue to the forefront of the Catholic awareness.