John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us."
– Mark 9:38-40
[See final UPDATE 8 below. When I have something new to say on this situation I'll post a new article. LSN (LifeSiteNews) has setup a page with ongoing updates. I recommend checking there for the latest information. Please keep Priests for Life and Father Pavone in your prayers, along with all the unborn.]
I am going to go out on a limb and offer Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life my full support in light of the recent accusations against him by Bishop Zurek. This story just broke and no one can claim to have all the facts, but the letter released by Bishop Zurek does not pass the basic smell test. Even if he has a legitimate complaint, the way that he chose to publicly denounce Father Frank is highly suspicious.
No matter what the outcome, Father Frank’s reputation will have been tarnished forever. It seems like there are two issues in the Bishop’s letter—one is financial and the other is “obedience to his Bishop”.
The ties of Priests for Life to the diocese of Amarillo are tenuous. It had some offices there in 2005, but has moved to Staten Island. The bishop in Amarillo in 2005 was Bishop Yanta. Bishop Zurek was appointed in 2008.
Father Frank is still a diocesan priest of Amarillo, but he obviously doesn’t function as an ordinary diocesan priest. In Father Frank’s statement he says, the bishop “thinks I am giving too much priority to my pro-life work, and that this makes me disobedient to him”.
I hope that Bishop Zurek will make a strong and public statement in a short period of time regarding the results of his investigation into the finances of Priest for Life. Personally, I have grown to be a strong admirer of Father Frank. I have been watching his homilies this past week on EWTN and find them to be articulate and inspiring.
There was a previous incident which gained some public attention in 2008. This would have been soon after Bishop Zurek was appointed. A religious order founded by Father Frank Pavone named Missionaries of the Gospel of Life was forced to disband by the diocese of Amarillo.
I encourage you to send an email to Bishop Zurek expressing your concern on this matter:
Here are links that I can offer for those wishing to learn more:
- Catholic News Service article – this is the official US Bishops news service
- LifeSiteNews article – this is a major pro-life website
- LifeNews article – another major pro-life website
- Official Statement in response posted at Father Frank Pavone's blog
- Full text of statement from Bishop Zurek
- EWTN news article – Father Frank is featured on EWTN
- Article on the forced disbanding of Missionaries of the Gospel of Life – at Catholic Culture
- Catholic Culture article – this article was surprisingly unsympathetic to Father Frank
- Letter from Bishop Zurek posted as a jpeg at Catholic News Service – why jpeg?
- Audit information from Priests for Life – There is a link to a PDF document here
- Priests for Life homepage
- Father Frank Pavone's blog
- Bishop Zurek Wikipedia page
- Website of the Diocese of Amarillo – It looks like a nice diocese
- National Catholic Reporter article – This is just a reprint of the CNS article, but not surprisingly its featured as their top story
National Catholic Register as usual is asleep at the wheel and has not reported on the story yet
- National Catholic Register article – They were late to report the story, but have the best article out there. I highly recommend it. (It seems to me that they could have put in a "breaking story" placeholder until they had time to write a more complete story.)
- Still waiting for a reaction from CatholicVote.org – they are usually more on top of things
- Women of Grace article – Excellent article. Look for my discussion in UPDATE 5 below.
- Letter from Father Frank Pavone to the US bishops - a must read!!! (see UPDATE 5)
- New article from CNS – Bishop Zurek's story changes. Now it's not about PFL finances, but the Father Frank is "needed for work in Amarillo". This is another must read. (see UPDATE 6)
- January 2011 letter to the US bishops from Bishop Zurek stating that Priests for Life "does not enjoy ecclesiastical establishment as a juridic person in the Catholic Church" – This is quite literally a bombshell which in my opinon reveals Bishop Zurek's agenda to destroy Priests for Life. (Scroll down to page 4 of the PDF document.) Read more at UPDATE 7.
- LifeSiteNews running update – LSN is providing a page with ongoing updates on the Priests for Life situation.
I'll try to provide updates on this story as they become available.
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UPDATE 1 [Sep 13]:
Here is what appears to be the backstory behind this dispute between Bishop Kurek and Father Pavone....
Father Pavone was incardinated in the Amarillo Diocese in 2005. "Incardinated" basically means that he transferred there from another diocese. He was formerly part of the Archdiocese of New York. Under Cardinal O'Connor he was free to do his work as head of Priests for Life. But a year after Cardinal Egan took over in 2000, Father Frank was told that he must abandon Priest for Life and become a regular diocesan priest. Sound familiar?
I don't know the details of how that situation in New York worked out, but I'm just going to pick up the story in 2005. At that time Priests for Life made the following announcement:
Pro-Life Society of Priests Announced by Fr. Pavone and Bishop YantaWhen Bishop Zurek took over the diocese of Amarillo in 2008, the plans were scuttled.
March 23, 2005, Amarillo, Texas. Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, officially announced today that he is founding a pro-life community dedicated to the formation and training of priests, deacons, brothers and seminarians who will devote themselves fully to the proclamation of the Gospel of Life. This initiative will be based in the diocese of Amarillo, Texas, under the authority and stewardship of Bishop John W. Yanta.
"It has been a dream of mine for over a decade to form a community that can accept seminarians who want to devote their entire ministry to the defense of the unborn," said Fr. Pavone. "While there are religious communities that give special emphasis to the right to life, the Church has no 'institutional' society of men whose exclusive focus is to protect innocent human life from the tragedy of abortion and euthanasia. It is time for such a community. I am grateful to Bishop Yanta for allowing me the opportunity to make this dream a reality."
Bishop Yanta, who has served on the Priests for Life Episcopal Board of Advisors since 1998, and who has been particularly devoted to the pro-life cause throughout his priesthood, has already offered several buildings in his diocese that will serve as the center for the new apostolate. "I am excited about supporting Fr. Pavone in venturing forth, with and through the Holy Spirit, in the establishment of a Society of Apostolic Life for priests and seminarians dedicated to pro-life ministry - an immense need at this time in history," said Bishop Yanta today. "The Lord has provided several vacant buildings that once served as a Christian Brothers High School with boarding facilities, a chapel, gym, and spacious grounds. The Diocese of Amarillo is happy to make these available (at no cost) to Priests for Life and the proposed Society of Apostolic Life."
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UPDATE 2 [Sep 13]:
The story as reported by National Catholic Register gets more interesting and more complicated. The latest revelations will place Archbishop Timothy Dolan at the center of the controversy. Let me explain.
Bishop Zurek has said that he has banned Father Pavone from activities outside of the Diocese of Amarillo. Priest for Life's headquarters are in Staten Island which is part of the Archdiocese of New York headed by Archbishop Dolan. So will Dolan support Zurek?
The new information in the NCR report is the following:
Father Pavone’s statement was bolstered by an additional letter issued by Father David Deibel, chief canonist for Priests for Life, who noted that the nonprofit had undergone annual audits for the past decade and that PFL had “submitted over 40 separate financial and management documents to the bishop of Amarillo (Bishop John Yanta as well as Bishop Zurek). These included all annual audits from 2005 through 2010. The documents include quarterly statements, organizational charts, charts of accounts, internal-management documents, and even the actual check register when it was requested by Bishop Zurek. ...These submissions have never been acknowledged.”There's nothing like airing the Church's dirty laundry in public. Father Pavone is not going to go down without a fight. All of this certainly makes it look like Bishop Zurek's target is not just Father Frank, but the whole Priests for Life organization.
Characterizing Bishop Zurek’s letter as “an outright and unjustified attack on the work of Priests for Life as a whole, which is much more grave than his real or imagined difficulty with Father Pavone,” Father Deibel reported that “we have formally petitioned Bishop Zurek to rescind his directive.”
He noted that “Bishop Zurek has threatened in writing to withdraw Father Pavone permanently from pro-life ministry if he were to exercise his canonical rights to hierarchical recourse. As an association that has always sought to be faithful to the Church and its teaching, this is the only forum left to us within the Church.”
“It should be noted that since we have formally petitioned Bishop Zurek to rescind his penal decree of Sept. 6, under the law, as contained in the norm of Canon 1353, the effects of that decree are suspended by the law itself until the matter is resolved by hierarchical recourse,” Father Deibel said. “In other words, under the canon law of the Church, Father Pavone is free to continue his pro-life ministry full time outside the Diocese of Amarillo until this matter is decided by the Vatican.”
I don't think anyone will argue about the fact that Priests for Life is one of the most effective pro-Life organizations in the American Catholic Church. Why would anyone within the Catholic Church want to publicly undermine that work? I'm sure there would be plenty of people from outside the Church that would like to apply pressure on the hierarchy to muzzle Father Frank, but I would hope that the bishops would do everything possible to defend him against such attacks.
So now I just want to go back to that announcement that I quoted from in the first update. At the bottom there were some interesting endorsements for the work of Father Frank. Among them were Archbishop Charles Chaput and Cardinal Raymond Burke.
How will the Vatican handle this situation? And what will Archbishop Dolan do as the head of the American bishops and the Archbishop of New York? Will Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia get publicly involved? Will Cardinal Burke pull some strings in the Vatican?
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UPDATE 3 [Sep 13]:
The story has spread to the secular media. Oh sure they completely ignore World Youth Day. And have completely ignored the positive actions of Priests for Life for years, but whenever there is any negative Church related news they are all over it.
Already Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press has written a piece with the title "Anti-abortion priest-activist suspended by bishop" which is being picked up by news outlets around the country. The title is typical anti-Life editorializing at its worst from the secular press. Zoll is no stranger to attacks on the Catholic Church. She is a "religious writer" for AP who seems to think that it is her job to smear the Catholic Church at every opportunity. Is that what the mainstream press calls "religious" writing? Well, yes it is!
As far as the main part of the article that AP's Rachel Zoll published, it must have been the easiest Catholic smear story that she has ever written. All she had to do was to quote from Bishop Zurek's letter.
I have gone to the website of the Archdiocese of Amarillo and I have looked at some of the statements by the Bishop about abortion and he seems to be firmly pro-Life. Which makes it all the more disturbing that he took this path to publicly denounce Father Frank Pavone. He even requests that people stop donating to Priests for Life. And at the same time he offers nothing in the way of proof to substantiate his suspicions.
It appears that Bishop Zurek is a good pastor of his flock. And I pray for him. I pray for all the bishops. It certainly isn't an easy job. I'm praying for Father Frank Pavone too.
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UPDATE 4 (Sep 13):
So far I haven't engaged in any speculation. I have been waiting to get all the facts. I don't think anything new is going to come out today, so I'll go ahead and give my impressions based on all the articles that I have read on this subject. And believe me I think I have read everything that has been said on this topic up until now.
The only thing that I can come up with that makes any sense to me is that some people in the Church are concerned that Father Frank is too closely involved in politics. It's no secret that he preaches that Catholics should not vote for pro-abortion politicians. That eliminates 99.9% of the Democrats out there. So that leaves the Catholics with the only alternative of voting Republican -- even though some Republican policies are not in keeping with Catholic teaching. I'm sure there are quite a few people that are not happy with that idea.
And it is even possible that the Church is being threatened with attempts to strip it of its tax exempt status because of perceived political involvement. Father Frank is no stranger to such controversies. He commented on this subject in one of his recent homilies on EWTN.
As I mentioned, I happened to have watched all of Father Frank's homilies over the past week or so on EWTN. He never gave any clue of the pressure that he was under. Even in today's homily. But thinking back over some things he said, there may have been a hint here or there about this controversy.
Well, all I can say that if this is just a misguided case of the Church persecuting one of its more faithful members then Father Frank is certainly in good company. Think of St. Francis or St. Teresa of Avila. Today's saint, St. John Chrysostom, was exiled from Constantinople.
Our main concern at this time should be for the unborn and their protection. Please offer them your prayers. We all know women who have undergone abortions. We need to pray for them also.
It's a sad time, but hopefully some good will come of all this. We need to trust in God's plan and put all of our faith in Him.
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UPDATE 5 (Sep 14):
I have some startling new news. It comes from the article by Susan Brinkmann on the Women of Grace website. There were some quotes in that article from Father Frank Pavone that I had not come across and which are very important. I was very surprised by this since I had read the official statements from Father Frank. It turns out there is a letter which he sent out on September 12 which is apparently addressed to all the US bishops. This would be in response to Bishop Zurek who you remember started this controversy by addressing a letter to all the US bishops informing them that he was limiting Father Frank's activities to his diocese of Amarillo.
I found the full letter in PDF format at LifeNews.com. Here are some excerpts:
I would respectfully make the observation that the reason I excardinated from the Archdiocese of New York in the first place was precisely because the previous Bishop of Amarillo was committed to allowing me to exercise full-time ministry within the pro-life movement, and, in fact, to form a community to allow others to live that same commitment. If it were not for his willingness to allow me to do full-time work in the pro-life movement, I would not have incardinated into the Diocese of Amarillo in the first place. Nor did the process of incardination in any way include a period of preparation for such ministry to the people of Amarillo or a time to get to know the presbyterate. It was done hastily, and only for one reason: so that I could be incardinated into the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, from which position I could do full-time pro-life work permanently.I have more startling news coming up in my next update which I will be posting very soon.
The Bishop's letter references my relationship with previous Ordinaries as evidence of my inclination towards "disobedience." In the spirit of total transparency, I would like to acknowledge that any differences with previous Ordinaries had to do with precisely this point-- my desire to work full-time in pro-life ministry. I want to make this point quite strenuously: I was not disobedient to any of my previous Ordinaries. It is true that when I was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, I exercised my rights under canon law to seek to leave that Archdiocese and incardinate in a place where I would be allowed to devote all my energies and gifts to the pro-life cause. But while doing that, I was given a parish assignment and I both accepted it and carried it out. I acted at all times in full obedience to my Ordinary.
It is my sincere and profound hope that, in dutifully reporting to Amarillo on September 13, despite the suspension of the penalty contained in the Bishop's penal decree, we can resolve this matter through mutual dialogue and that it will not become necessary for me to initiate a hierarchical recourse before the Congregation for the Clergy.
Moreover, it is impossible for me to believe that there would be no place in the Church for priests to exercise full-time ministry in the service of the unborn. We do it for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. But where in the Church is the place where a priest can exercise the same kind of full-time ministry for the children in the womb?
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UPDATE 6 (Sep 14):
Bishop Zurek and the Diocese of Amarillo have now changed their story on why Father Frank Pavone has been suspended from his work for Priests for Life. After publicly smearing Father Frank and Priests for Life to the delight of the pro-abortion forces, the bishop now says -- through his spokesman, Msgr. Harold Waldow -- that he "only suspended Father Pavone's ministry outside of the diocese because the well-known pro-life priest is needed for work in Amarillo."
This comes from a story published on CNS (Catholic News Service) which is the official news service of the US bishops. Um, then why did the same CNS journalist, Dennis Sadowski, previously report that Father Frank was"suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about his operation of Priests for Life"???
In the new article titled "Priests for Life head is needed for work in Texas, Bishop Zurek says" we also learn that Bishop Zurek will be out of town for two weeks and that he has not scheduled a meeting with Father Frank Pavone.
Is this anyway for a bishop to treat a priest under his care? I've been pretty patient and tried not to be too harsh on Bishop Zurek, but my patience is running thin.
MINI-UPDATE: I forgot to mention that in this same CNS article it says that Father Pavone "has already explored the possibility of being incardinated in another diocese so he could resume full-time ministry with Priests for Life as soon as possible." Father Frank has had to face this same challenge before. He was supported in the Archdiocese of New York by Archbishop O'Connor, but his successor Archbishop Egan apparently didn't approve of one of his priests devoting himself full-time to pro-Life work. In my opinion, this makes a sad statement about our Catholic Church and its bishops. Wouldn't it be nice if Archbishop Dolan of New York were to suddenly stand up and say to Priests for Life that they are fully welcome to stay in New York under his care and protection. Sorry, I seemed to have dozed off and had a wonderful dream. And how much more difficult will it be for Father Frank to find another US bishop to support him now that Bishop Zurek and CNS have publicly denounced his work?
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UPDATE 7 (Sep 14):
I think this letter from Bishop Zurek on January 24, 2011 to the US bishops is explosive proof of his fundamental ideological opposition to the mission of Priests for Life. If the things he states in this letter are true than Priest for Life should never have been allowed to come into existence. So how is it that this organization with "no written decree from any competent ecclesiastical authority anywhere" has 21 bishops and cardinals on its Advisory Board?
(You can click on the images to enlarge them.)
Bishop Zurek also brings up Missionaries for the Gospel of Life in his letter. I don't think there is any dispute that this attempt at creating a religious order that would be entirely devoted to pro-Life work had to be abandoned by Father Frank Pavone. That is very unfortunate. If this organization were alive today, we would not be witnessing this current controversy which has already done so much harm to the pro-Life cause.
I wonder... Why wasn't this earlier letter revealed to the press? I happened upon this document buried inside a pdf on the website of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico in a Google search. I have searched for a copy on the USCCB website, but have not been able to find one. Since the Bishop of Las Cruces received this letter, I assume that the rest of the bishops also received and read it. And that would include the US bishops that are part of the Priests for Life Advisory Board. And that would also include Bishop Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama where EWTN is located.
Notice that there is no mention in this letter about any financial concerns. The letter concludes by saying:
It is my hope that this letter makes clear the official status of these organizations in the event that they attempt to present themselves with simulated officially recognized ecclesial status in order to solicit funds or to seek permission to perform any work related to the respect life movement. Finally, I want to confirm that Father Frank Pavone is a priest incardinated into the Dioceses of Amarillo, and that at the present, he has my permission to be on special assignment outside the dioceses for the time being.What a strange and perplexing statement. Ambiguous would be way to generous a description of this cryptic paragraph. The bishop says that Father Frank can continue his "special assignment", but that apparently he shouldn't do any "respect life movement" work. When you figure out what Bishop Zurek is saying here, let me know.
Advisory Board of Priests for Life
- His Eminence Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna
- His Eminence Renato Cardinal Martino, President Emeritus, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
- Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
- Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh
- Most Reverend Robert W. Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph
- Most Reverend Roger J. Foys, Bishop of Covington
- Most Reverend Roger W. Gries, Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland
- Most Reverend Sam G. Jacobs, Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux
- Most Reverend Peter Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte
- Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester
- Most Reverend Ralph Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City
- Most Reverend Joseph A. Pepe, Bishop of Las Vegas
- Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs
- Most Rev. Clarence Silva, Bishop of Honolulu
- Most Rev. Richard F. Stika, Bishop of Knoxville
- Most Reverend Paul J. Swain, Bishop of Sioux Falls
- Most Reverend James Wall, Bishop of Gallup
- Most Reverend John Quinn Weitzel, M.M., Bishop of Samoa-Pago Pago
- Most Reverend Martin Holley, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington
- Most Reverend Dominic M. Luong, Auxiliary Bishop of Orange
- Most Reverend Victor B. Galeone, Bishop Emeritus of St Augustine
UPDATE 8 (Sep 14):
This is my last update on this page. Any new information will go into a new article. You can subscribe to updates to the Public Vigil blog through email or twitter. Some final thoughts...
The latest information is that LifeSiteNews has set up an update page which is the best place to find new information on this ongoing story. Sadly, I don't see how this can be resolved in a short period of time. And the repercussions will be with us for many years to come. The LSN page has reactions from many in the pro-Life community. They all seem to agree that Father Pavone is totally dedicated to his pro-Life work.
I noticed that LSN even has the link to the January 24, 2011 letter which I included in UPDATE 7. I think this may stimulate some new debate on this subject once more people become aware of it. I'll probably repost that letter in a new article to give it more prominence. Many people won't want to dig through such a long article to get at that information.
It seems that many in the Catholic blogosphere are prudently waiting to chime in on the controversy. I took a risk and jumped right in. If I turn out to be wrong in placing my confidence in Father Frank then I will be the first to admit it.
But it seems to me that Bishop Zurek's accusations amount to a "thought crime". He seems to be saying something like, "what if something goes wrong and I was silent". The real issue seems to be Father Frank's independence from Bishop Zurek.
Well what if St. Peter had required St. Paul to check back with him every time before he visited another city? Or if St. Francis had not followed the Holy Spirit calling him to rebuild the Church?
If the bishops were out there leading on the pro-Life issues by example or by funding lay efforts, then maybe Father Frank's ministry wouldn't be needed. But we have to realize what we are up against. I was searching through the Ford Foundation website the other day and they provide millions of dollars a year worldwide to pro-abortion groups. And, by the way, they also provide money to specifically anti-Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice. And, by the way, they also provide money to the US bishops for immigration work. Yes, I do think there is a problem there.
I'm not some fanatical cheerleader for Priests for Life. If they mess up, I'll be on their case. But so far I haven't seen any evidence of that. What I have seen is evidence of tremendous fruits in the pro-Life battle.
And what about EWTN? It's well known that Mother Angelica had to fight with the bishops to establish this powerful ministry. I'm sure there are some among the bishops that don't care for the message that they propagate. Not because it is anti-Catholic, but because it is faithful to the actual teachings of the Catholic Church.
Let me just say that I have issues with celebrity priests. I've written critical articles about Father Barron and his upcoming "Catholicism" program that will appear on PBS. And you have Father Mitch Pacwa on EWTN who I admire and respect, but I wish would stop referring to Blessed Pope John Paul II as "John Paul the Great". If the Vatican wants to give him that title then fine, but we should show a little more humility and respect for the current Pontiff. (Actually, I think Father Mitch isn't doing that as much since the Pope was beatified.)
Pope Benedict XVI has talked about the new "digital continent" which he calls to be evangelized. Well isn't that what Priests for Life is doing? Community organizer Saul Alinsky knew that you needed to have an issue to organize people around. Folks, that issue for Christians today is abortion. Once you appreciate the evil that lies at the core of the abortion issue then that changes hearts and minds. And it brings them to Christ.
Mother Mary is calling us to be pro-Life. Could it be any more clear? From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Fatima, the message of life is always the same. As Father Frank says, "we are a people of Life."
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Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.