Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bishop Zurek on Father Pavone's priestly status

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
 – 1 Corinthians 9:16
Pope Innocent III dreams of St. Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran

Here is the full text of a letter posted on the website of the Diocese of Amarillo on September 30 by Bishop Zurek.
Clarification of Fr. Frank Pavone’s Priestly Status

Father Frank Pavone remains suspended. At my discretion and solicitude, he has faculties for ministry in the Diocese of Amarillo. He does not have my permission for ministry outside of the Diocese. He is to remain in the Diocese for an indefinite period of time for prayer and reflection.
Ed Peters has provided his comments on this letter on his blog. Peters had previously criticized Bishop Zurek for his use of the word "suspended". Here is what he has to say on this latest use of the word "suspended" by the bishop.
Zurek’s continued use of the word “suspended” is apparently idiosyncratic, as “suspension” is a type of canonical penalty and, to my knowledge, no crime has been alleged against Pavone and no penal process conducted in his regard. While, strictly speaking, a canonical suspension could be imposed which would allow for some exercise of ministry, (c. 1333 § 1), my guess is that Zurek is using the word “suspended” according to its common understanding to mean something like “sharply curtailed for administrative reasons”. I regularly advise against ecclesiastical officials using terms with canonical implications as they are used in common speech, for obvious reasons, but such use still happens.
I think that Peters is being overly apologetic about the bishop's use of the word "suspended". Surely the bishop is using the word very deliberately. If the bishop does not understand the correct ecclesiastical meaning of the word, then that would be very troubling. A suspension would mean that Father Frank would not be allowed to say Mass and that clearly hasn't happened. In fact the diocese of Amarillo specifically stated that he "remains a priest in good standing".

Peters goes on to offer his unsolicited advice to Father Pavone about what he should or should not do, saying that "he should avoid [working for Priests for Life from Amarillo]" since that would "interfere" with his "prayer and reflection". It doesn't seem to bother Peters in the slightest that the bishop has never stated any definitive reason why Father Frank needs to spend time in "prayer and reflection" rather than actively spreading the Gospel of the Lord to a nation that is sorely in need of repentance.

It is fortunate for St. Francis of Assisi that Ed Peters wasn't around when he was founding his order. You see St. Francis was preaching without a license and he and his twelve disciples had to appeal to the Pope in order to establish his order. It could have gone either way. Francis might have been declared a heretic, but Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the mother of all churches. And thank God that he did.

Similarly, Father Frank has appealed to Rome and as Ed Peters is well aware, the canon lawyer for Priests for Life, Father David Deibel, has stated that this temporarily nullifies the suspension by Bishop Zurek until the Vatican weighs in. And yet Peters doesn't bother to mention this in his comments on the bishops letter of "clarification".

St. Francis was called to physically repair the Church of St. Damian which Pope Benedict XVI reminds us was "the symbol of a much deeper call to renew Christ's own Church". Today the challenge is to restore society's respect for the dignity of human life which Priests for Life is doing through its pro-Life ministry. The struggle to end abortion is "the symbol of a much deeper call" to unity within the Christian world. Nowhere do we see the various Christian denominations coming together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit like we do in the pro-Life community.

We need more priests like Father Frank Pavone who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the unborn. If there are some financial irregularities at Priests for Life, then by all means these need to be straightened out. But that can certainly be done without pulling Father Frank off to the sidelines at a time when we have seen Planned Parenthood under so much political and financial pressure. This is the time to increase the pressure on the pro-abortion forces and not let them off the hook. Bishops should be denying communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians according to the instructions issued by then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in 2004. But the American bishops are in open defiance of such instructions, saying that this is "a complex question involving 'prudential judgment' in each case."

And on the matter of politicians that support "homosexual marriage", Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003 instructed that "the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against [the recognition of homosexual unions]". And yet Catholic politicians are never denied communion on the basis of supporting "homosexual marriage" or singled out by the American bishops for public chastisement.

But woe to the pro-Life priest that fails to maintain a spotless financial organization. Or is it woe to the priest who stands up to pro-abortion politicians as Father Frank has done?

What has Bishop Zurek clarified in his "clarification"? He is simply reiterating what he said in his previous letter. Ed Peters knows this. We all know this. It seems that Bishop Zurek is making good on his threat "to withdraw Father Pavone permanently from pro-life ministry if he were to exercise his canonical rights to hierarchical recourse".

In so doing he is posting a challenge to any other bishop outside of Amarillo who might wish to come to the defense of Father Frank. We all know this is not strictly a local matter confined to Amarillo, so why don't we hear from Archbishop Dolan, the president of the US Conference of bishops? After all, Priests for Life is headquartered in Staten Island, New York which is part of the Archdiocese of New York. Should we infer from his silence that he is in full support of Bishop Zurek?

I have to hand it to the pro-abortion National Catholic Reporter on this one. Rather than hurl stones at Father Frank while he is down, they have just quietly stood by and watched as some members of the Catholic pro-Life community have thrown the first stones.

I do not think that this is going to end well. Pray for the Church.

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St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.


  1. I ask if Bs Zurek has really meant for Fr. Frank to be in reflective prayer. This is just so not right. He uses the word "suspension" and goes back and forth with it. Come on Bs Zurek make up your mind. You are supposed to be guiding the priest under you as a Shepherd to his flock of sheep. Haven't you cause enough trouble for Father and the entire church. It's no wonder you were given a small diocese to lead. What is the real agenda behind your "order" or whatever you want to call it ?

  2. Dear Julie. You cracked me up when you said Bishop Zurek has a "small diocese". I do wonder sometimes where our bishops are leading their flocks to. Are we supposed to follow them off a cliff?

    The latest bad news is that the bishops are showing no support for 40 Days for Life. Ever since Humanae Vitae, the Christian world has looked up to the Catholic Church for leadership in the pro-Life movement. There is no doubt that Pope Benedict XVI considers pro-Life to be of top importance. But the US bishops only seem to provide a minimum of support.

    This month was declared "Respect Life Month" by the US bishops, but they have made no mention at all about 40 Days for Life on their website. What's even worse is that Bishop Cupich of Spokane is discouraging participation in the 40 Day prayer vigils.

    But the bishops have money to hire two full-time employees -- a lobbyist and a lawyer -- to get more religious exemptions into Obamacare:

    It seems to me that this is more motivated from a financial interest than a spiritual one. If they don't get these exemptions then it throws their whole organization into chaos. What do they do about Church affiliated hospitals and universities in that case? They should have been totally opposed to Obamacare from the beginning. In fact they should have been totally opposed to Obama. In fact they should be totally opposed to the Democratic Party until the Democrats eliminate abortion from their political platform. But this is what happens when you dance with the devil.

    And I think it is no coincidence that Father Frank and Priests for Life have explicitly condemned the Democrats for their pro-abortion and anti-Life political platform. But this is totally in keeping with the public declarations of Pope Benedict. So who is lacking in obedience?