"America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion"

Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011


George Offerman

I normally like to stay out of these ‘frays’ over individual priests and their particular issues and conflicts.  In at least two of the most recent cases, there are a lot of innuendos and matters that should have remained more in the realm of the private forum; however the issues at hand for Fr. Frank Pavone and Priests for Life seem to be of a different sort.  Put aside, for a minute, the debate about obedience to the Bishop (In which Fr. Pavone is obeying the orders from his bishop) and simply look at the series of events, and how they unfolded, and what repercussions it will have for Fr. Pavone, Priests for Life, and the pro life movement in general.

Now, I have had my disagreements with Fr. Pavone (as with all of the 501 c 3 organizations that will not name names of the advocates for child killing nor endorse the true pro life candidates, such as Missy Smith).  But the idea of innuendos of misappropriation of funds without any proof, and disseminating a letter to every American Bishop encouraging them to dissuade the faithful from donating to Priests for Life smells of a charge and presumption of guilt without proof of the guilt or wrongdoing.  Without proof, this matter should have been kept private until there was a real need to go public.  For a lack of a better word, this letter was Unjust and is doing harm to Fr. Pavone, Priests for Life, the Pro life movement, as well as Bishop Zurek’s own reputation.

Then there is the matter of “suspension”.  The Bishop, in the first letter released to all of the American Bishops clearly states in the first sentence “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.” (NO ABILITY TO PERFORM SACRAMENTS EVEN AT HIS OFFICES IN NEW YORK OR ANYWHERE HE MAY HAVE BEEN AT THE TIME). The letter then goes on to spell out questions concerning the use of money, the supposed lack of accountability of the millions raised, the lack of accountability and seemingly deliberate snubs by Fr. Pavone in disobeying the Bishop, as well as potential ‘ego’ problems due to Fr. Pavone’s  ‘fame’.

It then fell upon the shoulders of Msgr. Harold Waldow, Vicar for Clergy in the Diocese of Amarillo to speak for the Bishop and the Msgr. publicly declared Fr Pavone IS NOT SUSPENDED, which this is in direct conflict with the Bishop’s letter dated September 13th. (Which states CLEARLY Fr. Pavone is SUSPENDED from ALL PUBLIC MINISTRY OUTSIDE OF THE DIOCESE OF AMARILLO).  Msgr. Waldow then goes on to say Fr. Pavone is a priest in good standing and there is no ecclesial penalty nor are there any penalties or threats of penalties forthcoming.  (But it was the Bishop who used the word ‘suspension’).

This is the press release forwarded by the Diocese of Amarillo a few days later:

Diocese of Amarillo Issues Clarification Affirming Fr. Frank Pavone’s Good Standing and Character

Amarillo, TX – The diocese of Amarillo yesterday stepped forward to state publicly that Fr. Frank Pavone is a priest of good standing in the Catholic Church, and that there are no claims at all being made that he did anything wrong.

Reports in the last couple of days may have led some to the opposite conclusion because the bishop wants more information regarding the finances of the ministries Fr. Pavone heads, but there is a difference between wanting more information and claiming that someone did something wrong, and the diocese wanted to stress that distinction. There is no suspicion of wrongdoing.

However, let’s consider Bishop Zurek’s own words on the matter:

"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 QUESTIONS 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."

Call me crazy, but the official press release seems to ‘paper over’ the initial letter sent out by Bishop Zurek.  It seems in the letter that Bishop Zurek sent to all of the American Bishops (and one, by the way, he signed) states that both Clergy and laity had persistent questions and concerns about the financial transactions, which seems to indicate ‘someone thought something” and this was part of the basis for the decision to recall Fr. Pavone.  However, if Fr. Pavone had done nothing wrong, the Bishop could simply have called Fr. Pavone back and would not need to use the word “suspension” indicating the need to discipline and/or punish.

Now, let’s fast forward to the ‘clarification’ letter from Bishop Zurek, dated September 30, 2011:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            Fr. Frank A. Pavone remains suspended.  At my discretion and solicitude, he has faculties for ministry in the Diocese of Amarillo.  He does not have permission for ministry outside the Diocese.  He is to remain in the Diocese for an indefinite period of time for prayer and reflection.

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

Here we have the word ‘suspended’ again.  There is no reason to sow confusion.  Either suspend Fr. Frank, and show cause, or renounce this public argument, and clarify the fact that Fr. Frank is to work as a parish priest in the diocese of Amarillo, and does not have any blemishes on his record, or character.  But stop this nonsensical doublespeak and bureaucratic BS that is normally reserved for those who cannot think for themselves and are lifetime government employee wonks.  Maybe the government thinks such use of doublespeak is cute, but it is despicable behavior for those who are supposed to be the ‘light of the world’ and ought not to hide behind language that can ‘indict’ someone without actually spelling out the charges.  It is ridiculous to make an official statement ‘clarifying’ “we did not accuse Fr. Pavone of any wrongdoing”, but then claim in a letter that “both Clergy and laity have persistent questions regarding the transactions of millions of dollars”. 

The innuendos definitely place Fr. Pavone and his character into question, and this need not be the case. But now it is, and it seems the Bishop and his office want to play Obama word games.  Let the proverbial SHTF, but be far enough away to not get sprayed by any.  It’s really a sad day when the Church’s behavior mirrors that of a bureaucratic and ineffective government, but here we are.  We deserve better from our church leaders.

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