By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The founder of one of the most effective pro-life ministries in the world, Father Frank Pavone, has been recalled to his diocese and ordered to restrict his ministry until questions about the ministry’s financial stewardship are answered.
A variety of news sources are reporting that Father Pavone, founder of Priests for Life (PFL), was recalled to the Diocese of Amarillo by his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, who accused him in a September 9 letter to diocesan priests of not showing 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,” Zurek wrote.
“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.”
The bishop claims this attitude has strained his relationship with Fr. Pavone whose ministry “has become a business that is quite lucrative” and one which provides him with “financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”
The bishop also asked priests in his diocese to ask their congregations to consider withholding donations to PFL until these issues and concerns are settled.
Father Pavone has responded with obedience to the bishop and has returned to Amarillo.
“I am very perplexed by this demand,” he writes in a statement released yesterday. “Despite that, because I am a priest of the diocese of Amarillo, I will be obedient and report there on the appointed date, putting the other commitments that are on my calendar on hold until I get more clarity as to what the bishop wants and for how long. Meanwhile, I continue to retain all my priestly faculties and continue to be a priest in ‘good standing’ in the Church. The bishop does not dispute this fact. Rather, he has said that he thinks I am giving too much priority to my pro-life work, and that this makes me disobedient to him. He also has claimed that I haven’t given him enough financial information. 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.”
Fr. Pavone also said that he does “not receive any salary or financial remuneration from either the Diocese of Amarillo or from Priests for Life.” The ministry “does provide for my residence and the expenses associated with the ministry,” he said, “but these expenses are very small.”
As a diocesan priest, Fr. Pavone has not taken a vow of poverty; however, he said, “I have basically chosen to live in that fashion in solidarity with the pre-born children we are trying to protect—who are the poorest of the poor.”
In addition, Fr. Pavone said that he met with the Bishop as recently as Holy Week when, in the presence of the Vicar for Clergy of the diocese, he repeatedly asked the Bishop if he had any further unanswered questions about the ministry’s financial matters and that he indicated “none whatsoever.”
Fr. Pavone admits that he has had problems in other diocese. “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.”
He goes on to explain that he left New York for Amarillo only because Zurek’s predecessor allowed him to work full-time in the ministry. “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.”
The move to Amarillo occurred for one reason only, “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.”
“During that ceremony, in which Bishop John Yanta did incardinate me into that Society, I made public promises to the Lord to live out my vocation in full-time service to save my unborn brothers and sisters. That commitment has not gone away; that intention of my heart has not changed, and that ministry is in no way contradictory to a proper appreciation of and fidelity to the meaning of priesthood.”
As a result, he has appealed Zurek’s order to the Vatican. Under Canon Law 1353, “the effects of Bishop Zurek’s decree are suspended by the law itself until the matter is resolved by hierarchical recourse,” Fr. Pavone says.
“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.”
Even though the order is technically suspended, Fr. Pavone has agreed to return to Amarillo because of his great respect for Bishop Zurek and his commitment to be fully obedient at all times. He is doing so with the “hopes that I can sort this problem out with the Bishop in a mutually agreeable and amicable way.”
Dozens of ministries operate under the PFL umbrella including Rachel’s Vineyard (the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion, and a ministry used by many dioceses), the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, African-American Outreach (under the leadership of Dr. Alveda King), Deacons for Life, Seminarians for Life, the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, Youth Outreach, Hispanic Outreach, and many more.
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