Catholic News Service has reported that Father Frank Pavone, arguably the most prominent pro-life Catholic activist in the US and national director of Priests for Life, has been notified by his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, that he has been suspended from active ministry outside his diocese over financial questions pertaining to Priests for Life.
In his letter dated September 9 and sent to all of the bishops in the US, Bishop Zurek said that he has called Father Pavone back to the Amarillo diocese to “spend time in prayer and reflection,” and that his decision “is the result of deep concerns regarding [Pavone’s] stewardship of the finances of the Priests 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. … Thus, my decision to intervene and to call him to accountability is meant to express the dire need to safeguard his priestly ministry to which I am obliged as his father and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work.
It’s clear that Bishop Zurek’s concerns regarding Father Pavone aren’t limited to finances; in the second paragraph of his letter to his fellow bishops, Bishop Zurek calls into question Father Pavone’s understanding of priestly obedience and episcopal authority:
In his relationship to his bishop ordinaries, Father Pavone has gradually lost his need to show 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. I would venture to say that the supreme importance that he 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. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has given me the impression that I cannot invoke obedience with him because he is famous. It is my desire to help him readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal in order to recapture that essential priestly hallmark of respect and obedience. It is also my desire to strengthen Father Pavone’s sense of communio sacramentalis with me so that he may be fortified with a healthy zeal to live in an authentic way his sacramental gift and mystery as a priest of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Zurek concludes his letter with the request that his fellow bishops encourage their flocks to withhold donations to Priests for Life “until the issues and concerns are settled.”
Father Pavone has issued a statement in response to his suspension, saying that his is “perplexed” by his bishop’s actions but that “I will be obedient and report there on the appointed date.” He also denied Bishop Zurek’s accusations that he or Priests for Life have been anything other than completely transparent in the release of their financial information, and announced that he has undertaken an appeal to the Vatican in order “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.”
I want to say very clearly that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it receives from dedicated pro-lifers, raised primarily through direct mail at the grassroots level. To this end, Priests for Life has consistently provided every financial document requested by Bishop Zurek, including annual financial audits, quarterly reports, management documents—even entire check registers! In fact, on June 20, 2011, Priests for Life received the results of its independent audit examination for the year ended December 31, 2010. The organization’s auditors issued an unqualified audit opinion indicating that the financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Priests for Life, in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America”. This marks the tenth consecutive year that the organization’s auditors have provided a “clean’ audit opinion, when reporting on the respective year’s financial statements. Priests for Life has been completely transparent with Bishop Zurek and any other bishops who have requested information regarding our management and finances. Indeed, we have 21 bishops and cardinals who sit on our Advisory Board, and they are kept fully informed about our finances.
UPDATE: CNS is reporting that the Diocese of Amarillo’s vicar for clergy stated “Bishop Patrick J. Zurek only suspended Father Pavone’s ministry outside of the diocese because the well-known pro-life priest is needed for work in Amarillo.” No follow-up from CNS on the apparent contradiction between this explanation and Bishop Zurek’s letter to the bishops.
“He’s here to be obedient to the bishop and try to work with the bishop,” Msgr. Harold Waldow told CNS. “He’s going to have assignments, and he will be put on our payroll and given health care and other benefits like any other priest of the diocese.”
CNS further reports that 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. ‘I fully expect that my time in Amarillo, both in terms of this immediate trip and in terms of my affiliation with that diocese is going to be temporary,’ he said.”
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