By Michelle Bauman
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, has said that if his bishop does not allow him to return to full-time pro-life work, he will consider being incardinated in a different diocese or founding a religious order to continue his pro-life ministry.
The well-known pro-life priest also said that he had been actively talking with Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas for months about spending more time in the diocese before the bishop forbid him from ministry outside of the diocese.
In an interview with CNA, Fr. Pavone said that he arrived in Amarillo on Sept. 13, in obedience to Bishop Zurek’s order, but found that the bishop left town that day and would be out of the country for two weeks.
Fr. Pavone said that he does not know when he will be able to meet with the bishop, or how long he wants him to stay in the diocese.
He said that he has been given no assignment and left no instructions, so he is continuing to do work for Priests for Life from Amarillo.
He stressed that he has not been suspended from working for Priests for Life and that he still maintains all of his priestly faculties as a priest in good standing. The bishop’s only order was that he return to work in the Amarillo diocese.
According to Fr. Pavone, the bishop initially expressed a desire for him to spend more time in the diocese to fill a need for pastoral work.
The two clergymen had talked about an arrangement that would allow Fr. Pavone to come to the diocese periodically for several weeks in order to do pastoral work. In the course of this discussion Bishop Zurek asked for dates that he would be able to come to Amarillo.
“I sent him those dates two or three weeks ago,” the priest said.
But according to Fr. Pavone, the bishop never acknowledged receiving the dates, and instead sent a letter to the U.S. bishops accusing him of disobedience and demanding that he return immediately.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Catholic Review that he supports Bishop Zurek’s decision.
“I appreciate Bishop Patrick Zurek’s statement and would hope that Father Pavone would adhere fully to the requests of his bishop,” Archbishop O’Brien said. “Bishop Zurek has been so very patient and thorough in dealing with this matter over many months. I appreciate his decision and support it completely.”
Monsignor Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy for the Diocese of Amarillo, said that while Fr. Pavone submitted financial information for Priests for Life, he failed to do so for two other affiliated nonprofit groups, Rachel’s Vineyard and Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.
“Two of the major pieces of the international pro-life movement and national pro-life movement are missing,” he told the Amarillo Globe-News.
“This is patrimony of the Church. It belongs to the Church,” Msgr. Waldow said. “People give their money over the understanding that it goes to the Church or Church auspices and programs and ministries.”
“I’m sure that our bishop does not stand alone on this,” he added. “I think Rome has been quite clear the bishops of the United States need to exercise more prudential guidance and governance over the patrimony of the Church.”
Meanwhile, on the afternoon of Sept. 15 Msgr. Waldow issued a clarification that said: “because there is dispute about the auditing process and the complete audit for all the entities of Priests for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard, and the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life does not mean that Father Pavone is being charged with any malfeasance or being accused of any wrong doing with the financial matters of Priests for Life.”
While Fr. Pavone has appealed his bishop’s decision to the Vatican, he says this is not a sign of disobedience or unwillingness to talk to Bishop Zurek.
“We have been talking with the bishop for years about these issues,” he said, explaining that he was only appealing to the Vatican on areas where he and the bishop had been unable to reach an agreement.
Fr. Pavone also added that he is following the prescribed procedure for a Vatican appeal, and that he has had a close working relationship with the Vatican for years.
“It is natural and normal that they already know about this,” he said.
If he is not allowed to continue his work with Priests for Life, Fr. Pavone explained that he is looking into the possibility of being incardinated into a different diocese.
“I do have various options,” he said. “The Church is bigger than Amarillo. The Church is the Church.”
Fr. Pavone noted that the reason he had initially come to Amarillo was to be able to run his pro-life ministry, which he did with permission from the bishop. He emphasized that he has always run Priests for Life with the approval of the bishop.
“I have experienced the call to full-time pro-life work,” he said. “I want to do that for the rest of my life.”
“It’s a vocational matter,” he added, explaining that he has never had the slightest doubt about his call to the priesthood, or about his call to pro-life work. He does not see them as incompatible but believes that he is called to both.
Fr. Pavone stated that he is “confident” that he will be able to work toward a positive resolution with both Bishop Zurek and the Vatican. He believes that part of the solution may lie in creating a new type of pro-life ministry within the Church.
Canon law allows for many movements and structures within the Church, Fr. Pavone explained. Religious communities are the most well-known, but there are also other ways to commit to a particular cause within the Church.
He said that he would be open to pursuing such a structure to welcome the commitments of both religious and lay people who feel called to give their whole lives to the pro-life cause.
Fr. Pavone pointed to saints who founded religious orders to devote their lives to working with the poor or disabled. Opposition from the local church was sometimes present as part of the “growing pains” of beginning their ministry, he explained.
“But ultimately, the Church vindicates the mission,” he said.