Archive for September, 2011

Freeing Father Pavone!

I’m getting inundated with emails and comments, including a new website to “Free Father Pavone!” Then there was the letter people wanted me to circulate that was so crass and vulgar in its invective against Bishop Zurek that I actually blushed reading it. I guess my last post hasn’t penetrated the din, so I’ll be a bit less diplomatic and a bit more direct.

Please stop sending me attacks on Bishop Zurek. No, I don’t approve of the public circulation of his letter. Not one bit. But that doesn’t give me the right to trash him in return.

“An eye for an eye, leaving the whole world blind,” as Ghandi put it.

This shrill “Free Father Pavone” rhetoric is entirely over the top. He’s not an Orca. He’s a priest in good standing, still celebrating the sacraments in his diocese. It is a dim view of the diocesan priesthood that views it as some sort of prison. Really!!!

I love the energy and focus that Father Pavone has brought to the pro-life movement. I love that he has embraced Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard, Gospel of Life Ministries, the training of fellow priests, Alveda King and the National Black Pro-life Coalition, Bryan Kemper, Abby Johnson, etc. The man has done great good, and nobody can ever take that away from him.

Bishop Zurek has also supported his being in this ministry, and nobody should take that from him either.

This lashing out at the bishop is being watched by all of his brother bishops. I sincerely hope the shrill don’t really think that Father Pavone is worth the alienation, the impression that we’re a shadow church and that Father Pavone is our Pope. That’s a mighty big alienation of the bishops for one man.

It doesn’t do Father Pavone’s reputation a damned bit of good with the bishops, either. He looks like he has a rabid rabble for a following. It reflects poorly on him and on all of us.

The truth of the matter is that a leader inspires others to act. A good leader inspires others to act passionately. A great leader inspires others to act sacrificially, death to self.

What sort of leader does this invective make Father Pavone look like? If I were a bishop, looking at this invective, I’d be inclined to put him on ice for a few years.

The greatest testimony to a general is the ability of the army he has built to win the battle if he goes down in the line of fire. A great general builds an army that can act on its own in the heat of battle, adapt and overcome in the face of great challenge.

I think that’s the sort of movement that Father Pavone has created, one that can weather his absence as he tends to the relationship with his bishop.

To those filled with anger, I ask, Where is your faith in God? We supplement with rage and hate-filled words that which we lack in faith. If we can’t hear the Holy Spirit, perhaps we need to be still. So let us come together in prayer for all involved. Let’s breathe easy and ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and show us His perfect will.

Take a few moments, close our eyes, and pray along with this beautiful prayer of the ancient Church.

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Here we go again! The anger and rage on the part of pro-lifers who support Father Pavone is palpable. Here is the text of Bishop Zurek’s letter to his brother bishops on the matter. Then I’ll just throw in a few remarks at the end.

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. For an indefinite period, I am withdrawing my permission to him to minister outside our diocese and am calling him back to spend time in prayer and reflection. 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 question 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. Since he has consistently refused to subject the PFL to a transparent and complete auditing of all expenditures, I have reasons to be alarmed at the potential financial scandal that might arise if it were the result of my failure to correct Father Pavone’s incorrigible defiance to my legitimate authority as his Bishop. Additionally, the PFL financial resources have afforded Father Pavone with a formidable civil and canonical counsel which he utilized to rebuff my every attempt at calling for financial transparency. 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 obligated as his father and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work. At a certain point, for me to hold all this knowledge about the PFL and to turn a blind eye would increase my culpability and quote possibly amount to material cooperation.

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 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. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has give 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.

If you judged it to be prudent, I would like to ask that you would inform the Christian faithful under your care to consider withholding donations to the PFL until the issues and concerns are settled.

Taking this opportunity to express my esteem and to ask for your prayers, I am,

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

While I am no Vatican insider, my guts tell me that things will be resolved in a manner favorable to Father Pavone and Priests for Life. We can’t go wrong if we are dealing in the truth and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit. However, there is an unhealthy dose of anger at Bishop Zurek that needs to be addressed.

In the wake of the Father Corapi implosion, many were outraged that he could have been given such independence to amass a Montana ranch, boat dock, boats (yes, plural), luxury vehicles, etc. People rightly asked where his superiors were, where his bishop was.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and we don’t like that either. The latter half of Bishop Zurek’s letter addresses a concern for Father Pavone falling into the same abyss that claimed Father Corapi. Love for Father Pavone should dictate that we give his bishop the benefit of the doubt, and allow this corrective course his bishop has taken to proceed toward the stated goal. Love for Father Pavone must admit some level of oversight, which always entails the possibility of the type of letter we see here.

For those of us who are Catholics, we need to avoid lashing out at Bishop Zurek. Sit in his chair and look at us through his eyes. Do we wish to convey the impression that the pro-life movement is a bunch of radical firebrands who are too enlightened to deal patiently and charitably with the men who are the Successors of the Apostles?

On the first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene announced the resurrection to the apostles. John and Peter raced to the tomb, and the younger and more fleet afoot John reached the tomb first, while plodding Peter had to catch up. But John didn’t enter the tomb!

He waited for Peter, and deferred to the one who was given the Keys to the Kingdom!

When they entered, John saw and believed. Peter was confused, and took longer to process what he was seeing.

There is a lesson in that for us. We in the pro-life movement may be more fleet afoot than many of the bishops where the life issues are concerned, and we may even get ahead of them in the race to the tomb. Like John, we have a duty to respect authority.

To wait patiently.

To defer.

And to not lose heart.

That’s a tall order, but the Easter narrative is our only way out of the anger trap.

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Father Pavone Appealing to Rome

Father Pavone is appealing his case to Rome. I pray for the restoration of his good name. This, from Father Pavone’s statement at LifeSite News”

For the past several years, my Ordinary, the Most Reverend Patrick Zurek, Bishop of Amarillo, has given me permission to do the full-time pro-life work that I have done since 1993. In 2005, I made a public promise in a Church ceremony in Amarillo, presided over by a Vatican Cardinal, that this full-time pro-life work would be a lifetime commitment. That’s a commitment I promise to fulfill without wavering.

This past week, however, I received a letter from the Bishop insisting that I report to the Diocese this Tuesday, September 13 and, for the time being, remain only there.
I am very perplexed by this demand…. [H]e 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….

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! 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.

Therefore, in the interest of preserving my good reputation as well as protecting the valuable work done by the Priests for Life organization, I have begun a process of appeal to the Vatican. 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.

I also want to point out that, according to the canon law of the Catholic Church, because I have begun this process of appeal to Rome, the Bishop’s order that I return to Amarillo has been effectively suspended. Nevertheless, because of my great respect for this Bishop and my commitment to be fully obedient at all times, I am reporting to Amarillo this Tuesday, in hopes that I can sort this problem out with the Bishop in a mutually agreeable and amicable way.

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Father Frank Pavone has been recalled by his bishop over financial questions concerning the administration of Priests for Life. CNS breaks the story here:

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Father Frank Pavone, one of the country’s most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about his operation of Priests for Life.

The suspension was made public in a Sept. 9 letter from Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek to his fellow bishops across the country, but Father Pavone told Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there.

“My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization,” Bishop Zurek wrote. “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”

Get the rest of the story here.

I have no idea what’s going on here, but I do know of some of the great work done by PFL and Father Pavone. Whatever the truth, it will come to light. However, Father Pavone has done great good and merits our prayers. I pray for a quick and just resolution, and for Father Pavone’s spiritual health in the days and weeks to come.

Mostly, I pray for the quick restoration of Father Pavone’s good name. More Later.

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Today I begin a new endeavor as the National Director of Med Students for Life of America, a division of Students for Life of America.

A few weeks ago, Kristan Hawkins contacted me about taking the helm of this growing organization of medical students across the country. The group has grown considerably under the leadership of Dominique Monlezun, who started his first year at Tulane University’s medical school last month.

There is much work to be done in cultivating a whole new generation of physicians who respect life from conception to natural death. A great many medical schools are hostile toward students who refuse to perform abortions as a routine part of training. The ethics in these schools and the approach to patients and human dignity needs to be addressed by providing students with access to pro-life physicians and ethicists as mentors.

In building on the great foundation already laid by Dominique, I’ll be busy rallying many of the pro-life physician, pharmacist and nursing organizations around our med students. There’s lots in the hopper, and I’ll be blogging about it all as we go along. For now, suffice it to say that Students for Life is a team of incredibly talented and visionary individuals, each one a leader, and I’m proud to be a part of their efforts.

I’m keeping this short because I’m dealing with a very fluid situation with my niece who suffered a bit of a set-back last night. AGAIN, Regina and I are so grateful for all of the prayers for Elise.

God Bless.

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Update on Elise

Yesterday was a big step forward, and a remarkable one at that. The surgeons removed her chest tube, drainage tubes from her back, arterial line, three IV’s, and sent her straight to a regular floor, skipping the step-down unit. Better still, the rehab doctors came in and ascertained that there is very slight sensation in the area around her left knee, and perceived very slight movement of her right thigh when asked to squeeze her knees together.

They are dim neurological flickers so very soon after two major operations. However, in the dark night of a young girl’s heart such dim flickers shine with a brilliant luminescence.

Elise has a very long way to go, but these developments are by all accounts nothing short of miraculous. I know that God is there with her, and that He will use this event in her life to great good for her. I just hope that in her heart she can begin to see this as well. The generous prayers of so very, very many people have lifted up our niece and sped her progress to date, and I have no doubt that they will carry her through. Regina and I have no words to express the depth of our gratitude for all of the prayers and support from so many. You are all in our prayers this weekend.

Yesterday, Elise posted the following on her FB account:

Everyone on my facebook and on my uncles facebook im so thsnkful for everything. it means the world to me what everyone has been saying. to everyone thats been calling my parents and me i love you all and really hope to see everyone very soon. ♥

Later this week, we’ll begin the journey into rehab. It is a journey that is not only profoundly grueling, it is also profoundly spiritual. Elise starts from a position of great advantage. Jefferson Memorial is one of the finest Neurological hospitals in the world, and their affiliate programs are no less spectacular.

And then there’s the love…

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On this tenth anniversary of the day that radically changed my life, and the lives of people I love, I’m simply at a loss for words. I wrote last year of my struggle with forgiveness, and I believe that Deacon Greg Kandra has penned a homily for this year that doesn’t at all say what is in my hardened heart, but says exactly what that heart needs to hear and embrace. This weekend, let’s pray for each other’s healing, and for the triumph of Christianity over Islamofacism, which will only happen when I can live what Deacon Kandra admonishes this weekend.

Anyone who saw the 2002 Super Bowl saw something unforgettable.

And it had nothing to do with sports.

It was held in New Orleans, in the Super Dome. The half time entertainment was Bono and U-2. There must have been 100-thousand people in the stadium, cheering wildly. Bono stepped onto the stage and the lights dimmed and the crowd roared and the band began to play.

If you watch video of that performance, you can hear Bono, over the music and the cheering, speaking into his microphone: “Lord, open my lips that my mouth may shout forth your praise.” The same words spoken at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Catholic Church.

And in fact, what followed turned out to be a kind of prayer.

As the song began, and the music swelled, behind the stage a massive banner started to rise, coming up from the floor of the stage, rising toward the ceiling, hundreds of feet above. Around the world, I imagine, millions of viewers were transfixed – stunned and moved what they were witnessing.

On the banner were projected the names of all those who had died on 9/11, just four months before.

And the music continued, and it went on, Bono and U2 singing about a place “where the streets have no name.” And the banner kept growing, and the list kept getting longer. It seemed like it would never end. Name after name after name, like a visual litany of the lost.

Then the banner reached the roof of the Superdome. And it collapsed, rippling to the floor. For a brief moment, we were back there, and it all was happening again.

To see it so clearly was devastating.

And at the end of the song, with the crowd on its feet, screaming wildly, Bono opened his jacket and there, inside, was sewn an American flag. He stood there in defiance, and in pride, and in solidarity.

There have been so many other tributes and memorials and remembrances since that day – but nothing like that. It was raw, and it was real. An Irishman stood on a stage in New Orleans and paid tribute to a tragedy that struck New York and Pennsylvania and Washington and he said, in effect, I’m with you. Inside, I’m one of you. This is my tribute, my remembrance, my prayer.

It is difficult to capture what this anniversary means to us as Americans, as New Yorkers, as Catholic Christians. The things we feel are almost beyond words. We are still, in many ways, groping in the dark, struggling to find a way to deal with what happened, and how much our lives and our world have changed. Yet, this day, as we come before the altar of God with our prayers and petitions, our grief and our anger, we hear these words from the ancient prophet:

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”

In the gospel, Jesus says it again: “Forgive your brother,” he says, “from your heart.”

But how? I wish I knew. I wish there were a mystical way to click on a forgiveness switch in the human heart. I wish I knew how to love all my enemies and pray for all my persecutors and “forgive my neighbor’s injustice” – even this most heinous injustice of all.

I think perhaps that forgiveness – like conversion – is a journey. The human heart isn’t necessarily converted over night. We don’t all have that electrifying moment on the road to Damascus. For many of us, it grows out of what Flannery O’Connor called “a habit of being.” It happens over a lifetime.

Conversion is a daily choice. So, is love.

And so, I believe, is forgiveness.

Like all of the challenges of our faith, it is something we need to pray for – to pray to able to do what we are called to do.

To love our neighbor.

To love our enemies.

To forgive our neighbor’s injustice.

C.S. Lewis put it beautifully. “To be a Christian,” he wrote, “is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven it in us.”

A couple weeks ago, we heard Christ tells his disciples: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Well, one of the heaviest crosses is the call to forgive. Even when something seems unforgivable. Especially then. But by God’s grace – and by Christ’s example – somehow, we pick up that cross. We bear it on our backs. And we begin the long walk.

We may carry it on our backs, but what is more important is what we hold in our hearts, and it is this: that love is greater than hate; that hope is stronger than despair; that vengeance is no match for forgiveness.

This Sunday, we pray to remember that. And we pray, very simply, in remembrance.

We remember: all the lives that were lost, the martyrs who were born, the heroes who did what no one thought possible. We remember.

We remember sacrifice.

We remember courage.

We remember greatness.

At the Super Bowl, the song that Bono performed was “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Bono has said that he wrote the song about growing up in Dublin, where everyone could tell who was rich, and who wasn’t, by the street they lived on. And the place he was singing about was a city where that wouldn’t matter anymore.

It was his vision of heaven:

I’ll show you a place

Where there is no sorrow or pain…

And the streets have no names…

Our prayer is that we may one day know that place and walk those streets, in gratitude and in joy, with those we remember this day.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

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Für Elise

Three days ago my fifteen year-old niece, Elise was involved in a horrendous car accident, being thrown from the vehicle and suffering a compression injury and fracture in her lower spine. She has had two surgeries, including a seven hour ordeal today to fuse three of her vertebra. Tonight, she is in I.C.U. in critical condition and in for the fight of her tender, young life. It’s way too soon to tell what degree of sensation or function she might regain. I saw the x-rays tonight. It was a bad injury.

Blessedly, all others involved are doing very well.

I’ve spilled more than a little ink on this blog over the withholding of critical care resources from humans who have been judged unworthy of them, and for a moment, I would like to praise the medical staff at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia who have shown how wonderful medicine can be, who have lavished their care on this special young girl. Teams of neurosurgeons, cardiologists, internists, nurses, therapists, social work, pastoral care, have descended on Elise and given her a level of technology, medicine, and loving care that are unrivaled anywhere. Her I.C.U. nurse this evening, Marie, met with the overwhelming approval of my wife who is a very accomplished PICU/NICU nurse.

When it’s done well, it is a spectacular sight to behold. Elise’s care is nothing short of a symphony of modern medicine.

She’s the kind that everyone in medicine fights a little harder for. She’s young, beautiful, bright, deep, soulful. She has it all before her, and if this course of action should not produce the hoped-for outcome, then Regina and I will pursue adult stem cell therapy for her. Time is on this little one’s side.

As for the bioethical work I’m doing with so many great people, the task before us is to get the medical community back on track, to restore the appreciation for the fact that those not as healthy, or beautiful, or bright, or deep, also share the same fundamental dignity as Elise. They contribute in ways that are radically different than my niece’s, and are just as deserving of the lavish care Elise has received.

That, however, is a fight for another day. For now, we have a beloved child of the family in the fight of her very young life, and she needs us as well. The blogging may be very light over the next two weeks as we circle the wagons.

On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank everyone who responded with prayers on FB last night. They are the best medicine of all, and carried this very badly injured child through a grueling surgery today with no complications. She remains critical, but very stable, and given the extent of her injuries, there is no doubt that the prayers are carrying her through.

I have a new pro-life endeavor that I’ll be announcing next week, but in the interim Regina and I just wanted to say thank you again for all the prayers.

God Bless.

UPDATE 9/10/11: PROGRESS! Read about it here.

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In a recent article at LifeNews, “Possible Treatment for Down Syndrome Raises Ethics Questions,” author Effie Caldarola raises the ethical issue of treating those with Down Syndrome with a new drug under development by Dr. Alberto Costa. The new drug promises to stimulate and normalize growth in the Hippocampus of the brain, leading to improved cognitive function, and presumably enhanced academic and vocational performance.

The issue at hand is whether or not such medical intervention is an assault on the fundamental, ontological reality and identity of the individual. For some, such an intervention represents a devaluation of the individual as they are constituted by their nuclear chromosomal configuration and subsequent developmental patterning.

It is a delicate question, and deserves a respectful hearing.

I write my rejoinder to Caldarola as the father of a twelve year-old son who was diagnosed at age five with autism, ADD, and a few other neurological impairments; so it is not without complete understanding that I see both sides of the issue.

Let us consider Joseph’s autism and the ethical/moral demands it places on us as parents, and before that what the ethical/moral demands are on any parents.

All parents have a moral obligation to raise their children to be as completely self-sufficient and functional in adulthood as they can be. We are our children’s launch pad and mission control center in life. That process involves a substantial number of years spent in school learning fundamental academics, problem-solving skills, vocational skills, life skills, and social skills. The best and brightest among us struggle in one or more of the areas along the way. Through it all, parents begin in a very directive role and graduate to being mentors when their children reach adulthood.

The learning that takes place for the child is thought to occur in the classroom, on the basketball court, etc. In truth, it does not.

Learning is a neurological process that takes place in the brain. That brain relies on multiple sensory inputs resulting in the stimulation of new neural cells being generated, and new connections being made between new and existing neurons. We take that brain to the classroom, the speech therapist, the occupational therapist, the physical therapist, and the psychological therapist for very selected and targeted interventions meant to effect the greatest possible degree of change in the child with autism or Down Syndrome.

We do so because we have an obligation to do so. It would be criminal negligence to ignore the normal needs of the healthiest child, and all the more if we did absolutely nothing for the special needs child. All of our interventions in school and in therapy are aimed at stimulating growth and development in a brain that has some serious flaws in the normal unfolding of the genetic program.

From this neurological vantage point we now consider what it is that Dr. Costa is attempting, and what it is that folks find objectionable about it.

Dr. Costa is trying to aid the process of neurological development that takes place in school and in the various therapies. His medical approach, absent any serious side-effects, would prepare the neurological environment, fertilizing the ground as it were, for the interventions of the therapists. Such fertilization is intended to maximize the yield of those educators and therapists who plant and cultivate the seeds.

What, then, can be so objectionable about that?

Joseph’s autism has sculpted him, yet it doesn’t entirely define him. Being a scientist, I have approached Joseph’s diagnoses from the perspective of looking at what in his neurological environment is preventing him from attaining that knowledge and those skills that will help him to function as an independent adult long after my wife and I are gone.

Do we want Joseph to only become “functional enough” and then leave him looking sufficiently autistic? No, of course not. We want him to be all that he is capable of becoming, given the brain with which God has blessed him. He will never not have autism. He will forever retain certain of the traits that define autism. However, we want him to have as many options in life as possible.

This isn’t because we reject his autism. It’s because his autism ought not limit his options if there is anything we can do about it.

Joseph’s great dignity does not come from having autism. It comes from being a child of a loving God, entrusted to a mother and father who love him simply as their son. It matters not how he is neurologically configured. We don’t love him any more or less than we love his sisters. We love him simply because he is our son, and that love compels us to seek the very best for him in life.

Parents of those with Down Syndrome are no different. However, some have come to define their child by the child’s developmental and neurological configuration, and not by the more metaphysical realities. Like Joseph, high academic achievement in the child with Down Syndrome will never ameliorate their underlying physical reality.

What it can do is give that child a different kind of laughter and joy.

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