The web has been filled with breathless accounts of Father Frank Pavone’s great victory over his bishop in Amarillo. Lifesitenews recently reported on the situation with characteristic balance:
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life has not been suspended, said the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy in May, but his bishop has the right to assign him duties outside his pro-life ministry, according to the Diocese of Amarillo.
Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek reported that the Vatican body granted at least a partial victory for the Priests for Life leader, who had petitioned Rome for clarification after Zurek announced that he had “suspended” Fr. Pavone last September.
According to the diocese, the Vatican clarified that Pavone was not canonically suspended, and remains a priest in good standing. However, the statement from the Vatican also apparently re-asserted Zurek’s authority to appoint Pavone chaplain of a religious community in Amarillo.
“In its decree of May 18, 2012, the Congregation for the Clergy has sustained Father Frank A. Pavone’s appeal of his suspension from ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo and his appointment from me on October 4, 2011, as Chaplain of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in Channing, Texas. Father Pavone is to continue his ministry as chaplain until further notice,” said Zurek in a June 20 statement.
“As a gesture of good will, I will grant permission to him in individual cases, based upon their merits, to participate in pro-life events with the provision that he and I must be in agreement beforehand as to his role and function,” the bishop stated. “All other matters are outside the purview of this statement.”
In its own statement, Priests for Life (PFL) lauded the Vatican statement that “Father Pavone is not now nor has ever been suspended.” However, like Zurek’s statement, the ministry’s words indicated that the affair had yet to be resolved, and that PFL would continue to seek enough freedom to pursue pro-life ministry.
Read the rest here.
So, the Congregation’s decision has simply clarified the situation as it has existed all along. Bishop Zurek has the right to assign Father Pavone anywhere he, in his discretion as Bishop, deems appropriate. Father Pavone was suspended from his ability to perform his public duties as head of Priests for Life, but was never suspended from his priestly faculties in his home diocese of Amarillo, a point made by his diocese early on.
Bishop Zurek has made it clear that Father Pavone’s pro-life activities and appearances outside of the diocese remain subject to his approval.
Judging from the vile commentary on the web by pro-lifers, commentary aimed at Bishop Zurek and the rest of the U.S. Bishops, this victory is for pro-lifers a Pyrrhic victory at best. Such commentary is not only short-sighted, it is blurry as well. It fails to grasp where we are in the abortion battle, and the larger battle regarding religious liberty. It is divisive, to say the least, and will come back to haunt us in the not-too-distant future.
If, as many opine, the bishops have been largely absent from the field in the battle against abortion, this sad episode involving Father Pavone has done nothing but to further estrange the activist wing of the movement from the bishops. From the outset I wrote that this was a private matter of accountability of a priest to his bishop and that everyone needed to give these two men the time and face-saving space they needed to resolve matters.
In truth, one couldn’t blame the bishops for resolving to steer clear of pro-life activists, especially in light of some of the hit pieces that were produced and distributed on the web. If Bishop Zurek, or any bishop, hears concerns raised about one of his priests and that priest’s stewardship of large sums of money, he is obligated to investigate to his satisfaction. If such investigation is simply used to persecute a priest, Rome has Canon laws, Congregations, and Courts to see that justice is done.
Priests in turn have a duty to be not only obedient, but respectful to their Bishops. That duty flows from the solemn vows of respect and obedience that they registered in Heaven on their ordination day.
Father Pavone and I are about the same age. Realistically, we will not see the end of abortion in our lifetime, and anyone who believes otherwise must be reading some other world’s newspapers.
The truth of the matter is that abortion is growing, not diminishing. Chemical abortions are on the rise everywhere.
The truth is that abortion and sterilization are a part of our national healthcare.
The truth is that billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates support population control, which continues to spread worldwide.
The truth is that euthanasia is on the rise around the world, with physician-assisted suicide gaining in every corner.
The truth is that in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood continue to rise in popularity and spread across the globe.
The truth is that we live in an age of eugenics which eclipses the eugenics of the mid-twentieth century.
The truth is that religious freedom of Christians and tolerance of Christianity are in decline globally, including on our college campuses and in our government. We are living in an age of red martyrdom which eclipses that of the first three centuries of the Church in size and numbers.
The truth is that marriage has collapsed in every developed nation on the planet, and is actively being redefined.
Now, more than ever, we need our bishops and clergy to stand with us on ALL of these issues. It isn’t just the Church which is in peril. Western Civilization has imploded and a new Dark Age encroaches. Perhaps not everyone can see this yet because we live in the last well-lit corner of the world, though that light is going out rapidly.
What happened in Amarillo served nobody well. It was a circus, and one which Father Pavone advised against. The measure of one’s Catholicism is not the degree of one’s pro-life activism, but as Paul instructs us in 1 Thess. 5, regarding the bishops:
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Not only will we not see the end of abortion anytime soon, we will see the end of our religious freedom as we’ve known it as well unless we unite as one Church. That didn’t happen in Amarillo, as many of Father Pavone’s supporters, against his advice and stated wishes, engaged in a orgy of frustration and even outright hatred for the bishops. There are a great many other assaults on human freedom and dignity apart from abortion, most of which are equally deadly. We need the bishops with us on those issues, too.
It’s time for the bishop-bashers within the Church to cease and desist. Seeing the Amarillo circus, no bishop in his right mind would want to risk that show arriving on his doorstep. Anger is one of the seven deadly sins, and the fractious, alienating rage at the bishops may well cost countless lives when all is said and done.
Father Pavone is a good man and a good priest who has done what few before him have had the courage to do. He won’t be the last. Like the Exodus generation in the desert, I don’t think he, or any of us, will live to see the promised land. We’re now fighting this war without any of the pillars of Western Civilization as supports, and with increasingly diminishing Constitutional protections.
We’re in this for the long haul, and we won’t get there without our bishops. What will get us there is a mature Catholicism characterized by Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians 2,000 years ago.