News comes today from the Religion News Service that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose oversight of Priests for Life’s finances was welcomed by Father Pavone several months ago, has turned sour, leading Cardinal Dolan to express the same exasperation as several of Father Pavone’s previous bishops. From RNS:
NEW YORK (RNS) In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.
In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.
“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.
“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.
Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”
The cardinal said he had “no idea” what the Vatican intends to do now.
In a statement emailed to Religion News Service on Monday (Dec. 15), the Staten Island-based Priests for Life rebuffed Dolan’s criticisms, contending that the group has had “clean” audits for 15 years and saying the dispute is, in fact, “about control.”
That last statement from PFL is regrettable, and one that I fear may signal a return to the smear campaign deployed against Bishop Zurek by several of Father Pavone’s supporters a few years ago. Is it really all about control? So far the bishop’s complaints have never progressed beyond the issue of accounting and accountability, so the charge about control really comes off as a smokescreen tactic to many faithful Catholics who are every bit as pro-life as the staff at PFL.
In the last go-round on this issue, several supporters of Father Pavone mercilessly smeared Bishop Zurek as wanting to ruin Father Pavone, to wreck his ministry, of being a pawn of Satan. As many are not Catholic, it was easy to chalk much of that invective up to ignorance of the very nature of a bishop and his sacred office, of the respect and obedience due him from every Catholic, but especially from priests who register sacred vows of respect and obedience at their ordinations. What was appalling was the silence from PFL in the face of this merciless pillorying of Bishop Zurek.
At the time, Bishop Zurek indicated the nature of the problem, as retold by RNS:
In 2011, Zurek denounced Pavone’s “incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop” and suspended his ministry. It then emerged that Priests for Life had been badly mismanaged, running an unsustainable $1.4 million deficit and failing to make key tax filings or allow proper financial oversight and safeguards.
Pavone moved back to New York, saying he had the Vatican’s support and that he would not be cowed by any bishop. Then earlier this year, he and Zurek said they reached a settlement in their standoff and the problems seemed on their way to a resolution.
But that apparently wasn’t the case, and Pavone’s fate now seems to rest with Rome.
So what will it be now? Will the narrative be that Cardinal Dolan really isn’t all that pro-life? That gay-loving prelate who welcomed a gay contingent into the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York! On a few occasions when I have thought Cardinal Dolan erred badly, I wrote about it. But I didn’t smear him. I didn’t impugn his motives. I didn’t encourage a rebellion against him. I encouraged him to look to the examples of his predecessors in office. And all of that raises what is really at issue here.
What does it mean to be a faithful son of the Church?
At its core it means fidelity to the Magisterium and to one’s bishop. This fidelity is required of laity as well as clerics and finds its scriptural roots in 1 Thessalonians 5: 11-13
Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
In this chapter, PFL needs to strike a new tone. They need to put the “Priest” back in Priests for Life. How Catholic or priestly is it to set one’s supporters against a string of bishops? That new tone begins with respect and obedience towards one’s bishop. If the accounting is all in order, then we should get to that point. It would then become abundantly clear if “control” is at issue. That said, Bishop Zurek’s assertion three years ago bears mention again.
As Father Pavone’s Bishop, Patrick Zurek bears moral responsibility for the stewardship of PFL’s finances if there is mismanagement by one of his priests of the $10 Million annual budget, and Bishop Zurek will answer to God for whether or not he exercised his sacred office with prudence and diligence.
What is certain from the published record is that there has been a fractious relationship between Father Pavone and several of his bishops through the years. Equally objective are the horrendous characterizations of these bishops by many of Father Pavone’s supporters. Also equally certain is the fact that no amount of anti-abortion crusading and success can justify these grotesque allegations against the bishops. Even if Bishop Zurek were a bishop who ranked pro-life ministry at the bottom of his list of priorities, this much is also certain:
Every priest serves at the pleasure of his bishop, and his bishop owes him no explanation for changing that priest’s assignment.
Who knows what other news might be in the wings? Regardless, this time around, PFL needs to change tack and get off the smear campaign. It’s a losing strategy with faithful Catholics who ask the simple question:
What would Padre Pio do?