In my first posting on the plight of Father Frank Pavone, I drew the analogy, which gained little traction with fellow pro-lifers, between the Apostle John’s deference to Peter on the first Easter Morning, and the relationship between the pro-life movement and the bishops.
Then, I wrote in response to some ugly, ugly letters and sentiments out there directed at Bishop Zurek, as well as the “Free Father Pavone” website that has been established. Not much luck in the persuasiveness department regarding my belief that we should allow Father Pavone and his bishop a quiet space to work out this situation.
Now I have fellow pro-lifers upset that I will not cosign letters to Bishop Zurek, or speak out against him. (I’m beginning to miss the Zen of working with bacteria that can kill me in one act of carelessness!)
It seems that there are a number of misunderstandings, coupled with rightly held love of Father Pavone that seem to be fueling this fire. My own love of Father Pavone directs that I attempt to assuage people of their misunderstandings, which having done so, should set the ship aright.
My last word on this before a resolution between Father and his bishop.
I don’t expect non-Catholics to understand the unique relationship between a Catholic bishop and his priests, and I apologize for the lacunae in my understanding of Protestant ecclesiology among the varied denominations. I don’t even expect most Catholics to have a good working knowledge of this Presbyteral dynamic, given the appalling state of Catholic catechesis over the past fifty years.
On ordination day, a deacon puts his folded hands inside the hands of the bishop and vows to respect and obey that bishop and all of his successors. That’s a tremendous act of faith on the part of the newly ordained priest. They are sacred vows in a Sacramental Vocation, witnessed by the Church assembled and registered in Heaven for all eternity. As first happened as a deacon, a priest undergoes a radical change in his very human nature that lasts forever.
Married people make their own sacred vows, which are temporal, until death. These too are part of a Sacramental Vocation and are registered in Heaven, given before the Church assembled.
We’re all expected to honor those vows, and in truth, few actually have a clean track record with them. Plenty of priests cross the line from normal grousing about their bishops into uncharitable words, and some into outright defiance. Married people promise, “I will love you, honor you, and cherish you all the days of my life.” Sometimes it gets ugly.
It did for Regina and me some years back, as we missed a thousand checkpoints along the way, resulting in a toxic marriage that came right to the brink of divorce. We slowly, imperceptibly lost our way with one another until we found ourselves in hell. The failings were great and small, and they were mutual. However, we could not escape the solemnity of our vows, which was all we had left after ‘love, honor and cherish’ had been put to flight. If we slid into hell, the journey out was quite a climb; and it required both of us in mutual submission to one another as well as in mutual submission to God’s will for us. Above all, it required frequent sacramental nourishment in Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
At the lowest point, two old priests heard me bellyache for over an hour before they spoke a word. The first asked one simple question:
“When was the last time that you complimented Regina?”
That was sheer brilliance. Go back to where the train derailed.
The second simply stated,
“Gerry, you’re like a son to me, and I witnessed your vows on behalf of the Church. I don’t care what’s gone on between the two of you. I expect you to honor your word to Regina and your God. I expect you to be the sort of man you’ve always aspired to being, and now is when you’ll prove yourself.”
Thus began the journey home. Coming Home has layers of meaning for me, which is why I gave this blog the name. The journey was more than worth it and took us to where we were supposed to be all along.
Father Pavone now finds himself in his own brand of hell in his relationship with his bishop. The dynamic is different from marriage. A priest is an extension of his bishop. He does not possess the fullness of priesthood, as does his bishop. He goes where he is told and does what he is asked to do.
Pope John Paul II taught us that authentic freedom consists in doing what one ought to do, and not what one wants to do.
For all of the immense good that Father Pavone has done, he was not ordained a pro-life activist. He was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest. I was at his ordination. I heard his vows. I saw the chalice and paten placed in his hands. I saw Cardinal O’Connor hand him the Book of the Gospels, signifying his priestly mandates to preach and teach the Gospel and to consecrate the Eucharist.
That blows away everything else on the planet, including the pro-life movement!
Now, to quell the misperception that Bishop Zurek has accused Father Pavone of wrongdoing (aka, malfeasance), I didn’t read those words. I read that Bishop Zurek was questioning the prudential use of large sums of money.
That takes things out of the realm of illegality and places it into the realm of subjective pastoral vision. That makes matters messier. As Father’s bishop, Bishop Zurek bears responsibility and moral culpability for any poor stewardship of large sums of money in a ministry that he has assigned Father Pavone to run.
It’s the vision thing, and Bishop Zurek’s vision and priorities matter. He’s the Apostolic Successor.
So, yes, Father may well have been transparent in his revelations of finances (and I wouldn’t expect anything less from him), but may not have satisfied the subjective vision thing. Who knows?
There are only two men on this planet who know the whole story, and they need a safe, quiet, private place with one another to resolve this situation.
Accent on quiet.
Two priests exhorted me to honorable Christian manhood in honoring my lifetime vows with Regina, despite our mutual failings. Divorce was not an option in their eyes. As Catholics, we understand that the failings are not so important as the humble admission of guilt and the stated desire to reconcile, to allow Jesus to send His Holy Spirit to make all things new.
I exhort two good and holy men to do the same in their father-son relationship, but they can’t unless we drop the torches and pitchforks and allow them the space where each can save face and fulfill their priestly obligations to one another in all charitable forbearance.
That’s a process and not an event.
This is no longer a pro-life issue. This is no longer about Priests for Life. Father Pavone is operating in a much higher realm. He is dealing within the Sacred Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and his duties as an obedient son to his bishop. There, humility and obedience, not lobbying and blogging, are the coin of the realm.
If we love God more than we love ourselves, He will lead us to honorable restoration of our Sacramental, Vocational duties. I think that’s true for Father Pavone and Bishop Zurek. I have every expectation that guided by the Holy Spirit, a restoration of their relationship will produce abundant fruit.
Beginning Friday night (9/23), and every night for nine nights at 8 PM EST, I’ll be hosting the Saint John Vianney Novena for the intentions of Father Pavone and Bishop Zurek. All are welcome. If any priest or deacon wishes to guide us with prepared meditations each night, please let me know.