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Father Pavone wins partial victory on Vatican appeal

Catholic World News - June 27, 2012

Father Frank Pavone, the president of Priests for Life, has won at least a partial victory in a conflict with his bishop over his leadership of the pro-life group.

Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, has announced that in May, the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy “sustained Father Frank A. Pavone’s appeal of his suspension from ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo.” Bishop Zurek had announced that suspension last September, citing his “deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life organization” and about Father Pavone’s reluctance to accept episcopal oversight.

Father Pavone appealed the bishop’s decision to the Vatican, and the May decision from the Congregation for Clergy vindicated his stand. Priests for Life issued a statement celebrating the Vatican’s decision in favor of Father Pavone’s appeal, saying: “Father Pavone remains a priest in good standing all over the world.”

However, the Vatican decision apparently affirmed Bishop Zurek’s authority to assign Father Pavone to new responsibilities as chaplain of a religious community in the Amarillo diocese. Bishop Zurek announced that the priest was to “continue his ministry as chaplain until further notice.” And Priests for Life, in its celebratory statement, hinted at some remaining conflict, saying:

While we fully agree that Bishop Zurek has rightful authority over the priests of his diocese, we also see the urgent need for Father Pavone to be allowed to conduct his priestly ministry outside the diocese of Amarillo for the good of the pro-life movement.

The decision by the Congregation for Clergy was not available to the public. Thus the two public statements—from the Amarillo diocese and Priests for Life—provided the only indication of what the Vatican had actually decided.

Canon-law experts had questioned Bishop Zurek’s announcement in September 2011 that Father Pavone had been “suspended” from ministry outside the Amarillo diocese, since a suspension from ministry would require a more formal canonical process. But few canon lawyers disputed the bishop’s authority to assign Father Pavone to a particular form of priestly ministry.

The key question—which the two public statements did not resolve—is whether Father Pavone will be able to function effectively as president of Priests for Life. In announcing the Vatican’s decision on the case, Bishop Zurek said:

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’s careful statement, and especially his insistence that he must reach agreement with Father Pavone on the priest’s role, showed that the fundamental conflict remains unresolved.

    In a fundraising message to supporters of his pro-life work, Father Pavone disclosed that the financial condition of Priests for Life has suffered since Bishop Zurek’s decision to give him a new assignment. In announcing the move to other American bishops, Bishop Zurek had suggested that Church leaders should not encourage support for Priests for Life.

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    Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
    • Posted by: unum - Jun. 28, 2012 8:48 AM ET USA

      There is no question about the bishop's authority, and Fr. Pavone's behavior may indeed be unacceptable. However, the handling of this matter is one more sorry episode of clouded administrative procedures that don't comply with Canon Law and murky public information that leaves the faithful in the dark, particularly those pro-lifers who support Fr. Pavone. The bishops must do better!

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