Michael Gaynor
Will Bishop Zurek become Planned Parenthood's person of the year for sabotaging Father Pavone and Priests for Life?
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By Michael Gaynor
September 21, 2011

If there really is a problem, Bishop Zurek needs to explain what it is in detail. Otherwise, he should stop calling attention to himself by interfering with Father Pavone's nationally important ministry.

This one is truly mind-boggling.

Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, head of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, recently charged Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life (PFL) and a priest in that diocese, with "consistently refus[ing] to subject the PFL to a transparent and complete auditing of all expenditures" and ordered him to return to the Diocese of Amarillo "to spend time in prayer and reflection."

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

So Father Pavone has become a victim of the success of his earnest pro-life efforts and PFL is now ripe for a takeover?

Does Bishop Zurek want to run PFL himself? Or does he feel threatened by a prominent priest in his diocese who is not financially dependent upon him? Or, after the Roman Catholic Church's horrific sex scandal, is he just trying to make sure that he won't be blamed IF there ever is a problem with PFL finances?

Bishop Zurek phrased it this way: "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."

What "potential financial scandal"?

What "incorrigible defiance"?

To date, Bishop Zurek has offered astonishing and hurtful conclusory allegations, but no evidence supporting them.

Father Pavone takes no salary from PFL.

And, in addition to Father Pavone, Bishop Zurek seems to be insulting all 21 bishops and cardinals who sit on the Priests for Life Episcopal Advisory Board and, unlike Father Pavone, are not subject to his direction, by asserting that they have failed to exercise "legitimate...oversight."

PFL has submitted to annual audits from a top accounting firm showing everything in good order.

PFL's audited financial statements have been regularly sent to more than twenty prominent Catholic, including bishops and cardinals, as well as Bishop Zurek.

IF there is a problem, Bishop Zurek needs to explain it in detail and not to overreact. Otherwise, he should stop interfering in Father Pavone's nationally important ministry.

Bishop Zurek seems to be trying to protect himself from non-existent scandal.

Planned Parenthood must be delighted!

The Devil too!

Curiously, as Father Pavone returned to Amarillo as directed, Bishop Zurek left his diocese for two weeks. So much for urgency.

Last September 6 Bishop Zurek ordered Father Pavone to return to Amarillo and then announced it in a Septwmber 9 letter to his fellow bishops that pointed to "persistent questions and concerns" from clergy and laity about how the millions of dollars donated to Priests for Life are used as the reason for interfering with Father Pavone's ministry.

"He's here to be obedient to the bishop and try to work with the bishop," Msgr. Harold Waldow of the Diocese of Amarillo said. "He's going to have assignments, and he will be put on our payroll and given health care and other benefits like any other priest of the diocese."

Father Pavone is not "like any other priest of [that] diocese." He's the founder and head of Priest for Life.

As stated in www.todayscatholicnews.org/2011/09/father-pavone-suspended-from-ministry-outside-amarillo-diocese/:

"Since becoming national director of Priests for Life in 1993, Father Pavone has become one of the country's most visible and outspoken opponents of abortion and advocates of pro-life issues, lecturing widely, leading retreats and prayer services and producing television and radio programs.

"He also holds the same position with Gospel of Life Ministries, an interdenominational effort to end abortion, which shares its headquarters with Priests for Life.

"In addition, Father Pavone is national pastoral director of both the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and Rachel's Vineyard, an abortion healing ministry. Both are affiliated with Priests for Life. He also is president of the National Pro-Life Religious Council."

Msgr. Waldow told Catholic News Service that Bishop Zurek only suspended Father Pavone's ministry outside of the diocese because Father Pavone is needed for work in Amarillo.

How credible is that?

What work in Amarillo is more important than Father Pavone's pro-life work as head of Priests for Life?

Father Pavone initially responded in this statement:

"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. Despite that, because I am a priest of the diocese of Amarillo, I will be obedient and report there on the appointed date, putting the other commitments that are on my calendar on hold until I get more clarity as to what the bishop wants and for how long. Meanwhile, I continue to retain all my priestly faculties and continue to be a priest in 'good standing' in the Church. The bishop does not dispute this fact. Rather, he 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.

"Now, although Bishop Zurek is my Ordinary, he is not the bishop of Priests for Life. Each of our staff priests has his own Ordinary, and the organization has an entire Board of Bishops. We keep them all informed of our activities, and of our financial audits.

"I want to say very clearly that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it receives from dedicated pro-lifers, raised primarily through direct mail at the grassroots level. To this end, 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.

"I would like to note that, unlike other organizations, which have sometimes been critical of the Church hierarchy or other institutions within the Church, Priests for Life has always remained 100% supportive of the Bishops, never criticizing any Church official, and always acting as a megaphone for the Bishops' pro-life statements. Moreover, we serve dioceses and their priests and laity without asking for any speakers' fees, and distribute millions of pieces of pro-life literature to dioceses completely free of charge. We do not seek parish collections, and we work to reinforce in each diocese the local pastoral plan which the bishop wants to implement for pro-life activities.

"We are committed to going forward with that same spirit, regardless of the recent action taken by Bishop Zurek.

"In the interest of full transparency, I would like to make it known that I do not receive any salary or financial remuneration from either the Diocese of Amarillo or from Priests for Life. Priests for Life, as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful, does provide for my residence and the expenses associated with the ministry, but these expenses are very small. Though, as a diocesan priest, I have never taken a vow of poverty, I have basically chosen to live in that fashion in solidarity with the pre-born children we are trying to protect — who are the poorest of the poor.

"I want to be clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards the Bishop of Amarillo, nor do I foster suspicions about his motives. I am merely confused by his actions. It is impossible for me to believe that there is no place in the Church for priests to exercise full-time ministry in the service of the unborn. We do it for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. But where in the Church is the place where a priest can exercise the same kind of full-time ministry for the children in the womb? That is the question that is at the heart of my own calling.

"I am confident that we will be able to resolve this difficulty soon, without any harm to either my own reputation and without any slowdown of the valuable pro-life work we do at Priests for Life."

Tributes to Father Pavone's amazing ministry are legion.

Examples:

"In our present times there is an urgent need to promote a culture of life and also to undertake direct actions that help protect the life of the weakest, especially the unborn. For that reason the work done by 'Priests for Life' deserves the gratitude and support of the whole Church." — Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, President, Pontifical Council for the Laity, Vatican City State, June 7, 2011.

"Thank you for...the multiple and highly well-deserving initiatives of Priests for Life in the defense of human life and in the promotion of the pastoral work in this field so fundamental and crucial today....The collaboration of Priests for Life is always valuable and precious." — Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, President, Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican City, September 16, 2008.

"Priests for Life and its entire ministry is a blessing for the Church ... and you can count on my full support it." — Cardinal Christoph Sch÷nborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, December 2010

"I have known Fr. Pavone and have followed the work of Priests for Life for many years, and have witnessed the expansion of this ministry to its current international scope, as well as to its widespread engagement of the laity in service to the most vulnerable of God's children in the proclamation of the Gospel of Life." — Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino, President Emeritus, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City (2008).

"The pro-life work of Priests for Life, and Father Pavone in particular, has brought countless numbers of people to a deeper appreciation of the great gift of life. Priests for Life has been arguably one of the most important movements in the history of North American Church." — Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, Bishop of Birmingham

"I want you to know that in my opinion, nobody speaks more effectively and as passionately for the unborn as you do. We are very fortunate to have such a strong and committed pro-life voice as you. Please God, continue to give Fr. Frank Pavone the courage to lead us in this critical life issue. We will pray for you and support you in the years ahead." — Ray Flynn, Former Mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to The Holy See. (September 2011)

Is politics at play?

Perhaps this recent article by Father Pavone (www.priestsforlife.org/articles/3767-political-parties-and-skull-cracking) will help readers figure out whether politics has played a role in the attack on him and PFL:

"Political Parties and Skull Cracking

"by Fr. Frank Pavone

"Whether it's an election year or not, I see to it that Priests for Life echoes loud and clear the duty of citizens to inform themselves about where the candidates stand on the issues. This evaluation starts, of course, with where they stand on violence against human beings, because if public servants cannot tell the difference between serving the public and killing the public, they don't belong in public office.

"What if a candidate supported terrorism? Would citizens say, 'Well, I disagree with you on terrorism, but what's your health care plan? Maybe we can work together on some social programs. After all, terrorism isn't the only issue.'

"The parallel, of course, is abortion. 'Typically, the skull is brought out in fragments rather than as a unified piece' (Baby-killer Martin Haskell, in 1999 Court testimony in Wisconsin, regarding legal abortion). How can anyone make the case that this skull-cracking, which is still legal, is less violent than terrorism? How can anyone make the case that we can tolerate it while we work with the candidate on 'social' programs? The heart of what is 'social' is that it respects the other person — and that means not cracking their skull. We fight terrorism, and rightly so. But when we allow abortion at the same time, the evil we fight becomes merely a reflection of the evil we do.

"And it's not only the position of the candidates that matters. It's also the position of the political party to which the candidate belongs. Elections bring not only candidates, but parties into power. How can the position of those parties on key issues not matter as we evaluate whom we will support?

"Many will support a particular party because it's a family tradition (or a Church tradition?), or because they are in bed with leaders in that party who support their social programs in exchange for their silence on baby-killing. That's often the reason for the perplexing spinelessness often observed among Church leaders on the abortion issue.

"In an interview conducted by Gianni Cardinale and published in October of 2008, now Cardinal Raymond Burke observed, 'At this point, the Democratic Party risks transforming itself definitively into a "party of death" due to its choices on bioethical issues.'

"Not only is this an accurate observation, but it's perfectly legitimate to say, even in Church. I know, because Priests for Life passed IRS scrutiny on these points. After all, it is a spiritual work of mercy to 'instruct the ignorant.' That's why at Priests for Life we have information both about candidates and politiurekcal parties, and how to evaluate them. See www.priestsforlife.org/candidates.

"When I preach — and help other priests to preach — the clear message that candidates and parties must defend life, some — including clergy — complain to me that my message hurts their favorite candidate or party. My response? 'Go tell your favorite candidate or party to get the babies' blood off their hands and clean up their act regarding defending life. Then my words won't hurt them anymore.'"

AMEN!

The text of Father Pavone's latest email effort to minimize the damage created by Bishop Zurek and to promote PFL's vital work follows.

"I sent you this urgent email because I have some important issues that concern you, me, our work together at Priests for Life, and the entire pro-life movement here in the United States.

"In light of all that's happened in the past couple weeks — and again, I'll discuss this with you in just a moment — it is vital that you maintain your unconditional support for Priests for Life and the fight to end legalized abortion-on-demand in America.

"Right now that means doing whatever is necessary to click here and send Priests for Life the largest gift you can possibly make today.

"Not an hour from now. Not later this evening. Not tomorrow. But right now!

"Forgive me for being so blunt, but there's a reason for it.

"Due to all the many and various means of getting information today, I have no idea what you may or may not have heard or read about me and my bishop, the Most Reverend Patrick Zurek.

"In any case, over-zealous members of an abortion-friendly news media, as well as enemies directly involved with the abortion industry, have spent the past week or so spreading a lot of misinformation and totally false allegations against me and Priests for Life.

"I suspect they did so in the hope that you, as well as everyone else who makes our work possible, might pull back on your support ... or abandon us completely.

"In order to keep you from falling victim to their agenda, I decided the best course of action would be to go on the offensive and tell you everything that's happened over the past two weeks so that you will have no misgivings whatsoever in continuing to support Priests for Life as faithfully and as generously as you have in the past.

"You can also click here and watch a short YouTube message I recorded while here in Amarillo.

"In any case, here's the official position of the Amarillo diocese concerning me:

1. I am not suspended and I never was. You can call the Amarillo chancery if you feel like you need to. The number is 806–383 — 2243. You'll probably be connected to Deacon Floyd Ashley, the diocese's Executive Assistant. He will confirm what I just told you.

2. I have not lost any of my priestly faculties. Again, Deacon Ashley will confirm that.

3. And I know this will be of great interest to you, Monsignor Harold Waldow, the Vicar of Clergy for the Amarillo Diocese, has sent out a letter in which he states that I have not been 'charged with any malfeasance' nor even been 'accused of any wrong doing with the financial matters of Priests for Life.'

4. While Bishop Zurek wants to clear up any and all misunderstandings, he made it clear that he does not want the work of Priests for Life to be harmed.

5. For the time being, my ministry is restricted to the diocese of Amarillo and it will remain restricted until Bishop Zurek and I can sit down and reach a mutual understanding on my dual role as both a priest in his diocese and a priest dedicated to pro-life work on a full-time basis.

"There you have it. That's it. That's everything.

"So for now I am here in Amarillo anxiously awaiting Bishop Zurek's return from a trip he'd scheduled some time ago so we can have our meeting and I can get on with the work of leading the People of Life to victory over abortion.

"And in the end, that's all I'm concerned with.

"Because no matter what happens to me personally, the fight against abortion must continue without pause and without interruption.

"But that fight is in real jeopardy now because of a misunderstanding between my bishop and me that someone leaked out to a news media filled with individuals who would like nothing better than to fracture the pro-life movement and bring Priests for Life down.

"I'm writing to assure you that I am doing everything I can to keep that from happening.

"Still, I'm not so na´ve as to think that there won't be some fallout from this situation.

"In spite of the fact that I am a member in good standing on the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life; that 21 bishops and cardinals sit on the Priests for Life Episcopal Advisory Board; that dozens of outstanding and highly respected pro-life leaders endorse Priests for Life's ministry, the fact remains that there are a great many pro-life individuals who will read the headlines and think that I have been suspended or that Priests for Life has been dissolved.

"Again, neither situation is even remotely true.

"But in today's world, more often than not, perception is truth.

"And those heralds of the culture of death who seek to destroy Priests for Life and undermine the pro-life movement will use my current situation to mislead people into thinking that they are wasting their precious pro-life dollars by entrusting them to Priests for Life.

"I simply cannot afford for you to fall victim to their lies and campaign of misinformation. So even though I am deeply grateful for the outpouring of support that I continue to receive from people all across the country, and even from around the world ...

"... the only support I'm interested in securing right now is yours!

"That's because there are literally millions of men and women here in the United States who share our pro-life convictions to one degree or another.

"Regrettably, however, only a small percentage of them have the same commitment and dedication as you do. These are the people who will read the headlines and be fooled into thinking that they should hold off on giving any more financial support to Priests for Life until my situation is resolved.

"But that's precisely what the devil wants them to do.

"After years of extremely hard work and a lot of personal sacrifice on your part, we've got the abortion industry on the ropes! The polls show this. The efforts in states all across the country show this.

"Now is not the time to restrict our work. It's time to advance it! Full speed ahead!

"But we cannot possibly do that if you abandon Priests for Life in this its hour of greatest need.

"So please click here right now and make as large a contribution to Priests for Life as you possibly can.

"Please do this before you delete my email and go on to your next one.

"In asking you to trust me in this way, I want to make it very clear to you that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it has received from you and other dedicated pro-lifers.

"And as relieved as I am to learn of Monsignor Waldow's letter confirming that, I must tell you that I'm not in the least surprised.

"That's because I am painfully aware of the many sacrifices which you and other supporters make to send Priests for Life the contributions that enable us to fulfill our pro-life mission. I would never betray the trust you have put in me.

"You have my word on that.

"And if you have any concerns about how your dollars are spent, call us up and ask. Come and visit our offices. Priests for Life is an open book and has absolutely nothing to hide.

"Now let me address another important matter.

"Due to the serious ramifications of how some in the news media, as well as those working to advance the abortion agenda, have used Bishop Zurek's letter to attack me and Priests for Life, I felt it necessary to begin 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.

"I am extremely confident that the Vatican will resolve this matter in a just and equitable fashion. And you will be pleased to know that, based on that confidence ...

"... we are not currently making any changes in any positions at Priests for Life, or in any of our projects and plans.

"In closing, let me assure you that Priests for Life will continue to be out front leading the fight against abortion.

"I refuse to allow this current incident to deter me from giving everything I have to the cause of life.

"Our bishops correctly teach that the right to life is the fundamental right upon which all human rights are based. Our nation's founding documents insist that the first of man's inalienable rights, those that come to us from God alone, is his RIGHT TO LIFE!!!

"Knowing this, Priests for Life will continue to support our bishops here in the U.S. and act as a megaphone to help spread their pro-life statements far and wide.

"What's more, Priests for Life will continue to serve dioceses — both clergy and laity — without asking for so much as a penny in compensation ... no speakers fees, no reimbursements to cover travel expenses when we preach at parishes, no printing costs to help pay for the millions of pieces of pro-life literature we provide for dioceses at no charge, nothing.

"Our commitment to winning the fight against abortion remains firm and complete.

"And we will not be deterred in the work God has called us to fulfill.

"Again, though, in order to make good on that commitment, Priests for Life must have your financial help ... especially now when so many false stories and news reports are out there damaging our reputation and our good name.

"So if you haven't already done so, please click here and make as large a contribution to Priests for Life as you possibly can.

"I cannot write to every American and tell them the truth.

"But I can write to you. And that's what I've done today.

"Like I said, as grateful as I am for all the support and encouragement I've received over the past several days, the only person I'm interested in hearing from right now is you!

"By making a contribution to Priests for Life today, you'll be telling me that you're still with us.

"And if ever I needed to hear that from you, now is the time.

"Finally, know that in anticipation of your receiving your reply to this email, I am praying for you; especially at each Mass that I offer.

Thank you again for your constancy and your commitment. May God bless you.

"Sincerely,

"Fr. Frank Pavone

"PS There is one more thing I need you to do: PRAY! Pray for Bishop Zurek. Pray for me. Pray for all those who may be harmed as a result of this minor misunderstanding ... in particular, our unborn brothers and sisters. Thank you again for your friendship and trust. I do not know how I would ever survive trials such as these without you and dear friends like you. God bless.

"NOTE: If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to Priests for Life and send it to us at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314. If you have any questions, call us toll-free at 888-735-3448 x232."

© Michael Gaynor

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)

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