A follow-up on Father Pavone

In September 2011, some 52 months ago, Bishop Patrick Zurek suspended Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests For Life, proffering several inflammatory accusations. Father Pavone chose to comply with the process.

At the time, I made two observations. Father Pavone was doing the right thing, I said, by complying—a “meek obedience to his legitimate ecclesiastical superior” that contrasted with the (understandable) exasperation that prompted Fr. John Corapi to bail out. But it was important that the case be kept on the front burner, I said:

[P]ublic attention is warranted to keep this on the front burner. PFL does important work, and Bp. Zuzek has acted to effectively suspend their income. The longer this drags out, the greater a threat to PFL’s survival it is: A man can tolerate suspension without pay for a week, but make it a year and it becomes an existential threat; make it indefinite and it becomes torture. Thus it is very much in the interest of those who are concerned with the objects of PFL—which one hopes comprises all faithful Catholics—to keep this issue on the front burner, to keep it under close scrutiny in search of a speedy resolution, instead of allowing it to disappear into a bureaucratic dungeon to rot under indeterminate sentence.

I was also concerned that even if Pavone was vindicated, there was a risk that the allegations by themselves would “tarnish PFL’s reputation for a long time to come” because

[t]he guilty are often publicly exposed, but the innocent rarely enjoy complete and public vindication. The allegation runs on page one, the correction runs a month later in small print on page twenty; people mutter “no smoke without fire”; the bishop sends a very public letter asking his brothers to instruct their flocks to stop giving to PFL, but is likely to be less diligent in asking them to sound the all clear.

At long last, Pavone has been vindicated, and the matter is in the past. It remains to be seen whether the all clear will be sounded with the vigor with which the story was trumpeted, but in one sense,I feel vindicated already: That this process dragged on for over two years , leaving PFL in limbo and Pavone in a cell “rot[ting] under indeterminate sentence,” is intolerable. When we talk about the need for reform of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, it is this kind of procedural inefficiency that we must have in mind, not grand plans for ecclesiastical reform.