Two comments on Bp. Zurek, Fr. Pavone, and PFL

Fr. Frank Pavone, the public face of Priests for Life, has had his ministry put on ice, ordered back to the Diocese of Amarillo where he’s incardinated due to concerns of his excellency Bishop Patrick Zurek over PFL’s finances. Elizabeth Scalia has a link-rich summary of the story here, Prof. Ed Peters looks at its canonical aspects here, and Max Lindemann has some useful thoughts here , so I won’t spend too much time reciting the facts. I want to add two comments.

The first is how lamentable the situation is and concomitantly how important it is to keep it on a front burder. Bp. Zurek has made some quite serious allegations—and taken a quite serious practical move against—a well-known priest and the highly visible public ministry with which he is associated. The situation is especially wretched because there would seem to be only three plausible outcomes: Either the charges are true, in which case a very public ministry doing important work has been corrupted, and we are now watching the first act in a horrendous public fallout; or the charges are false, in which case Zurek has either acted rapaciously and jealously if he knew it, or, if he did not, in good faith but precipitously and in a manner that will tarnish PFL’s reputation for a long time to come. The latter requires more explanation: The 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.

None of the likely outcomes of this business, then, are boons for the Church. No matter what happens, no matter who is declared the ultimate “winner,” the losers are quite clear: Those whom PFL hoped to help and the morale of scandal-weary Catholics vis-à-vis our clergy.

One more point on this: While I realize that available facts are sketchy at this point, public 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.

The second is how much I appreciate Pavone’s response. To my mind, the decision seems sketchy and motivated by particularly amorphous concerns—and that’s taking Jurek’s stated reasons at face value despite a few reasons we have to look deeper. (Among other things, Pavone’s canonist claims that Zurek “has threatened in writing to withdraw Father Pavone permanently from pro-life ministry if he were to exercise his canonical rights to hierarchical recourse”; if that is true, it looks very bad for his excellency.) That’s just my gut response. And Pavone’s reply letter seems a touch hot under the roman collar too, as Peters notes. Nevertheless, the sum and substance of Pavone’s reply is exactly what it should be, and, mutatis mutandis, is what Fr. John Corapi should have done (even if one believes, as I do, that Corapi was done an injustice): He shows meek obedience to his legitimate ecclesiastical superior. We are called to bear wrongs patiently and to respect the hierarchy that is charged with our care. Pavone appears to be doing so, and I hope that that continues.

Comment (1)