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Father Pavone's Bishop Responds to Firestorm Over Priests for Life Leader's Recall

Amarillo Bishop Zurek seeks ‘fruitful dialogue,’ confirms Father Pavone has no faculties outside his diocese. The two will meet Oct. 13.


| Posted 10/6/11 at 10:02 PM


AMARILLO, Texas — Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo issued a statement yesterday that clarified his reasons for recalling Father Frank Pavone, the director of Priest for Life, to his home diocese.

“It is my desire to have a fruitful dialogue with Father Pavone,” Bishop Zurek wrote in the statement posted on the Diocese of Amarillo’s website that confirmed the two would meet on Oct. 13 to address both pastoral and administrative issues.

In his statement, Bishop Zurek said he had called Father Pavone back to the diocese to encourage a period of prayer and reflection on the “sacramental ministerial priesthood that we both share.”

The bishop said he sought “clarification and answers to concerns about the administration of the PFL organization and other related entities of which Father Pavone has a leadership role.”

The bishop stressed these dual concerns, while making a “distinction between my relationship with Father Pavone as a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, of which I am the bishop, and my relationship with Father Pavone as a director of the PFL organization and other related organizations.”

Bishop Zurek reaffirmed his own commitment to the “proclamation of the Gospel of Life. ... I only want what is best for all organizations that support and promote those teachings that come from the heart of the Catholic Church on the dignity and gift of human life.”

But as a diocesan bishop, he was also “obligated to show concern for the well being and ministry of all our priests. I support with no exception the various ministries that the priests of our diocese carry out for the common good of the Church.”

Bishop Zurek was out of the country for the first two weeks following Father Pavone’s recall to Amarillo. Earlier this week, the diocesan website posted a letter from Bishop Zurek, who confirmed that Father Pavone did not have “my permission for ministry outside of the diocese.” Dated Sept. 30, the letter stated that the priest would “remain in the diocese for an indefinite period of time.”

While the brief Sept. 30 letter stoked additional speculation and worries about the leadership and finances of Priests for Life, an international pro-life apostolate led by Father Pavone, the most recent statement seemed designed to tamp down the controversy.

‘Limited Ministry’ in the Diocese

There has been an ongoing exchange between the Father Pavone and his diocese regarding his priestly status and his financial oversight of Priests for Life and its affiliates. And earlier this week, Father Pavone issued a statement expressing confusion about conflicting signals from the diocese.

However, Priests for Life has declined to issue any further comment until Father Pavone meets with Bishop Zurek. Father Pavone is appealing his case to the Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican and has expressed his desire to focus primarily on his pro-life apostolate.

Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Amarillo, confirmed in an interview yesterday that for now Father Pavone “is suspended. He has some limited ministry in the diocese.”

Last month, Bishop Zurek’s decision to both recall Father Pavone to his home diocese and publicly criticize his actions sparked controversy and confusion within the pro-life movement.

In a letter circulated to U.S. cardinals and bishops and released Sept. 13, Bishop Zurek criticized the priest for failing both to provide full disclosure of his organization’s financial status and to “show appropriate obedience to his bishop.”

Father Pavone issued an immediate response to Bishop Zurek’s critique. He expressed his commitment to “full compliance with my bishop’s requests and directives and have already indicated the same to him — prior to his sending his letter to all the bishops of the U.S.”

The Diocese of Amarillo then released a clarification. On Sept. 15, Msgr. Waldow described Father Pavone as a “priest in good standing with the Roman Catholic Church. He has all the faculties for ministry that every priest of our diocese has in and for the Diocese of Amarillo.

“I would also like to clarify a point that because there is a dispute about the auditing process and the complete audit for all the entities of Priests for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard and the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life does not mean that Father Pavone is being charged with any malfeasance or being accused of any wrongdoing with the financial matters of Priests for Life,” Msgr. Waldow in the clarification.

Over the ensuing weeks, fresh stories posted on Internet news sites and blogs have fed the debate over the validity of Bishop Zurek’s original charges.

Reassuring Donors

Meanwhile, Priests for Life has sought to reassure its donors with updated documentation of its financial status, while also issuing urgent appeals for funds.

Priests for Life posted a letter on its website, summarizing the results of a 2010 audit. The letter confirms that the organization confronted a $1.4 million budget deficit and had loaned $879,000 to Gospel of Life Ministries — a struggling affiliate that could experience difficulty repaying that sum.

Gospel of Life Ministries is described on its website as “an interdenominational effort to end abortion. It encompasses outreach to clergy, laity, government officials, those hurting from abortion and all people of good will.”

In this developing story, a Sept. 24 article the Amarillo Globe-News, a local daily newspaper, reported that Gospel of Life Ministries, a “nonprofit led by embattled Roman Catholic priest the Rev. Frank Pavone, solicits tax-deductible contributions but hasn’t had authority from the IRS to do so for 16 months.”

The website for Gospel of Life Ministries now displays an explanatory statement from Father Pavone, identified as the national director of Gospel of Life Ministries.

“Gospel of Life Ministries received its tax exemption from the IRS in November 2007. Gospel of Life Ministries had waited until the application was approved before soliciting contributions or starting any operations. The IRS has a minimum income threshold for filing and for several years GOLM did not meet this minimum income requirement and thus did not file with the IRS,” the statement reads.

“The IRS recently instituted a computerized process to automatically revoke the non-profit status of organizations that did not meet certain filing requirements. In June 2010, more than 300,000 non-profit organizations ‘lost’ their non-profit status. In order to reinstate the exempt status, an organization is required to submit a re-reinstatement request and any outstanding information returns.

“GOL is in the process of completing its 2010 audit and will file the reinstatement request, together with the required filings as soon as the audit is complete. Gospel of Life Ministries is confident that its non-profit status will be restored retroactively once the administrative process is completed,” reads the statement signed by Father Pavone.

Loyal Following

A spokesman for Priests for Life acknowledged that fundraising had been hit by the controversy, but said no further statement would be forthcoming for now.

Msgr. Waldow said in an interview yesterday that Bishop Zurek “has responded to Priests for Life on the financial issues.”

However, while Father Pavone’s financial supervision of Priests for Life has drawn intense scrutiny, he also retains a loyal following within the pro-life community.

The California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform and Operation Rescue have deployed protesters to Amarillo to raise awareness about the negative implications of Father Pavone’s uncertain status. The protesters are using a variety of platforms — from hand-held signs to aerial banners — near public and church property in the Diocese of Amarillo.

“The basic message is that we are urging people to contact Bishop Zurek and encourage him to let Father Frank continue his work for Priests for Life,” said Don Cooper, the operations manager of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

“Our signs have pre-natal and abortion imagery during the first trimester to remind people about what is at stake. Father Pavone’s work is ministering to these babies and they have been forgotten in all of this,” Cooper added.

Father Pavone is a board member of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, but Cooper said the organization decided to picket on its own. Father Pavone has distanced himself from the actions of the protestors.

Since his arrival in Amarillo last month, Father Pavone has expressed his desire to relocate to another diocese where he will be permitted more freedom to pursue his ministry.

Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.