Father Frank Pavone suspended from Priests for Life by his bishop

Last year, I wrote something of a profile of Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life and one of the main anti-abortion leaders in the country.

He grew up in Port Chester, so I had long wanted to write something about his upbringing and how he became the Culture Warrior that he is today. The only place I can find the story right now is the Priests for Life website.

I interviewed Pavone at his parents’ home, across the street from Port Chester H.S. We talked for a long time about all sorts of things, including the perception that he put his Priests for Life ministry ahead of his obedience to his bishop.

You might remember that Pavone was a New York priest who left the archdiocese in 1994 2001 after Cardinal Egan asked him to serve a parish. Pavone affiliated with the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where the bishop supposedly gave him freedom to continue on the road doing Priests for Life work.

Pavone told me that he knew he was sometimes seen as “independent operative, a loose cannon.”

I bring this up because of a bizarre, even stunning conflict that has arisen between Pavone and Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek.

Zurek has apparently called Pavone to Texas and suspended him from any ministry outside the diocese. According to a letter to his brother bishops, Zurek is concerned about the finances of Priests for Life.

He writes: “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight. There have been persistent question and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently.”

Serious stuff.

Zurek also questions Pavone’s obedience: “I would venture to say that the supreme importance that he has attributed to his PFL ministry and the reductionist attitude toward the diocesan priesthood has inflated his ego with a sense of self-importance and self-determination. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has give me the impression that I cannot invoke obedience with him because he is famous. It is my desire to help him readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal in order to recapture that essential priestly hallmark of respect and obedience.”

Pavone has this afternoon released a statement. Pavone writes that he plans to visit Texas, but is appealing Zurek’s actions to the Vatican.

Pavone insists that Priests for Life’s finances are on the level and that he chooses to live a life of poverty (which, as a diocesan priest, he does not have to).

Pavone writes: ““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.”

Wow. How will this play out?

When I spoke with Pavone, I asked him about his relationship with the bishops. He said: “Many bishops are risk-adverse. We can take on projects they might see as too political. They can say ‘amen’ to us, but not have to answer for what we do.”

Zurek, apparently, is not risk adverse.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.