Priests for Life’s Father Pavone looking for new church home

There’s been tremendous interest this week in the fate of Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

As I wrote a few days ago, the bishop of Amarillo, Texas, has called Pavone away from PFL — questioning both the organization’s finances and Pavone’s obedience.

Today, PFL released a letter from the vicar of clergy in Amarillo stating that Pavone is a priest in good standing and has not been accused of malfeasance or wrong doing.

It sure seems that the toothpaste is out of the tube on this one. Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, in a letter to his fellow bishops across the country, wrote of Pavone that he needed “to safeguard his priestly ministry, to which I am obligated as his father, and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work.”

Apparently, at a press conference yesterday in Amarillo, Pavone said he is likely to leave the diocese and seek incardination elsewhere. Pavone already left the Archdiocese of New York after Cardinal Egan sought to have him serve in a parish.

What bishop will want to take Pavone now? We’ll see.

Not surprisingly, people have very strong opinions about Pavone. Some feel that his anti-abortion work is above reproach and that it is a crime to divorce Pavone from his ministry. Others feel that he is a priest adrift, removed from his vow of obedience, and needs to be reigned in.

In my previous post, by the way, I included Pavone’s own statement to me that some see him as a “loose cannon.” Except I banged it out as “loose canon,” which a reader described as “too cute.”It was unintentional, I assure you. But “loose canon” really is kind of cute.

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.

Religious reactions to health-care vote coming forth

Health care reform is on its way and religious voices are issuing praise and condemnation.

c_ml_photoAn email blast from Rabbi Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives is barely satisfied with a “partial victory” — they preferred “medicare-for-all” or a single-payer government-run system.

“The greatest critique we have of how the Democrats achieved this victory was that they failed to articulate that principle of caring as the center of their legislative campaign, and hence failed to win over the majority to support the reform, a failure that may yet lead to significant losses at the polls in November,” Lerner writes.

Morna Murray, President of the liberal Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says “There is nothing more fundamental to our core Catholic principles than caring for the sick and most vulnerable. These votes today reflect that principle in action.”

On the other side, groups that believe that the reform bill will lead to the public funding of abortions were predictably dismayed.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is already working on how to counter the legislation:


Yesterday I was privileged to deliver a homily at a prayer service held in the Capitol for members of Congress. I spoke about the fact that authority and power mean service, and that the people whom the legislators serve are not their people, but God’s people. We govern ourselves; our voices matter. Thank God that when legislators take public policy the wrong way, there are ways to remedy that. Let’s get started.


day-gardner-color-scan-4-07.thumbnailDay Gardner, President of the National Black Pro-Life Union, writes: “Polls have consistently shown that America does not want this Healthcare monster for many reasons, yet, it is being shoved down our throats anyway…It’s obvious that Democrats don’t care what MOST of America wants.”

And on and on we go.

And as the health care debate moves into its next phase, the coming immigration reform debate moves closer to center stage.

Tens of thousands marched in D.C. yesterday to call for immigration reform — including some sort of amnesty for immigrants already here illegally. Religious groups were among the key organizers.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, probably spoke for many when he said: “As we gather on this beautiful and monumental expanse we are grateful that we reflect the very fabric of our nation. At this moment in history, as we look out upon our immigrant brothers and sisters, we are thankful that our nation’s call to be a beacon of hope comes with the continued call to justice and compassion.”

Those who are opposed to amnesty and in favor of tougher border security will soon have their say, you have to think.

ADD: The strongest language I’ve seen on the health care vote comes from Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who calls this day “tragic.”

“This healthcare legislation will lead to the overwhelming majority of Americans living shorter lives, and experiencing more pain and suffering before they die,” Land writes.

Yowza. Shorter Lives for most. More pain. More suffering.

Land doesn’t stop there, comparing the effect of last night’s vote to that of…Pearl Harbor:


“Liberals across America are rejoicing today over their ‘historic’ victory. My message to them is, ‘Enjoy it while you can.’ This was a Pyrrhic victory of epic proportions. The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor won a ‘historic’ victory as well. Their celebrations were cut short six months later when most of them were killed at the Battle of Midway. As Admiral Yamamoto said at the time ‘I am fearful . . . that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.’

At the Pavone house

Back when I was covering religion full-time, I had a list of stories I hoped to do when I could get to them.

One of them had to do with Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, one of the country’s most influential anti-abortion groups. It came to my attention a few years ago that Pavone is from Port Chester, that he has family there and that he returns fairly often.

I thought it could make a good story if I was to write about Pavone’s Port Chester roots — sort of how he became the man, priest and activist he is today.

tjndc5-5t3jjlspyfp1fofpw22b_layoutI actually contacted Priests for Life several times over the years. They agreed that it was a good idea, but the scheduling never came together.

But then it did. A couple of months ago, someone I know was able to set things up. So I visited Pavone at his parents’ home in Port Chester not long ago.

It was his home from the age of 4 until he went to college. He does return often and usually preaches on Christmas and Easter at Corpus Christi Church, a Salesian parish in Port Chester where Pavone’s parents are still parishioners.

I talked to Pavone at length in his parents’ living room, where he would do his studies on the floor during his years as a very successful Port Chester pupil. He graduated from Port Chester High School, across the street from the family home, a year earlier than his class (’76 instead of ’77) and was the valedictorian.

My article is up today.

I know from experience that writing about abortion — any issue, any development, any person involved — will provoke passionate responses. People on one side of the debate or the other will inevitably not like what I write.

I have’t read the comments on yet, but I have received a bunch of emails. In general, people who support abortion rights would have preferred that I not write about Frank Pavone. Several have written that they intensely dislike his views and methods of activism and that I should not have presented him as a mainstream, or even a rational, figure.

That’s okay. I did not write the article to “support” Pavone’s views or work, but to flesh out the local roots of an important and interesting figure who is a major player in the nation’s culture wars.

I’ve written in the same way about activists who support abortion rights.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Pavone’s parents, Marion and Joseph, were as tickled by their son’s success as any parents are when their kids “make it” in their chosen field. As you might expect, they see him as a hero and don’t understand why others might oppose their son and not wish him well.

Marion Pavone told me that she reads the comments — good and bad — that people write on Pavone’s blog.

“You tend to ignore the negative,” she said. “But on his blog, you see the threats, people wishing him dead.”

Father Frank, meanwhile, not only shrugs off any criticism, but kind of relishes it. He is a true “culture warrior” who enjoys mixing it up with the other side.

Because he is certain he is right.

I prodded Pavone to talk about people who support abortion rights. Who are they? Why do they believe what they do? Do you think they are crazy? What gives?

He told me: “Even those who call themselves pro-choice are more pro-life than they realize. They are usually not aware that the policy in this country is that abortion is available for all nine months of pregnancy. They’re often in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest, not as birth control.”

But, I said, a lot of really smart people know plenty about abortion law and policy and still support abortion rights. What about them?

He said: “It comes down to a world view. Some have come up with reasoning that says you have to permit this. But if, in fact, you believe that circumstances take precedence over innocent human life, you have over-thought it. Certain people, no matter the arguments or evidence, will remain in that camp. But similar reasoning can be applied to you or someone else when you don’t want it to.”

Reactions keep coming on shooting of abortion doctor

I came in this morning to find my in-box filled with statements condeming the murder of “abortion doc” George Tiller (that’s him in 1994).

The Wichita Eagle has comprehensive coverage of the shooting.

First, from the anti-abortion side…

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life says this:


I am saddened to hear of the killing of George Tiller this morning. At this point, we do not know the motives of this act, or who is behind it, whether an angry post-abortive man or woman, or a misguided activist, or an enemy within the abortion industry, or a political enemy frustrated with the way Tiller has escaped prosecution. We should not jump to conclusions or rush to judgment.

But whatever the motives, we at Priests for Life continue to insist on a culture in which violence is never seen as the solution to any problem. Every life has to be protected, without regard to their age or views or actions.


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just released this:


Our bishops’ conference and all its members have repeatedly and publicly denounced all forms of violence in our society, including abortion as well as the misguided resort to violence by anyone opposed to abortion,” Cardinal Rigali said. “Such killing is the opposite of everything we stand for, and everything we want our culture to stand for: respect for the life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end. We pray for Dr. Tiller and his family.


Operation Resue’s Randall Terry, who led protests against Tiller, says:


George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.


Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says:


If the perpetrator of this violence proves to be someone who was acting in the name of the pro-life movement, everyone in the pro-life community must swiftly and soundly repudiate him and his actions.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller is a human tragedy. Murdering someone is a grotesque and bizarre way to emphasize one’s commitment to the sanctity of human life. People who truly believe in the sanctity of human life believe in the sanctity of the lives of abortion providers as well as the unborn babies who are aborted.


The Traditional Values Coalition, says, in part:


The Traditional Values Coalition condemns the murder of late-term abortionist George Tiller during a church service on Sunday.

The pro-life movement is non-violent and does not encourage vigilante justice against abortionists. We seek to bring about an end to abortion through peaceful and legal means.


And now, from other positions, come these voices…

Interfaith Alliance Board Chair the Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich says:


Today’s despicable shooting at a Kansas church is profoundly disturbing. The abortion issue evokes deep passion from people on all sides, but resorting to murder should never be an option. The fact that it happened at a church is all the more distressing. Our houses of worship should be places where people find comfort and solace, not where they fear for their lives.

The solution to reducing the number of abortions in this country is not murder; it is for all sides to work together towards a common ground.


Catholics United says, in part:


In the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death, we call on all sides of the abortion debate to commit to charitable dialogue and pursuit of common ground solutions. It is only through this sort of respectful communication that we can find real solutions to abortion and avert tragedies like the one that occurred in Kansas today.


A group of religious leaders, including people on both sides of the abortion debate, issued this statement:


We were shocked and saddened to hear that Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his church yesterday morning. Such violence is an affront to the teachings of all faith traditions and an attack on civil society. Houses of worship have served as sanctuaries providing a safe harbor even in times of widespread violence for millennia — that this act took place in Dr. Tiller’s church where he was serving as an usher on Sunday morning only underscores its abhorrence. We condemn it, and we pray for Dr. Tiller’s family, church and community.

As people of faith working to create civility and common ground on abortion, this reprehensible attack reminds us of our moral obligation to respect the humanity of those on both sides of this issue. Wherever we stand, this act offends us all.


AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Dave Williams

Priests for Life’s Frank Pavone won’t set up abortion-fighting community

An interesting note: Port Chester native the Rev. Frank Pavone, a leading figure in the culture wars as head of Priests for Life, has abandoned plans to form a religious community of priests focused on fighting abortion.

father-frank_shadow.jpgPavone founded the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life only two years ago. The fledgling community, based in Amarillo, Texas, has nine seminarians.

But Religious News Service reports that Pavone decided to end the experiment because it was getting in the way of his primary goal, which is of course fighting abortion.

Pavone founded Priests for Life in 1991 as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, with the blessing of Cardinal O’Connor. But after Cardinal Egan asked him to take a parish position, Pavone found his way to Texas, where he continues to work as one of the most high-profile Catholic voices on the religious right.