Saturday, September 17, 2011

Disappointment with Fr. Pavone

One of  my greatest disappointments in the dispute between Fr. Frank Pavone and Bishop Zurek is that the matter is being fought in the court of public opinion.  That works for issues like abortion, but it is not how we resolve such disputes in the Roman Catholic Church. 

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This may come as news to some Catholics, and is probably difficult to comprehend for the many fine non-Catholics who appreciate all of the good Fr. Pavone has done.  Just to be clear, Fr. Pavone remains a priest in good standing and the diocese clarified that there are no charges of malfeasance or of financial wrongdoing.  The bishop has restricted his priestly work to the Diocese of Amarillo indefinitely and has directed him into a period of "prayer and reflection".  From all that I've read, it seems more like there is a mixture of pastoral concerns and a desire to understand certain financial aspects perhaps not available in the audits provided by PFL.  Things were not helped in the way that Bishop Zurek communicated the matter to his brother bishops in the leaked letter, but it does not negate the possibility of legitimate concerns.   Likewise, Fr. Pavone has not helped matters with the ongoing publicity campaign which he has fed, and continues to feed, well.

Fr. Pavone at Assumption Grotto

Over the years, I've been a huge supporter of Fr. Frank.  I've passed along links found at his website, I photographed him when he came to my parish to participate in the burial in our cemetery, of aborted babies found in dumpsters.  I've listened to him weekly on Teresa Tomeo's, Catholic Connection on Ave Maria Radio, and I have enjoyed the homilies I was able to hear when he was on EWTN.

As I said the other day, good priests and good bishops can end up in misunderstandings; good priests and good bishops can be imprudent at times; and, they can both make mistakes and poor judgments. These come with fallen human nature.  Whenever a dispute arises between a high-profile priest who is doing good work and his bishop, it does not mean that one side is in kahoots with the Evil One.  Sadly, many will thrust themselves into rash judgment about one party or the other.

There are noteworthy problems in Bishop Zurek's letter as blogging canonist, Ed Peters, pointed out in a post with his initial thoughts.  However, even if Bishop Zurek handled his concerns imprudently, or made mistakes in language used, Fr. Pavone can go after any such injustice canonically, and he should.  He has a  duty to truth.  The Church offers us ways to deal with these things.  They don't get resolved expeditiously, but we ought to keep in mind, that not even a hair can fall from Fr. Pavone's head without God permitting it to happen.  More importantly, God loves the unborn more than all of us put together could.  I found the commentary by Dr. Jeff Mirus yesterday, entitled, L'Affaire Pavone, very worthy read, and capturing some of my own thoughts.   Here is just a sample*:

3.Personal Apostolic Commitments Don’t Trump a Vocation: This is an area in which I fault Fr. Pavone’s public statements regardless of the nature of his bishop’s concerns. Let me take a layman’s case as an example. I may vow in the presence of God and the Holy Angels that I am going to dedicate myself to disseminating the Catholic Faith. I may visit the Pope at the Vatican and tell him of my sturdy resolve. But if my wife tells me I’m neglecting my children, I had better adjust my priorities in a hurry. My personal and private priorities and commitments pale into insignificance.

You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t quit your day job.” A vocation trumps particular apostolic interests. In exactly the same way, Fr. Pavone’s insistence that he vowed in the presence of a cardinal to do pro-life work for the rest of this life ought to matter not a whit to anybody, including himself, unless he has the necessary Vatican approval and dispensation from his ordinary role in the Church—not when it comes to his vocational response to the legitimate authority of his bishop

Cyber Lynching and Picketing Parishes?

I've been pondering: What if the public had not seen Bishop Zurek's letter?  There would have been no press releases or conferences by either side, no public outcry, and no petition webpages to "free Fr. Frank".  There would no rash judgments, detractions, or calumnies against either men on the web as people surmise their way into their chosen conspiracy theories in the absence of much information.  Just spend some time perusing the comments in the combox of the National Catholic Register column where among some good points, are statements like this: "The Smoke of Satan is alive and well in the Church and is seeking the removal of all orthodox priests."

Let's be clear that any untruths or injustices in Bishop Zurek's letter would have been contained within the circle of brother bishops - some of whom, canonists among them,  might have offered fraternal correction.   If the letter had never been leaked, people would not be playing God by reading the heart and motives of Bishop Zurek, regardless of how imperfectly he communicated his concerns.  There would not be fodder for disunity in the Church prompting people to pick the side of a celebrity priest or a bishop, when they should be choosing no side at all. There would be no threats by a misguided group of supporters to picket nearly 50 parishes in the Amarillo diocese, with large graphic images of aborted babies until .... wait for it....Fr. Frank is liberated from his "ecclesiastical 'house arrest'".   I'm sure the small children seeing these displays before their parents can shield them will really help them sleep well for weeks to come. 

One of the most bizarre reactions by supporters is that massive picket being organized.  The press release was fisked by Dr. Peters in a new post yesterday: CBR's plans to aggravate Fr. Pavone's problems.  It is being organized by a pro-life group - Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.  There are at least two quotes from Fr. Pavone on that website in which he claims to sit on the board of directors.  Whether this is outdated information which needs to be cleaned up, or current, I don't know, but this is a conflict in itself.   

Before I read his post, I had the same mental image that Peters paints with regards to families trying to go to Mass.

About the only doff of the cap to sanity I see in CBR’s announcement is its plan to post “parental warning signs…as a courtesy near targeted churches, to caution parents of small children that they may wish to attend Mass elsewhere.”

Riiiiiight, like parents are supposed to arrive at church on Sunday morning with a carload of kids and, rather than see them horrified by pictures of dead babies, pile everybody back in the car and drive to the next parish (what time is Mass there, dear?), arrive and, Great Scot!, there's a CBR picket here too!, oh for crying out loud!, where’s the next parish, honey? etc., etc. Meanwhile, just what are parents of students at Holy Cross Academy supposed to do? Drop their kids off at the next school?

Folks, this is plain nuttiness.*

I have defended, I don’t know how many times, the canonical right of Catholics to express their opinions on matters affecting the good of the Church (c. 212 § 3), and I will continue to defend the lawful exercise of that right. But what CBR has in mind is, I think, a caricature of the prudent and informed communication of views—even conflicting views—within the Church. It is, I suggest, not an exercise of the rights recognized by Canon 212, but an abuse of those rights. And, speaking of canons, any Catholics thinking about showing up for a CBR picket of an Amarillo parish or school, should read Canon 1373 as well as Canon 212.

I do encourage you to follow up and read those canons to which he links.  Read them carefully, and slowly. While the faithful have a right, and sometimes a duty, to bring concerns to the attention of the Church, those canons point out the manner in which they should be carried out.   On second thought, I'm going to quote canon 1373 directly because I feel like it:

Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Of course, there is no animosity or hatred being stirred against the Church or the Bishop Zurek in this case, who, even if he has communicated things imperfectly, and if he has committed an injustice to Fr. Frank in his letter to brother bishops, is still acting lawfully to restrict his ministry to Amarillo - right?  We don't have to like the decision, but condemning Bishop Zurek, inferring he is involved with the "smoke of Satan",  and publicly inciting hatred and animosity - well - these things are a secular response, but not the Catholic one.

Dr. Peters, also had this to say, once again,  mirroring my own thought. 
Finally, I can only imagine that CBR’s plans in behalf of Fr. Pavone make him cringe at the prospect of being associated in the public’s mind with it. If, by chance, he has any sway with them**, now would be a good time to use it.

After learning that Fr. Pavone has some current or past connection with CBR, Ed writes:

It is now incumbent on Pavone (or better, his counsel) to separate himself from CBR's plans

If he doesn't distance himself from, and publicly discourage these kinds of misguided tactics to resolve the dispute between him and his bishop, it will disappoint me even more.   Even Judie Brown of the American Life League had some cogent advice to pro-lifers:

I ask that all pro-lifers show the respect that the office of the bishop deserves and refrain from creating a public spectacle filled with demands, letters of condemnation, demonstrations, or other efforts to create public pressure for a secular solution to what, in the end, is a Church matter.

This is a time for prayer: prayer for the bishop, prayer for the priest, and prayer for the babies. I ask the entire pro-life community to put aside secular action and join me in praying for a speedy and just resolution.

A rush to judgment can run in both directions. 

Indeed.  What we have available to us in the public sphere in any dispute between a priest and a bishop is just the tip of the information iceberg.  That is why it ought not be playing out in the court of public opinion and I hope that Fr. Pavone will take the high road and take some time off, get out of the spotlight for a while and let the canon lawyers do their work. 

A Project is not the Priesthood

While Fr. Frank Pavone is truly a gifted pro-life advocate, he is first, and foremost, a Roman Catholic priest.  His hands are sacred and of the most important things he does is to turn ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  His hand is also raised to give absolution not just to a woman who confesses abortion, but to the many other ordinary people who are no longer in the state of grace and equally capable of finding themselves in hell with other sins not absolved.  And, it is by his sacred hands that the sick and dying are annointed.  Anything else that he does in life, is secondary to those things, which no lay person may do.

This whole, sad episode has exposed a chink in the armor of Priests for Life:  If it cannot function for a few months without Fr. Pavone, then steps need to be taken to make it so.  None of us knows the day or the hour we will leave this life.  An entire airplane full  of young, Russian hockey players can attest to that.   And, speaking of hockey, there is one more thing to learn from this sad affair: The greatest hockey teams are those who can win even when their star player ends up on the bench with an injury.  Can Priests for Life function without Father Pavone for a few months while he does what his bishop asked?  He has a duty to ensure that the work of Priests for Life can carry on without him for any length of time, because he will not be here forever.  Likewise, he needs to make sure that he is not the only face at Priests for Life that can draw people to an event and inspire a crowd to work to end abortion.

I truly believe that Bishop Zurek is not intending to end Fr. Pavone's pro-life efforts. Rather, he may be looking to purify some things that could use purifying.  Any of you who are parents know that your attempts to sometimes head problems off at the pass for your children, have been done imperfectly, at times.  Think back to a time when you think you could have handled something better.  Did it negate the fact that a problem needed addressing?  Did others tell you that your concerns were non-issues, when you still felt otherwise?   I'm just sayin'.

"I'm in Amarillo awaiting direction, and nothing yet..."

Fr. Pavone seems to think that his bishop gave him no work.  Actually, I think the directive was "prayer and reflection".   In a new post made late last night, Dr. Peters, speaking not as a canonist, but as a Catholic layman decided to look at Fr. Pavone's statement made late yesterday.  He quotes Fr. Pavone, then offers his comment:

"Well, friends, here in Amarillo I am working hard at my computer on various pro-life projects as I await further instructions from the diocese. Nothing yet…"

Nothing? What’s that mean? Does a young, healthy priest, in his home diocese, with full faculties for ordained ministry therein, really need to be told what to do with a large, unexpected block of time? If so, I have some suggestions.

If you read anything at all today on the dispute between Bishop Zurek and Fr. Frank Pavone, do read this latest commentary by Dr. Ed Peters.  He sufficiently nailed the many things that disturbed me about the response from Fr. Pavone.  I have been most concerned for what misunderstandings about the priesthood seminarians may be forming through this public display.  Go read this excellent analysis: Some non-canonical reactions to Fr. Pavone's latest statement

    Ending this long post, please pray for all concerned, mindful that God's will is not necessarily our will.  We must conform to His will, not He to ours.  The Catholic understanding is that for a priest, that will comes through the Church, often through imperfect men - the bishops.  When conflict arises, all avenues should be pursued for the sake of truth and justice, but when those doors shut, I offer once again, the advice of St. Francis de Sales for consideration:

    When any evil befalls you, apply the remedies that may be in your power, agreeably to the will of God; for to act otherwise would be to tempt divine Providence Having done this, wait with resignation for the success it may please God to send; and, should the remedies overcome the evil, return Him thanks with humility, but if, on the contrary, the evils overcome the remedies, bless Him with patience.

    "The following advice of St. Gregory is useful: whenever you are 'justly accused' of a fault, humble yourself, and candidly confess that you deserve more than the accusation which is brought against you; but, if the charge be false, excuse yourself meekly, denying your guilt, for you owe this respect to truth, and to the edification of your neighbor. But if, after your true and lawful excuse, they should continue to accuse you, trouble not yourself nor strive to have your excuse admitted; for, having discharged your duty to truth, you must also do the same to humility, by which means you neither offend against the care you ought to have of your reputation, nor the love you owe to peace, meekness of heart, and humility."

    This is also a good time to refer back to a great quote by Servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon. My comment bracketed in red.

    It means therefore to be willing to learn from God and here’s the hard one: the willingness to learn from God not of course as though God will, though of course He might, send us His own divine angelic messenger, normally not. Normally God teaches us through the circumstances of our daily lives. Especially those most painful circumstances called other people [which, for priests, can be the bishop, and for the bishop - a priest]. That’s where we tend to be less than docile. Openness then to God’s teaching us especially through all whom He places into our lives. It is great, great wisdom to be so disposed as to be ready to learn from and I mean it, everyone from the youngest child to the oldest speaking to religious golden or diamond jubilarian .


    If you want to catch up on documents and statements released, Al Kresta has a pretty good collection here.  Some of these go back to earlier in the year.

    American Papist, Tom Peters opines about he "picket" and a few other things, as well.

    *Update - September 17, 2011 Quote from Dr. Mirus' article added

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