It was four weeks ago today that someone with malicious intent leaked a scathing letter to the press written by Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek to all U.S. bishops announcing he had “decided to suspend” Priests for Life’s Fr. Frank Pavone “from public ministry outside of the Diocese.”


Bishop Zurek, pictured right, gave two reasons: “[F]inancial questions and concerns” about “a potential financial scandal” and “an inflated ego.” Citing no corroboration, BZ went so far as to suggest parish priests tell congregants not to donate to PFL.

Fr. Pavone was abruptly ordered to report to the diocese that day, September 13.

In the midst of traveling, FP was denied his request to return to New York for personal belongings and to say good-bye to his elderly parents, of particular importance since BZ wrote he was calling FP to Amarillo for “for an indefinite period.”

That same day, September 13, Bishop Zurek left for a two-week vacation in Brazil.

Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy of the Amarillo diocese, attempted to clarify on September 14 that “Zurek only suspended Father Pavone’s ministry outside the diocese because the well-known pro-life priest is needed for work in Amarillo,” quoting the National Catholic Reporter.

Where was Fr. Pavone sent? To a convent of 29 nuns 50 miles outside of Amarillo in Prayer Town, TX. Since a priest was already assigned to the convent, FP offered to give daily Masses alternately. To date the diocese has given him no work to do and no spiritual guidance. The convent is only accessible by dirt road (pictured at the top of this post).

Not that FP is above such simple surroundings, but whether the Amarillo diocese “needed” Fr. Pavone more than the pro-life world did and does is certainly questionable.

And not that FP, or any of us, wouldn’t gain from solitude, reflection, and time alone with the Lord.

But that is not how Bishop Zurek prepared the way. BZ abruptly plucked FP from the middle of a trip, told him to cancel all foreseeable previously committed speaking engagements as well as leave the large pro-life organization he ran in the lurch, meanwhile writing a publicized letter calling FP’s integrity and personal character into question.

BZ then abandoned FP to deal alone with the BZ-created mass of chaos and confusion, including constant calls from reporters.

If Bishop Zurek’s intent was to indeed help FP “readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal,” he failed miserably to create an environment for peaceful reflection.

Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics has posted a video update on Fr. Pavone. I have confirmed the accuracy of Mark’s video, namely, that 1) Bishop Zurek did indeed call EWTN and tell the station not to air any of Fr. Pavone’s currently taped shows and to cancel reruns; 2) as of this morning Bishop Zurek had not spoken with or met with Father Pavone (Will the private meeting he publicized would happen October 13 actually happen?) ; and 3) Msgr. Waldow has been ordered not to speak to Fr. Pavone.

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Furthermore, in the month that has elapsed since Bishop Zurek wrote his letter all but accusing Fr. Pavone of financial malfeasance, he has failed to make any specific concerns known to PFL, despite their repeated requests for clarification. You and I know as much about what “alarmed” Bishop Zurek as PFL does.

The diocese has also refused to answer PFL’s repeated requests to acknowledge receiving the 2010 audit PFL previously sent – before BZ issued his letter. In addition the diocese has failed to acknowledge receiving audits for Rachel’s Vineyard and Gospel of Life Ministry’s finances PFL sent subsequent to BZ’s letter. The diocese has even snubbed PFL attorneys, who have also made formal requests.

This is unresponsiveness to the extreme. It is bizarre behavior piled on top of bizarre behavior.

Which brings me to my final points.

There are those who say 1) the authority of a bishop over his priest should not be questioned, this is about obedience; and 2) I as a Protestant have no say in this matter.

Both are wrong.

First, FP has maintained obedience. Second, bishops are not infallible. The notion that bishops are above criticism even when hurting people is what leads to corruption and scandals. Just because someone is a bishop does not give him the right to unfairly treat a person, hurt that person’s reputation, flout transparency, and yes, lie.

Finally, this situation effects all pro-lifers, Catholic and Protestant. No person is indispensable, yet there is an important pro-life leader who is being almost literally imprisoned for no rational explanation. Lives are unnecessarily at risk.

[Top two photos via Mark Crutcher]