UPDATE 6/29, 11:21a: My friend within six degrees of separation of this controversy reminded me last night that the Vatican would not have declared Father Pavone unsuspended and a priest in good standing had it not examined Priest for Life’s financial records for itself. After all, this was the foremost reason Bishop Zurek gave for his suspension. I agree that the Vatican would take absolutely no chance of having its withdrawal of suspension come back to embarrass it, especially in this day and age of priest scandals. So I have removed “(sort of)” from my headline. I think the Vatican indeed exonerated FP by its nod in his favor.

My friend said his first take was that the Vatican’s clearance opens the door for Father Pavone to pursue incarnation in a pro-life friendly diocese.

6/28, 12:01p: On Tuesday night came good news on Priests for Life’s website:

We are happy to announce that the Vatican has upheld Father Frank Pavone’s appeal and has declared that Father Pavone is not now nor has ever been suspended. Father Pavone remains a priest in good standing all over the world.

We were confident all along that a just decision would be made by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. While we fully agree that Bishop Zurek has rightful authority over the priests of his diocese, we also see the urgent need for Father Pavone to be allowed to conduct his priestly ministry outside the diocese of Amarillo for the good of the pro-life movement.

From the onset we have been closely following the curious situation between Priest for Life’s Father Frank Pavone and his bishop, Patrick Zurek, of the Amarillo Diocese.

Last September Bishop Zurek abruptly ordered Father Pavone to report back to his diocese from New York, on the heels of a letter the bishop sent to his colleagues (subsequently leaked to the press) all but accusing FP of insubordination and mishandling of PFL funds, beginning with the apocalyptic sentence, “I have decided to suspend Father Frank A. Pavone from public ministry….”

Now the Vatican has overruled Bishop Zurek. Father Pavone was not suspended.

But as CatholicCulture.org (read that entire editorial – it’s good) points out:

[A]nyone familiar with canon law knew from the outset that “suspension” was the wrong term for the bishop’s action. As canonist Edward Peters explained last September, Bishop Zurek “should not have used the term ‘suspend’ in regard to Pavone, for ‘suspension’ is a canonical penalty for crime (c. 1333), and Pavone has not been accused of any crime.”

So the Vatican agrees.

But Father Pavone has not been reassigned to an unhostile bishop or perhaps to answer directly to Rome.

Thus, questions remain. Perhaps Bishop Zurek can’t “suspend” FP, but can he still curtail his activities, or worse, ban him from working with PFL? It appears so. Here was Bishop Zurek’s statement on the Vatican’s decision:

In its decree of May 18, 2012, the Congregation for the Clergy has sustained Father Frank A. Pavone’s appeal of his suspension from ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo and his appointment from me on October 4, 2011 as Chaplain of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in Channing, Texas.  Father Pavone is to continue his ministry as chaplain until further notice. As a gesture of good will, I will grant permission to him in individual cases, based upon their merits, to participate in pro-life events with the provision that he and I must be in agreement beforehand as to his role and function.

Yes, that convoluted statement has to be read several times to understand. Bottom line: Father Pavone isn’t suspended but remains assigned as a chaplain to a tiny convent in the middle of the desert. And Bishop Zurek can call him back there for full time duty per his whim, when his sense of “good will” toward Father Pavone’s pro-life activities ceases and he is overcome by bad will.

And Bishop Zurek’s “good will” comes with a very short rope. Father Pavone must get his permission before doing any pro-life work. Bishop Zurek will decide whether each bit of pro-life work Father Pavone wants to do has “merit.”

The Amarillo Globe-News further quotes Bishop Zurek as stating the Vatican’s decision “makes it clear I am free to restore him to full religious ministry, if I wish. … But he must have my permission for anything in regard to work in pro-life, and in particular Priests for Life, because that is where the issue arose to begin with.”

So aside from maintaining the show of a pretty big ego. Bishop Zurek has purposefully left hanging his accusation that Father Pavone may have mismanaged PFL’s finances, which is inexcusable.

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