Protestant Pro-Life Religious Leaders Back Father Pavone

National   Steven Ertelt   Sep 16, 2011   |   12:29PM    Washington, DC

Members of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, an ecumenical group of pro-life advocates from various Protestant denominations, along with Catholics, have released a new statement supporting Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

As LifeNews has reported, the pro-life movement has been abuzz with the news that Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo has asked Father Pavone to come back to serve in the diocese and has temporarily prevented him from exercising his duties as the head of Priests for Life. Zurek alleges, with little supporting evidence, that there are financial irregularities at Priests for Life despite annual audits from one of the nation’s top accounting firms.

Today, members of the National Pro-Life Religious Council submitted the following statement supporting Father Pavone, who is a member of the Council via his role as the national director for Priests for Life:

The members of the National Pro-Life Religious Council stand in solidarity with our friend, colleague and President of the Council, Fr. Frank Pavone. It has long been Father Pavone’s belief that he has been called by God, within his priestly vocation, to serve in full-time pro-life work.

We can attest that his ability to serve in this capacity over the past twenty years has, directly and indirectly, saved the lives of countless unborn children and also resulted in the healing of countless others who have been touched by the tragedy that is abortion.

The NPRC fully supports Father Pavone’s efforts to continue his vital and life-saving ministry with Priests for Life in a full-time capacity.

Signed,

Georgette Forney, Anglicans for Life, & the Silent No More Awareness Campaign

The Rev. Terry Gensemer, CEC for Life (International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church)

The Rev. J. Kirk van der Swaagh, Conservative Congregational Christian Conference

The Rev. Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch, Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality

Ed Szeto, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Relief and Human Care

Dennis Di Mauro , Lutherans for Life International

The Rev. Rob Schenck, National Clergy Council

Tom Glessner, NIFLA (National Institute of Family and Life Advocates)

Marie Bowen, Presbyterians Pro-Life

The Rev. John Brown, United Church of Christ Friends for Life

Earlier this week, Priests for Life released a statement responding to some of the misreporting in the mainstream media making it appear Pavone has been “suspended” as a Catholic priest or from the organization. Priests for Life said it was widely misreported in various Catholic and secular media that the Most Reverend Patrick Zurek, Bishop of Amarillo, had “suspended” Rev. Frank Pavone, a priest of his diocese, and put him “on leave.”

Then, the Diocese, in a new statement obtained by LifeNews and written by reverend Monsignior Harold Waldow, Vicar of Clergy for the Diocese, Pavone is said to be accused of no wrongdoings.

“As the Vicar of Clergy for the Diocese of Amarillo and the Moderator of Curia I want to publicly state that Reverend Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is a priest in good standing with the Roman Catholic Church. He has all the faculties for ministry that every priest of our diocese has in and for the Diocese of Amarillo,” Waldow writes.

“I would also like to clarify a point that because there is a dispute about the auditing process and the complete audit for all the entities of Priests for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard, and the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life does not mean that Father Pavone is being charged with any malfeasance or being accused of any wrong doing with the financial matters of Priests for Life,” the statement continues.

The comments are a confirmation of a statement Waldow already made in an interview with the Catholic News Service, where he said “Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, remains a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas.”

Father David Deibel, JD, JCL, Chief Canonist for Priests for Life, agrees and says it is “absolutely false” that Pavone is supposedly not in good standing with the Catholic Church.

“Father Pavone is and has been a priest in good standing. Moreover, the canonical language of “suspension” in this regard is a mistake. Father Pavone has not in any way incurred any ecclesiastical penalty. Nor is Father Frank under the threat of any penalty,” he said.

Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas is preventing Pavone from leading the organization and working outside of the boundaries of the diocese. The news was made public in a September 9 letter the bishop released that questioned the finances of Priests for Life. Pavone is complying with the request from his bishop and returning to Amarillo, Texas to resume priestly duties. Father Pavone has been able to operate the Priests for Life ministry with the help and support of the Catholic Church ever since Cardinal O’Connor granted him permission to create the organization in 1993.

Zurek said he has received “persistent questions and concerns” about the finances of Priest for Life, which has become a large pro-life organization with numerous ministries to youth, women who have been victimized by abortion, a special outreach to Catholic priests and a political responsibility outreach urging pro-life groups to help pro-life voters register to vote and to vote pro-life. He said he wanted Pavone to return “to spend time in prayer and reflection.”

Pavone, who takes no salary from Priests for Life, released an official statement on the matter (see below) and a letter in response. The pro-life advocate is asking the bishop to rescind his request, has appealed to Rome to be allowed to continue working in pro-life ministry full-time, and is actively defending the finances of Priests for Life as being aboveboard. Priests for Life has submitted to annual audits from a top accounting firm showing everything in top order.

LifeNews spoke with Father Pavone by phone and the Priests for Life director indicated he would comply with the request to return to Amarillo but would fight to continue remaining in full-time pro-life ministry. Pavone said he is concerned that, after all the facts are laid on the table, the news of his being prevented from running Priests for Life would be egg on the face of the Catholic Church, where most bishops and Church leaders have been supportive.

Pavone indicated he expected the Vatican to back up his involvement in full-time pro-life ministry and he stressed that he had not been suspended by the bishop in a canonical sense — in that neither he nor Priests for Life has been found guilty of any wrongdoing under Catholic Church canon law.

Official statement from Father Frank Pavone:

For the past several years, my Ordinary, the Most Reverend Patrick Zurek, Bishop of Amarillo, has given me permission to do the full-time pro-life work that I have done since 1993. In 2005, I made a public promise in a Church ceremony in Amarillo, presided over by a Vatican Cardinal, that this full-time pro-life work would be a lifetime commitment. That’s a commitment I promise to fulfill without wavering.

This past week, however, I received a letter from the Bishop insisting that I report to the Diocese this Tuesday, September 13 and, for the time being, remain only there.

I am very perplexed by this demand. Despite that, because I am a priest of the diocese of Amarillo, I will be obedient and report there on the appointed date, putting the other commitments that are on my calendar on hold until I get more clarity as to what the bishop wants and for how long. Meanwhile, I continue to retain all my priestly faculties and continue to be a priest in “good standing” in the Church. The bishop does not dispute this fact. Rather, he has said that he thinks I am giving too much priority to my pro-life work, and that this makes me disobedient to him. He also has claimed that I haven’t given him enough financial information.

Now, although Bishop Zurek is my Ordinary, he is not the bishop of Priests for Life. Each of our staff priests has his own Ordinary, and the organization has an entire Board of Bishops. We keep them all informed of our activities, and of our financial audits.

I want to say very clearly that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it receives from dedicated pro-lifers, raised primarily through direct mail at the grassroots level. To this end, Priests for Life has consistently provided every financial document requested by Bishop Zurek, including annual financial audits, quarterly reports, management documents—even entire check registers! Priests for Life has been completely transparent with Bishop Zurek and any other bishops who have requested information regarding our management and finances. Indeed, we have 21 bishops and cardinals who sit on our Advisory Board, and they are kept fully informed about our finances.

Therefore, in the interest of preserving my good reputation as well as protecting the valuable work done by the Priests for Life organization, I have begun a process of appeal to the Vatican. This process aims to correct any mistaken decisions of the bishop in my regard and to protect my commitment to full-time pro-life activity for my whole life. We are very confident that the Vatican will resolve this matter in a just and equitable fashion. Because of this confidence, we are not currently making any changes in any positions at Priests for Life, or in any of our projects and plans.

I also want to point out that, according to the canon law of the Catholic Church, because I have begun this process of appeal to Rome, the Bishop’s order that I return to Amarillo has been effectively suspended. Nevertheless, because of my great respect for this Bishop and my commitment to be fully obedient at all times, I am reporting to Amarillo this Tuesday, in hopes that I can sort this problem out with the Bishop in a mutually agreeable and amicable way.

I would like to note that, unlike other organizations, which have sometimes been critical of the Church hierarchy or other institutions within the Church, Priests for Life has always remained 100% supportive of the Bishops, never criticizing any Church official, and always acting as a megaphone for the Bishops’ pro-life statements. Moreover, we serve dioceses and their priests and laity without asking for any speakers’ fees, and distribute millions of pieces of pro-life literature to dioceses completely free of charge. We do not seek parish collections, and we work to reinforce in each diocese the local pastoral plan which the bishop wants to implement for pro-life activities.

We are committed to going forward with that same spirit, regardless of the recent action taken by Bishop Zurek.

In the interest of full transparency, I would like to make it known that I do not receive any salary or financial remuneration from either the Diocese of Amarillo or from Priests for Life. Priests for Life, as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful, does provide for my residence and the expenses associated with the ministry, but these expenses are very small. Though, as a diocesan priest, I have never taken a vow of poverty, I have basically chosen to live in that fashion in solidarity with the pre-born children we are trying to protect—who are the poorest of the poor.

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.

I am confident that we will be able to resolve this difficulty soon, without any harm to either my own reputation and without any slowdown of the valuable pro-life work we do at Priests for Life.