Father Frank Pavone Prevented from Running Priests for Life

By Steven Ertelt
September 13, 2011

Father Frank Pavone is being prevented temporary from the Catholic Bishop under whom he serves from operating Priests for Life, the respected national pro-life organization that has been a leader for years in the pro-life movement.

According to a Catholic News Service report, 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. CNS indicates the suspension was made public in a September 9 letter the bishop released that questioned the finances of Priests for Life.

Pavone told CNS that he 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.

“My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization,” Bishop Zurek wrote in the letter. “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”

Zurek told CNS 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 responded saying he would comply with the request today after taping programs for EWTN, a popular Catholic television network. He came under the Texas bishop’s direction after Priests for Life relocated part of its offices from Staten Island, New York to the Texas diocese — but it has now returned to New York following the retirement of Bishop John W. Yanta, who strongly supported the organization.

“Bishop Zurek asked me to go back to the diocese today, which I am doing for a limited period of time,” Father Pavone said. “I am going there and my (priestly) faculties are fully intact and I’m in good standing.”

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 today 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.

In addition to Father Pavone, the full-time priests on the pastoral staff include Father Denis G. Wilde, O.S.A., Associate Director; Father Victor Salomon, Director of Hispanic Outreach; Father Scott Daniels, OP, and Father Walter Quinn, O.S.A.. Monsignor Michael Mannion, a priest of the Diocese of Camden, N.J., is a part-time pastoral consultant.

Ironically, the announcement from Amarillo comes as Priests for Life welcomed its newest pastoral associate. Priests for Life’s newest pastoral associate, Father Stephen Imbarrato is a single father and he adopted a son from Colombia in 1987. But years before that, he was complicit in his girlfriend’s abortion and wants to reach out to help women and men who have been involved in abortions to help them reconnect with God and the church.

Shortly after the Silent No More Awareness Campaign was founded in 2003 to give post-abortive women a public platform to talk about how abortion had harmed them, Father Imbarrato, then a seminarian, contacted co-founders Janet Morana and Georgette Forney and described his own remorse and regret.

“So, with permission from the seminary, at the 2004 gathering, he was the first man to give testimony,” recalled Mrs. Morana, Executive Director of Priests for Life. “I remember how powerful his statement was: ‘How small of a man was I that I put pressure on my girlfriend to have an abortion.’ It was the first time a man had publicly apologized to the women, and the reception of his testimony was tremendous.”

Ordained in 2005 and now a priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., where he founded Project Defending Life, Father Imbarrato has joined Priests for Life as a part-time pastoral associate.

“I am happy to welcome Father Imbarrato to our Pastoral Team,” Pavone said yesterday. “Along with our other priests, he will work, on a part-time basis, networking priests and traveling and speaking for the cause of life. In his work with us, one of Father Stephen’s special tasks will be to promote Eucharistic processions at abortion mills.”

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.


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