Vatican Says Priests for Life Director Can Minister outside Diocese, but Must Have Bishop's Permission

U.S. Catholic
June 29, 2012

A Vatican decree allows pro-life activist Father Frank Pavone to minister outside the Diocese of Amarillo, where he was incardinated in 2005, but he still must obtain specific permission to do so from Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek.

The decree from the Congregation of the Clergy was dated May 18 and became public about a month later. Bishop Zurek said in a June 20 statement that the congregation "has sustained Father Frank A. Pavone's appeal of his suspension from ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo."

"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," the bishop added.

The priest, who is national director of Priests for Life, also must continue his ministry as chaplain to the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, a religious order in Channing. He was appointed chaplain by the bishop.

A June 26 statement on the Priests for Life website, said the group was "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."

Last September, Bishop Zurek suspended the priest from ministry outside the diocese, saying he was needed for work in Texas. Father Pavone has remained a priest in good standing in the Amarillo Diocese.

The disagreement between him and the bishop became public last fall when Bishop Zurek sent a letter to other bishops raising questions about the finances of Priests for Life and its affiliated organizations.

Although the letter announced Father Pavone would not be allowed to minister outside the Amarillo Diocese, it did not accuse him of financial impropriety.

In mid-October, Bishop Zurek called for a meeting with Father Pavone, but the priest declined to attend on the advice of his canon lawyer. Father Pavone appealed the bishop's decision on his outside ministry to the Congregation of the Clergy.

"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," said the Priests for Life statement.

Father Pavone has continued to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and minister as chaplain to the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In initial questions about the finances of Priests for Life, Bishop Zurek said he was concerned over the audits of two of Priests for Life's affiliated agencies -- Rachel's Vineyard, an abortion healing ministry, and Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, a lay Catholic association.

The questions led him to prohibit Father Pavone from traveling to Priest for Life headquarters on Staten Island in New York and throughout the country to speak about pro-life topics.

Father Pavone continued to post messages on the Priests for Life website and his Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as videos on the Internet from his Texas location. He said he had not left the diocese in obedience to Bishop Zurek.

In a Sept. 12, 2011, letter to the U.S. bishops, Father Pavone said Priests for Life had provided the Amarillo Diocese "with full and complete annual audits of the finances of the association every year since I have been incardinated in Amarillo." He said independent audits were conducted on Priests for Life between 2005 and 2010.

The priest was incardinated in the Amarillo Diocese by Bishop John W. Yanta, then head of the diocese, who served on the organization's board of advisers.

In its statement about the Vatican decree, Priests for Life also said: "With regard to all inquiries relative to Father Pavone's status and the Diocese of Amarillo, we will continue to be as transparent as possible and place all communications and press releases on our public website. In this way we can best respect the rights and privacy of all concerned, particularly ecclesiastical authority and communications which are intended to be confidential at this time."








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