Why the “Free Father Frank” Movement is Misplaced and Counter-Productive

Yes, someone actually did this.

As I feared, the Father Frank Pavone situation is getting worse.

A dispute that should be worked out through the normal canonical channels is needlessly spilling into the public debate.

And this effort by third parties to gin up public support for Fr. Frank is misplaced.

My father describes the histrionic antics of one group “The Center For Bio-Ethical Reform”:

“CBR’s activists, carrying large color photos of aborted babies, will soon picket many Amarillo Catholic parishes and at least one Catholic middle and high school. CBR also plans to launch “a fleet of large billboard trucks bearing signs which will depict aborted babies” and has arranged for “aircraft towing large aerial billboards which will also bear aborted baby imagery and exhortational text messages.”

Now why on earth do the good people of Amarillo Texas deserve that treatment? What have they done to get in the middle of this internecine dispute? Absolutely nothing.

CBR’s response is just the tip of the iceberg of what I’m seeing in terms of pro-life individuals and groups organizing to exert public pressure on Bishop Zurek. I won’t be participating in any of these efforts for a simple reason: Bishop Zurek has every right to to demand obedience from Fr. Pavone and Fr. Pavone has every right to defend himself canonically. Catholics and pro-lifers don’t have the right to inject themselves into this dispute. And in fact, their efforts are counter-productive.

Let me be clear: I’m pro-life. I’ve devoted myself to helping the pro-life movement succeed in all of its worthy goals for years. But these efforts to force Bishop Zurek to do what pro-lifers want him to do vis-a-vis Fr. Pavone isn’t about being pro-life, it amounts instead to impeding the canonical process and injecting personal allegiances into a matter which involves the legitimate self-governance and autonomy of the Church. Disputes like these are why the Church has canon law, and why people have attorneys.

The pro-life movement would be better served by focusing their fervor and organization efforts into doing pro-life work, not bullying a bishop — even if a bishop has imprudently exercised his authority. Fr. Frank signed up for this on the day he became a priest — he chose to place himself under the authority of the Church, he didn’t choose to wield the power of friends to force the Church to let him have his way.

So everyone needs to chill out about Fr. Pavone and give the process a chance. In the meantime, all the efforts to upset that process are only impeding the chances of this being resolved quickly and according to the demands of justice.

Dr. Gerard Nadal makes the right point:

This shrill “Free Father Pavone” rhetoric is entirely over the top. He’s not an Orca. He’s a priest in good standing, still celebrating the sacraments in his diocese. It is a dim view of the diocesan priesthood that views it as some sort of prison.

… [This overreaction] doesn’t do Father Pavone’s reputation a bit of good with the bishops, either. He looks like he has a rabid rabble for a following. It reflects poorly on him and on all of us.

I must also commend Judie Brown, president of American Life League, for these good words:

I ask that all pro-lifers show the respect that the office of the bishop deserves and refrain from creating a public spectacle filled with demands, letters of condemnation, demonstrations or other efforts to create public pressure for a secular solution to what, in the end, is a Church matter.

This is a time for prayer: prayer for the bishop; prayer for the priest; and prayer for the babies. I ask the entire pro-life community to put aside secular action and join me in praying for a speedy and just resolution.

A rush to judgment can run in both directions.

My advice? Let’s spend the weekend in prayer and allow ourselves time to calm down.



  • Jeff Smallwood

    A Diocesan priest is called to obedience. He agrees to it. In this way he imitates Christ, who did not come to do His own will, but that of His Father. Thus Christ was completely obedient to His Father, and a priest must be obedient to his superior. In this is the priest’s pathway to sanctity – just look at St. John Vianney, placed in an out of the way parish because the bishop wanted to get rid of him. Or Venerable Solanus Casey, never allowed to preach homilies or hear confessions. Or finally Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, under virtual house arrest for so many years. These holy men accepted, and thrived within their limitations and became some of our most outstanding saints. They were fundamentally obedient. I pray that Father Frank will accept his situation in obedience, and that all his supporters (and I count myself among them) will accept the bishop’s decision and pray. The same God who is capable of raising up children of Abraham from mere stones, and who put flesh on the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision will raise up more leaders for the Pro-Life movement.

  • Rob

    Why did the Bishop take a 2 week vacation when he did this to Fr, Frank Pavone


  • Bonaventure

    Fr. Pavone was just on Al Kresta for an hour. Al concluded by saying that it is very healthy to discuss this publicly. I agree with him. We have learned over the past 30 years that the idea of letting the Church “process” go through itself without any public light or transparency has led to distrust of the Vatican and of local Bishops. That’s true not just on the sex abuse issue but in nearly every case. I don’t think it’s right to criticize Fr. Pavone for speaking publicly, and lay Catholics for discussing it respectfully. (And Fr. Pavone said that his bishop knows he is doing so and has not told him to stop.)

  • Vernacular Catholic

    This is what I was trying to get across to people in my comments when this first became public. Thank you for saying it!

  • Frank Padilla

    What I am questioning is not Bp Zurek’s right to demand obedience from Fr Frank, but his misplaced action in putting down someone who is so crucial for the pro-life movement, and doing it with unfounded accusations about finances and pride.

    Catholics and pro-lifers don’t have the right to inject themselves into this dispute? I beg to disagree. This is our Church, this is our pro-life fight, this is the crucial fight of the Church in this third millennium. We have committed out time, energy and resources to this fight. We do not want to see it being weakened by one of our own, from within the Church, especially by a bishop. So we have every right to speak out and “inject ourselves.”

    • Fr. Jose

      Frank; I think that we should never give up on our fight for those who are the most vulnerable, who need a voice, which includes doing it without Fr. Pavone. What would happened if he could no longer lead the fight because of other reasons, would it end? NO!!!! Let us continue the fight, no matter whether he is being asked to minister to God’s people in other ways….

    • Gwen

      why do you say ‘unfounded’.
      I think we don’t know (and probably never should know ) the details of the accusations. Based on what I read from the saints, the proper response is total obedience and quiet from Fr. Frank as this is worked out, not prideful responses such as “the Bishop is claiming…” or “Though, as a diocesan priest, I have never taken a vow of poverty, I have basically chosen to live in that fashion…”
      (per the Gospel, we are not supposed to tell the world when we are “fasting” )
      Even with the immense work he has done, there is a reason he is being put in check. We should not doubt the bishop, just because Fr. Frank is more vocal and well known.



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