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.