US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A misguided move by pro-lifers

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The controversy surrounding Priests for Life head Father Frank Pavone being recalled to the Diocese of Amarillo has continued to snowball, and a bad situation is rapidly getting worse.

The news that Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek had suspended Pavone from ministry outside the diocese was, not surprisingly, met with anger from Pavone's loyal followers. But Pavone himself exacerbated the situation with his comments, saying that he would concede to the bishop's request even though he didn't have to and that he was appealing the decision with Rome.

Though he claimed to be respectful of the bishop his attitude was anything but, as he stressed that Priests for Life was bigger than Amarillo and that if he didn't get his way, he would consider starting his own religious order. Pavone's very public defiance of his bishop showed a lack of humility and an unwillingness to be obedient to the head of the diocese where he had chosen to be incardinated. And his unwillingness to settle the matter privately is what caused things to deteriorate even more.

First, someone started the Free Father Frank campaign, as if he were being imprisoned because he was asked to minister in his own diocese. Then, things got worse, as a group announced plans to picket outside Catholic parishes and schools in Amarillo to send a message to Bishop Zurek. Even conservative blogger Thomas Peters thought that was crossing the line.

None of us know the whole story on Zurek's decision or Pavone's actions, and we shouldn't be getting dragged into the middle of their dispute. But their failure to handle the matter privately has caused a rallying of pro-lifers behind Pavone's cause, even though they don't have all the facts. The result is a misguided effort that fails to see the forest for the trees.

Perhaps Father Pavone could do a lot of good in the pro-life movement on a local level in Amarillo. Maybe a new director of Priests for Life would take the organization in a different direction, finding ways to improve its ministry and make it more effective. Maybe there's something else behind Zurek's decision that the rest of us don't know. And I won't even begin to add all the possible negative outcomes of picketing Catholic schools and parishes and what kind of message that sends to other Catholics in Amarillo.

Hopefully some of the protesters will stop and think about these questions, and Pavone and Zurek will find a way to settle their issues where they should be ironed out - behind closed doors.