Bishop says anti-abortion activist not facing charges

September 19, 2011

(RNS) Just days after prominent anti-abortion activist Rev. Frank Pavone
was ordered to suspend his work as head of Priests for Life, Pavone and
his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, are seeking a way out
of the tense standoff.

Pavone told reporters in Amarillo that he was seeking to be
"incardinated," or authorized to work, in another diocese, presumably
one where he could continue his 18-year role as head of the New
York-based Priests for Life.

"I do not foresee myself staying incardinated in Amarillo," Pavone said
Wednesday (Sept. 14) before celebrating Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in
Amarillo. "It's a sensitive issue. We're working it out behind the
scenes."

At the same time, church officials in Amarillo sought to tone down the
harsh rhetoric that Zurek had used in a Sept. 9 letter to U.S. bishops
in which he referred to questions about the group's finances, and said
Pavone's work has "inflated his ego with a sense of self-importance."

On Thursday, Monsignor Harold Waldow, the diocese's vicar of clergy and
Zurek's point man in negotiations with Pavone, sent a letter to Priests
for Life clarifying that Pavone remains "a priest in good standing." The
bishop's suspension order, he said, "does not mean that Father Pavone is
being charged with any malfeasance or being accused of any wrongdoing."

"I must say every time I've had conversations with Father Frank and
asked him to do whatever the bishop might be requiring ... he's always
been very positive in his response," Waldow told the Amarillo Globe-News
on Tuesday.

He added that Pavone and Zurek "are both very strong personalities."
Waldow noted that many other bishops support Zurek and share his
concerns about Pavone's largely independent oversight of Priests for
Life's annual $10 million budget.

But Pavone has a loyal and influential following in the hierarchy as
well, and his international standing as an anti-abortion crusader has
brought him the kind of popular renown -- and devotion -- that Zurek
cannot match.

The Center For Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group known for
displaying graphic signs at anti-abortions demonstrations, announced it
would picket parishes in Amarillo in a "Free Father Frank!" campaign to
release Pavone "from what amounts from ecclesiastical `house arrest,"'
as Gregg Cunningham, the group's executive director, put it.

"A global battle is raging within Catholicism between clerics who
believe the church should do more to fight abortion and those who
believe the church should do less," he said. "With Bishop Zurek's
confused and confusing decision to sideline Father Pavone's pro-life
ministry, the fault line in this divisive dispute now runs directly
through the center of Amarillo."

Pavone told Catholic News Agency that he would consider starting a
religious order or society -- something akin to the Franciscans, Jesuits
or the lay movement Opus Dei -- if he could not find a bishop willing to
back his full-time anti-abortion advocacy. 

On Friday, Pavone sent a private message to supporters thanking them for
their support, adding that he was not discouraged as he continues
fighting abortion from his home in Amarillo.

"I'm here because cooperating with church authority at this moment is
the best way to preserve the mission I lead to save these children, a
mission aimed precisely at increasing the church's awareness of and
response to this holocaust."