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Prominent pro-life priest is recalled to his diocese

Fr Frank Pavone is appealing to the Vatican (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Fr Frank Pavone, one of America’s most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about his operation of Priests for Life.

The suspension was made public in a letter from Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek to his fellow bishops. Fr Pavone told the American Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there.

But in a statement Fr Pavone said he was “very perplexed” by the bishop’s demand and was appealing to the Vatican.

Bishop Zurek said yesterday: “My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organisation.

“The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Fr Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”

Bishop Zurek said “persistent questions and concerns” from clergy and laity about how “millions of dollars in donations” were being spent led to the action.

The bishop also asked Fr Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, to return to Amarillo “to spend time in prayer and reflection”.

Fr Pavone, meanwhile, told Catholic News Service that he planned to comply with Bishop Zurek’s request to return to Amarillo. Fr Pavone said he was scheduled to leave Birmingham yesterday afternoon and meet Mgr Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy in the Amarillo diocese, immediately after his arrival.

“Bishop Zurek asked me to go back to the diocese today, which I am doing for a limited period of time,” Fr Pavone said. “I am going there and my [priestly] faculties are fully intact and I’m in good standing.”

Meanwhile Mgr Waldow, vicar for clergy in the diocese, said yesterday that Fr Pavone was needed for work in Amarillo and was a priest in good standing.

He said: “He’s here to be obedient to the bishop and try to work with the bishop,” Mgr Waldow said. “He’s going to have assignments, and he will be put on our payroll and given health care and other benefits like any other priest of the diocese.”

Fr Pavone was incardinated in the Amarillo diocese in 2005 when Priests for Life moved some of its operations to the Texas panhandle city. Priests for Life was welcomed to Amarillo by now-retired Bishop John Yanta, who served on the organisation’s board of advisers.

Priests for Life no longer has offices in Amarillo. It is based in Staten Island.

Records filed with the Internal Revenue Service show that the organisation’s income was $10.8 million in 2008, the latest year tax forms were available. In 2007, Priests for Life showed an income of $9.2 million.

The same records show that Fr Pavone received no income from the organisation during those years. He said when he originally took the position with Priests for Life that he would claim no salary from the organisation.

A popular lecturer and retreat leader, Fr Pavone travels the country speaking against abortion and on other pro-life issues. He also produces programmes for secular radio and television.

Fr Pavone became national director of Priests for Life in 1993. He also holds the same position with Gospel of Life Ministries, an interdenominational effort to end abortion, which shares its headquarters with Priests for Life.

In addition, Fr Pavone is national pastoral director of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and president of the National Pro-Life Religious Council.

A native of Port Chester, New York, he was ordained in 1988 by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and served as a parish priest in the New York archdiocese before joining Priests for Life full-time in 1993.