Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Father Gordon MacRae - The Duty of a Priest: Father Frank Pavone and Priests for Life

From Father Gordon MacRae at These Stone Walls: of the agenda among the more radical wing of the Catholic left has been to get about the business of removing any Magisterial authority from our faith experience. The goal is to  carve out a distinctly American Catholic church with identifiably American Catholic values that mirror the now disintegrating American wing of the Church of England, the Episcopal church. But that’s a whole other blog post for some other day – such as next week, perhaps.

It’s time for American Catholic liberals to see and admit that their own views and causes are being hi-jacked by this radical wing. For them, organizations like Priests for Life are seen as an anachronistic hindrance to social progress. A nice little scandal undermining Priests for Life would be most welcomed in some circles right about now, not least among them some purportedly Catholic circles.

But there isn’t a scandal. Father Frank Pavone hasn’t been accused of anything, though I do worry about his extreme vulnerability. There are agendas at work even in our Church that would be bolstered by the destruction of Father Pavone, his career, and his reputation. That fact must be a part of the equation as Catholics evaluate this story. Father Frank Pavone first was a target long before he was a suspect...


I cannot speak to the internal disagreements between Father Frank Pavone and Bishop Patrick Zurek. I know none of the details. But I can speak in a broader sense of the necessity for any priest in the current climate to preserve his rights under Church law. I can only relate some of what transpired with my own bishop in a canonical proceeding to shed light on some of what may be happening behind the scenes in the Diocese of Amarillo.

Father Pavone came under recent attack in some circles because his bishop scheduled a personal meeting which Father Pavone declined to attend. There were some people – some very well intentioned – who saw in this some shades of culpability on the part of Father Pavone, using it to cast suspicion on his own transparency and desire to cooperate with his bishop.

It is likely, however, that Bishop Zurek has declined to allow a meeting to take place with Father Pavone’s Canonical Advocate present. I do not know this for certain, but I have read that Father Pavone’s Canonical Advocate has requested mediation in this matter between Father Pavone and his bishop. It was apparently on the advice of the Advocate that Father Pavone declined to meet without his Advocate or a mediator present. Both Father Pavone and his Canonical Advocate, Father David Deibel, J.D., J.C.L. have come under some public fire for this.

Church Law insists that any priest in a canonical forum has a right to advocacy. I stand by what I wrote in “Thy Brother’s Keeper“:

“I bow also to Father Pavone’s resolve to protect his rights under the higher authority of the law of the Church, for the [Dallas] Charter makes one thing clear now: Some bishops will neither protect nor respect those rights.”
I speak from experience. Throughout the last decade of attempting to defend myself before both a court of law and a court of public opinion, I have also had to simultaneously defend myself against a one-sided effort by my bishop to bring about a canonical dismissal from the priesthood with no defense whatsoever offered by me. Throughout this process, my bishop has steadfastly refused to meet or even converse with my Canonical Advocate regarding the matter of preserving my rights under Church law.

Far worse, when my bishop learned that I am seeking an opportunity to bring forward a new appeal of my conviction, my bishop hired his own lawyers to conduct a secret evaluation of my trial to present in Rome and circumvent my own efforts to defend myself. He has repeatedly refused to share with me or my Canonical Advocate the findings of that secret assessment.

My bishop has acted throughout in the role of a prosecutor, but it’s even worse than that.  In America, prosecutors are required to turn over to the defense the nature of charges and any evidence that supports them.  When I tried to assert my rights under Church law in this matter, my bishop responded with silence and has remained silent ever since.

I believe I could safely say that every organization formed on behalf of priests to assist in protecting their rights under Canon Law would now state that no priest in even a hint of an adversarial circumstance with his bishop should ever agree to a one-on-one meeting without his Canonical Advocate present. It would not only be foolish, it could be destructive. It would be akin to a prosecutor demanding to meet privately with a defendant without his lawyer present.

As the priesthood crisis became critical in 2002, Cardinal Avery Dulles gave bishops and priests a clear reminder of their rights and obligations under Church law.  His fine article, “The Rights of Accused Priests” is reprinted under “Articles” on These Stone Walls. Given these rights and obligations, I admire that Father Pavone is determined to resolve this matter in unity with his bishop. No bishop can in justice order him or any priest to set aside his rights under Church law... (continued)


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