Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Initial remarks on the Zurek-Pavone dispute

1. The Zurek-Pavone dispute is public. Based only on Zurek’s letter to Pavone and on Pavone’s response to Zurek as reported at Lifesite News, I offer the following initial observations and/or personal opinions.

Bp. Zurek:

  • should not have used the term “suspend” in regard to Pavone, for “suspension” is a canonical penalty for crime (c. 1333), and Pavone has not been accused of any crime.
  • is within his authority to recall Pavone to Amarillo in virtue of Pavone’s promise of obedience (c. 273) and may revoke the permission required for any secular cleric to be outside his diocese of incardination for a notable period (c. 283).
  • may assign Pavone to a “time of prayer and reflection” and need not give him a specific office (c. 157).
  • is responsible for Pavone’s reasonable maintenance (c. 281).

Fr. Pavone:

  • is a priest in good standing, specifically with faculties for ministry within the Diocese of Amarillo; absent clarification, however, I would regard as withdrawn Pavone’s faculties for preaching outside of Amarillo (c. 764), for confession outside of Amarillo (c. 967), and for the exercise of other sacred functions such as celebrating Mass outside of Amarillo (cc. 903, 561), none of which restrictions, however, is an express or implied penalty.
  • has a right to protest, even vigorously (c. 220), the use of the word “suspend” in his regard, but has alleged no basis to oppose his basic recall to Amarillo or any lawful directives otherwise imposed on him now or in the future.
  • has alleged no basis upon which the “public promise” of pro-life work he made in a ceremony “presided over by a Vatican cardinal” conferred on Pavone any special canonical rights able to be invoked against the normal exercise of ecclesiastical authority.
  • as the (apparent) CEO of Priests for Life, a “private association of the faithful” (cc. 321-326), Pavone/PFL are susceptible to the “vigilance” of ecclesiastical authority in the administration of its assets (c. 325); who exactly that authority is, however, is not clear from the information in front of me.
  • needs to be attentive to the restrictions against clerical involvement in the administration of goods belonging to lay persons (c. 285) and against clerical involvement in negotio (c. 286).

Other aspects of this situation seem to warrant comment, but the above should help sharpen one's initial understanding of the canonical parameters within which this dispute should be addressed. Let's all pray, of course, for a prompt and suitable resolution.

2. Update, same day:

Further to my remarks above are the following occasioned by a news article in National Catholic Register.

PFL canonist David Deibel has, I think, a rock solid case for securing withdrawal of Bp. Zurek’s language about “suspending” Fr. Pavone, so solid, in fact, that Zurek might well withdraw it himself. Less clear to me, however, is how the withdrawal of that inappropriate language would necessarily vacate the substance of Zurek’s directive to Pavone to return home immediately and cease all extra-territorial ministry. Suspension and recall are severable issues, and a bishop’s authority to call a priest home is not predicated on whether that priest is suspended.

Pavone’s understanding that a bishop’s job is “to affirm the work of his priest”, at least as Pavone apparently wishes to apply the rule to his work, is not consistent with the numerous descriptions of bishop’s governing authority under canon law.

His statement that “I do not intend to stay in Amarillo” is temerarious coming from a secular priest incardinated in that particular church. Moreover, his statement that “it’s inconceivable that in the Roman Catholic Church there is no place for a priest to commit himself full time to pro-life ministry” is unnecessarily inflammatory, and evidences, among other things, a deficient understanding of what ordained priesthood is about in the first place.

In the heat of the moment, people say things, of course, that they later wish they had put otherwise; I think that is happening here. But, if I were advising either side of this dispute, I’d counsel fewer public statements, more accurately phrased.

3. Another update, same day:

I now have the text of Fr. Pavone's letter to prelates of 12 September 2011. I have some thoughts on it, as follows.

Finances. The scope of financial supervision that ecclesiastical authority enjoys over groups within the Church varies according to, among other things, the nature and canonical status of the group in question. A “private association of the faithful”, as PFL describes itself, is subject to the least degree of ecclesiastical accountability under canon law—not none, certainly, but relatively little as compared say, to public associations of the faithful or to public juridic persons. I cannot tell whether the bishop of Amarillo has supervisory authority over PFL, nor can I verify PFL’s claims about its cooperation with such supervisory requests as have been made of it by Bp. Zurek but, prima facie, PFL is making a plausible case to have cooperated.

Incardination. The bond between a secular cleric and his home diocese, known in canon law as "incardination" (cc. 265-272), is canonically, ecclesiologically, and spiritually very important. It is not an exercise in adminsitrivia nor is it a mere relationship of convenience between a cleric and an ordinary, but rather, it organizes a relationship rooted in love and law by which an ordained minister of Jesus Christ serves the People of God. By incardination, every secular cleric receives a bishop to whom he owes obedience.

Like marriage, incardination is an all-or-nothing state. One is either incardinated in a diocese (or institute of consecrated life, or a very few other things) or one is not incardinated there. Incardination is not temporary, it is not conditional, it is not revocable, and it is not capable of being held simultaneously in two or more dioceses. Incardination, for these and a dozen other reasons, should never be undertaken hastily.

Incardination can be transferred from one diocese to another, but not upon the simple, or even the emphatic, request of the priest (or for that matter, by a bishop acting unilaterally). In brief, three parties must freely agree to the change: the current bishop, the receiving bishop, and the cleric. Any one of them can prevent the transfer, and in case of disputes, Rome is, for obvious reasons, very reluctant to interfere. By the way, neither the PFL nor the “Missionaries of the Gospel of Life” is capable of incardinating a cleric.

While a contract between an incardinating bishop and an incardinating priest would bind in accord with canon and civil law, and while even appropriate modi vivendi between former bishops and priests should not be casually overturned by newer bishops, it is most unlikely that an “understanding” between a former bishop and a priest can be parlayed by that priest into a bar against the new bishop’s making lawful provisions in regard to the priest for his future work.

I'll continue to observe this unfolding situation and try to comment when possible and appropriate. Of course, we all hope and pray that it is resolved promptly and appropriately.

4. Update, 15 Sept 2011:

Some are asking whether Priests for Life is really a “Private Association of the Faithful” under canon law? I believe it is.

Abp. John Quinn’s letter of 30 April 1991 to Fr. Lee Kaylor seems to satisfy the admittedly low standard for recognizing a private association as set out in c. 299 § 3, namely, “review” of its statutes by the competent ecclesiastical authority. Abp. Quinn praised Priests for Life in his 1991 letter, but he did not himself erect the association, thus preserving its private character per c. 301 § 3. A later document could have revoked or modified the canonical status of Priests for Life, but I am not aware of any such document.

The inclusion of Priests for Life in the Official Catholic Directory does not, of itself, confer canonical status on the group, but, beyond such listing serving the public convenience, the asterisk-inclusion carries certain tax implications under civil law.

5. Update, also 15 Sept 2011:

Fr. Pavone has issued another statement about his situation.

Personally, I think it imprudent of him to be carrying on his defense through the media. If nothing else, he should allow his canonical and civil counsel to speak for him; generally one’s strong points are expressed more clearly by others, while one’s weaknesses are not paraded. Nevertheless, Pavone has spoken again, so public commentary is in order.

Pavone continues to evidence, in my opinion, a deficient appreciation of the fact he is a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo and an attitude of only conditional obedience toward his bishop.

Pavone writes “I am now in Amarillo—as obedience requires—for my temporary visit as matters with my bishop are worked out.” Now, unless Pavone has been told by his bishop that his visit to Amarillo is temporary (and there is no suggestion that such has been done), then his description of his recall to his home diocese as a “temporary visit” signals an unwillingness to stay as long as his bishop sees fit. Pavone’s characterization of the purpose of his “visit”, namely, to ‘work things out’, is not the language of a diocesan priest committed to serving the People of God under the direction of the local bishop, but rather, of a man who wants to settle a few annoying details with a supervisor so he can get back to his own project.

Pavone invokes the centrality of his “unwavering commitment to the mission at hand” but he obviously understands “the mission at hand” to be the one he has identified for himself, and not a mission as might be set before him by the Church through the ministry of his lawful bishop. The mission of every secular priest, however, is, first, last, and always, to bring Christ to his people; everything else flows from that.

Pavone’s reiteration of the “permanent, lifelong commitment I have to spend every moment of my time and every ounce of my energy defending the unborn from abortion” is stirring rhetoric, but it can’t be taken literally. No one is called to spend every moment and every ounce of energy defending anyone from a specific evil. It is certainly not the call of one who possesses the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ. A priest, especially a diocesan priest, must strive to be all things to all people, not just one thing to some people.

Pavone invokes the memory of Blessed John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa, and Cardinal John O’Connor and urges “clergy and laity alike [to] learn from their total commitment to ending abortion.” Fr. Pavone should plumb those examples more deeply himself.

I recognize, of course, that some of Bp. Zurek’s statements about Priests for Life are hard to reconcile with the information available to the public, and that some of his characterizations of Pavone seem imprudent to have made, let alone to have circulated. But binding decisions about priests are not made only by perfect bishops who have a sure appreciation of the ramifications of all of their acts, any more than parishes are led only by perfect priests who have an infallible sense of the will of God. Ecclesiastical decisions are made and carried out by fallible sinners. We just have to deal with it.

I do not know how the Zurek-Pavone conflict will be resolved, but I do know that, in cases of conflict, it’s usually best to start with a clear understanding of the law, so that each side knows where it stands (and here, both sides have some points to urge). Then, let’s see what can be worked out within it.

6. Update, also 15 Sept 2011:

Some of the recent media comments by Msgr. Harold Waldow, Amarillo’s vicar of clergy, add, I think, to the confusion, especially about canon law, clouding the Zurek-Pavone conflict. I'm sure that was not his intention, but this comments require emendation anyway.

Waldow begins correctly enough: “I think Rome has been quite clear the bishops of the United States need to exercise more prudential guidance and governance over the patrimony of the church.” That’s fine.

But then the vicar says: “This [namely, the assets of Priests for Life and its affiliates] is patrimony of the church. It belongs to the church.” Emphasizing the point, Waldow adds: “People give their money over the understanding that it goes to the church or church auspices and programs and ministries.” I believe that these assertions are, in light of the facts available on this matter, quite wrong.

Let’s back up.

Only that property, regardless of what it is or how it is civilly registered, which is owned by a “public juridic person” in the Church (cc. 113-123) is considered to be ecclesiastical or Church property (cc. 1255-1258). There is no such thing as ecclesiastical or Church property being canonically owned by private persons or groups.

Now, I see no evidence that PFL or any of its affiliates are “public juridic persons” in the Church (indeed, they seem not even to be private juridic persons); instead, PFL is, it seems, but a “private association of the faithful” (scroll up), and as such, while PFL is indeed subject to some level of “vigilance” by the competent ecclesiastical authority, it is generally immune to the wider controls established in Book V of the 1983 Code for ecclesiastical or Church property (cc. 305, 310, and 1257 § 1).

Assuming I am right on the facts (that PFL is not a juridic person), then referring to the assets of PFL, etc., as if they were Church property to be administered in accord with Church law, is a misrepresentation of canon law, confuses donors as to the actual recipients of their gifts and the lines of accountability flowing therefrom, feeds suspicions that local bishops spend their days looking for apostolates with assets they can raid, distracts from the central questions of incardination and clerical obedience raised by this matter, and provides fodder to those who want to characterize the Catholic Church as some megalith run by a cadre of prelates.

Well, I'll continue to observe this situation and try to comment where appropriate.

Other posts:

CBR's plans to aggravate Fr. Pavone's problems (16 Sep)