Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My response to Al Kresta

I just read Al Kresta’s response to my blog post wherein I criticized him for giving Fr. Pavone extended air time last week to present his side of his painful dispute with Bp. Zurek. Like everything else Al does, his essay is reasonable and charitable. May I reply in kind.

Skipping the statements I agree with (such as, Pavone et al. are making his situation worse, not better), I’ll discuss only those points wherein I think Al has missed my meaning or with which I simply disagree.

First, I am not “upset” that Al did the interview; I think it imprudent for him to have conducted it, but it doesn’t “upset” me that he did it. And I don’t think, paternally or in any other way, that anyone is responsible for protecting Pavone from himself. Whether that countenances, however, providing a disputant with a wider stage from which to worsen his situation (a continuing concern of mine), others may decide.

All of my commentary on this matter has addressed statements or actions already in the public arena. Even so, I have only written about those aspects of this matter wherein important points of Church law or clerical practice have been abused or misrepresented by Zurek, et al. or by Pavone, et al. My blog, therefore, of its very nature, and in contrast to Al's media interview, accords neither party the opportunity to improve or worsen his position or reputation.

(The whole reason for my blog is to identify and explain the canonical aspects of events that people see in daily life, thinking, as I do, rightly or wrongly, that, without my explanations, much more confusion about Church discipline would circulate uncorrected than already does. Perhaps I exaggerate my contributions to clarity. Anyway, my interest in this case lays not in vindicating one side or the other, but in explaining, in an accessible, useful, written format, the laws and theological considerations that apply to both sides.)

Okay, Al plainly sees the Zurek-Pavone dispute as essentially a news story. I understand his view, and I respect it, but I see this matter quite differently.

I see the Zurek-Pavone dispute as essentially a disciplinary issue between a sitting bishop and one of his priests (albeit a famous one). Now, precisely as a disciplinary matter, it should be settled in accord with ecclesiastical discipline; but—and here’s the key—the canonical process for treating disciplinary matters is not conducted over the airwaves.

It's not like Al interviewed a Democrat and Republican on the national debt with the goal of helping his listeners to navigate the two sides in light of Church teaching. No, here, Al interviewed a diocesan priest who is in open contention against his bishop concerning matters of ecclesiastical discipline. There simply are not two "sides" here. There is an ecclesiastical superior trying to deal with an ecclesiastical subject. Al's interview was not about Pavone vis-a-vis the forces of darkness, it was about Pavone vis-a-vis his own bishop. I think the differences between the two kinds of issues are so striking as to have made it obvious from the get-go that such an interview was a bad idea.

But the problems, in my opinion, go deeper.

With a sense of journalistic fairness, Al duly invited Zurek to present his 'side' of the story. But, see? that, too, is one of my objections: since when do bishops need to present (let alone to present on national live radio) their 'side' of a disciplinary dispute with one of their priests? I hope that, on further reflection, Al will see that even to have made that offer to Zurek showed an implicit assumption on his part that some kind of 'organizational or authority parity' exists between a bishop and his priests. But, it doesn't.

So Al, as the upright journalist he is, thought he was being fair to both sides, while Ed the canon lawyer saw not two sides competing for the vindication of their opinions (both of which sides should welcome air time to push their positions) but, rather, an ecclesiastical superior, who is attempting to direct the actions of a subordinate, being asked to explain himself before the public. Of course it's inappropriate.

Finally, beyond offering Zurek a chance to defend himself in this conflict, Al has now stated, twice, that an offer to Zurek to come on his show was made, but that the bishop declined. Now, in the world of journalism, for one "side" in a hot dispute to decline free air time makes that side look, if not guilty, then at least uncertain or afraid. Again, I have to ask, why should bishops be made to look like that when they are acting in matters of internal Church discipline?

So, in my opinion, No, Pavone should not have been offered extended media time on a show that is the gold standard of credibility, Zurek should not have been offered equal time as if he were Pavone's equal in this conflict, and Zurek’s not responding to the offer should not have been reported to the public.

My other points must be brief.

1. I have listened to the entire Kresta-Pavone interview, now, and, in my view, Pavone turned several key questions to suit his answers, while some obvious follow up questions were not asked by Al. Perhaps time will permit me to parse the interview in the detail it deserves, though remember, blogging is not my day job, even if radio is Al's.

2. Al's criticism of me for not having "interviewed" Zurek or Pavone is misplaced; I am not a news reporter, and I don't need 'sources' for my analysis of what's already news to stand. I comment, when I can, on canonical and theological matters that others have put in the public arena.

3. Similarly, what exactly does Al think there is for me to debate with Fr. Diebel (Pavone's canon lawyer)? I don't represent one side or another, and I am indifferent as to how (among many ways) this matter resolves. My concern is that canonical and theological errors (and some blunders, as I have pointed out for both sides) be corrected, lest the public take the wrong lessons from the conduct of the principals in this case. But Diebel has made no mistakes and my few remarks in his regard have been supportive!

4. Finally, I don't keep bringing this matter to the public. The two sides (though lately, mostly Pavone et al.) keep bringing it to the public in a way that, in my opinion, requires correction by one who knows what the rules are, and how they apply to both sides. I strive to point out these things objectively.

So, okay, Al Kresta and I disagree strongly on the in/appropriateness of his Pavone interview. Whether Al comes round to my view of this as essentially a disciplinary matter to be resolved internally, or whether I come round to his view of it as a news story to be reported from both sides, remains to be seen. But, while we disagree on this matter, this matter is all we disagree on. If a canonist may put it canonically, our communion per Canon 205 is untouched by our differences on this matter.

And I find that a source of consolation in this too, too divided world. + + +

Update, 29 Sep: Al Kresta has posted a brief and helpful reply to me here. I think it's a good place to let this particular aspect of the discussion rest.