Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is ‘mediation’ the way to resolve the Zurek-Pavone conflict?

I’ve avoided commenting on an idea being floated in the last few weeks that someone should “mediate” the conflict between Bp. Zurek and Fr. Pavone, but now that the proposal has been publicly made by a responsible party in this matter, a few comments on it might be useful. Basically, the word “mediation” gets used in two senses; it makes a difference which sense of “mediation” one has in mind.

If “mediation” is taken in the loose sense of ‘two sides in a dispute sitting down and talking’, typically with a neutral but knowledgeable third-party present, then, yes, mediation could be a good first step toward trying to resolve the Zurek-Pavone conflict and it should be given a chance to work, even now, despite the gaffs committed by both sides up to this point.

But if “mediation” is taken in a stricter sense of ‘attempting to reconcile the competing views of two sides to a dispute wherein both sides have a more-or-less equal say over the outcome’ then, no, mediation is not likely to offer much potential for progress here. The canonical and ecclesiological fact is that Zurek and Pavone are not equal sides in this dispute.

Mind, right-versus-wrong is not a one-way street in this case.

For example, Pavone should not, in my opinion, ask for “mediation” of Zurek’s twice iterated statement that Pavone is “suspended”. A bishop’s repeated use of such terminology in regard to a priest who has been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime is wrong, and one does not call for "mediation" of a wrong done one, but rather, for its prompt and unambiguous correction.

Moreover, I don’t see how it's appropriate to call for “mediation” of Zurek’s request to examine the books of PFL and its sundry affiliates. Zurek either has the canonical authority to demand such records or he doesn’t. Granted, canon law itself might be unclear in this unusual case (exactly who is the competent ecclesiastical authority over a private association of the faithful, approved in San Francisco but headquartered in New York, whose Director happens to be a priest incardinated in Amarillo?), but such questions are matters for legal clarification, not "mediation".

But those two issues aside—one a matter wherein Pavone is clearly in the right, and the other a matter on which both sides might be in some doubt—everything else in this case seems to be (based on what is known publicly) something over which Zurek has clear-cut authority to direct as he sees fit.

For example, let’s suppose that Zurek were to say to Pavone something like, “I want you to resign the leadership of Priests for Life effective by the end of this year. On January first of 2012, I am appointing you associate pastor of All Holiness Parish, to serve in accord with canon law under the direction of Pastor Bill Bigheart, at which point you will enjoy all of the faculties for ministry enjoyed by other pastors and associate pastors in this diocese.”

What, pray tell, would there be to “mediate” about such a directive?

Sure, Pavone might not want to give up his leadership of PFL, and PFL might even suffer in his absence; Pavone is certainly free to make those points to Zurek, but neither factor alone nor both together bind Zurek’s hands nor give rise to grounds for “mediation”.

Could Pavone take “recourse” against such directives? I suppose, for the bar for filing recourse is fairly low. But the bar for overturning a bishop’s lawful orders to one of his priests is quite high. Pavone could also exercise his right to seek excardination to another diocese or religious institute, but seeking excardination, and getting it, are two different things. In the meantime, neither recourse nor diocese-shopping would justify Pavone’s refusing to follow such lawful directives as he might receive from his bishop.

While some other issues occur to me, it suffices for now to suggest that, before any mediation, at least in the more formal sense, is undertaken in this matter, it behooves us to make sure that there is something to "mediate" in the first place. + + +

Summary of my posts on the Zurek-Pavone conflict.