On Fr. Pavone's failure to meet with Bp. Zurek
Many, many people were fervently praying for a good outcome to yesterday’s meeting between Fr. Pavone, who had expressed his desire to meet with his superior in Amarillo, and Bp. Zurek, who last week offered a personal meeting to Pavone with ample notice. Those petitions were dashed, however, when (to what I think must have been the universal surprise of observers) Pavone simply failed to appear.
Now, a “private meeting” between a bishop and one of his priests “to discuss his spiritual progress” poses (for reasons I can elaborate, if useful) zero canonical risk to a priest in disciplinary contention with his bishop. Conversely, the benefits of such a meeting, for men committed to improving their relationship, can be enormous. Basic risk-reward analysis would say, “Take the meeting.” So what happened?
Maybe Pavone saw in Zurek’s letter only an “invitation” to meet and did not know, or want to know, that, in diocesanese, an “invitation” from a lawful superior to a recalcitrant subject to meet privately is tantamount to saying “here is our chance to talk behind closed doors before this gets any nastier”. Perhaps Pavone narrowly read the “invitation” from Zurek as something he was free to accept or decline. But if so, good manners should have led Pavone to let the bishop know that he was declining the invitation. And a lot of folks could have then saved their prayers for a meeting that Pavone apparently had no intention of attending.
But even if word-splitting accounts for Pavone's refusal to meet with Zurek, a strict ‘parsing-of-words’ defense is not one I would suggest for Pavone: whatever the character of Zurek’s overture to Pavone, the topic of their meeting was to be Pavone’s “spiritual progress during this time of prayer and reflection”. What, therefore, Pavone rejected was a meeting with his own bishop to discuss matters squarely and unquestionably within the authority and responsibility of his bishop. It's just not where a priest who, as I have said several times, has suffered some injustice in the course of this dispute, wants to draw a line against his bishop. He's bound to lose that one.
Okay, I have no crystal ball to divine the future here, but I would be surprised if Zurek offered Pavone another “invitation”. My guess is the next communication will be a precept. + + +
Update, same day. Fr. David Diebel, Pavone's canonist, now says that he advised Pavone against meeting with Zurek. I'll not second-guess a lawyer's advice to his client; folks can (and doubtless will) assess that advice for themselves. I will simply observe that, the opinions of lawyers notwithstanding, these cases always come down to the conduct of the principals.