Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, September 16, 2011

Some non-canonical reactions to Fr. Pavone’s latest statement

Fr. Pavone has issued another statement. It’s pretty clear that he is not getting, or is not heeding, advice to step out of the limelight. Whatever, I find his latest remarks troubling, not so much canonically this time (although there are worrisome signs there), but more for what they indicate about Pavone’s person and direction.

I write here, then, not as a canonist, but as a reasonably intelligent Catholic man, about the same age as Fr. Pavone, sharing the same Creed and sacraments and pope, familiar with pro-life work, who has worked with clergy and seminarians most of his adult life.

Pavone writes, I think, from the heart. I will too. Excerpts from Pavone's text in italics, my reactions in regular type.

Well, friends, here in Amarillo I am working hard at my computer on various pro-life projects as I await further instructions from the diocese. Nothing yet…

Nothing? What’s that mean? Does a young, healthy priest, in his home diocese, with full faculties for ordained ministry therein, really need to be told what to do with a large, unexpected block of time? If so, I have some suggestions.

Besides engaging in the “period of prayer and reflection” to which you were directed, how about offering to cover some masses for your over-stretched diocesan brothers who are saying two, three (and, shhh!, sometimes four) masses a day for the local faithful? Or how about slipping, a la John Paul II, into a parish confessional for a few extra hours each day to tend whatever souls God might send you? If the liturgical or sacramental work of a secular priest is not your forte, maybe you could visit your elderly and infirm brothers, or fill relief boxes at a community shelter and share some moments with people in need. Would the daily grind of tending souls ransomed by Christ, but at such grave risk in this world, be such a poor use of your time?

Sure, it’s distressing to have to endure false suspicions, inaccurate media reports…

False suspicions are a great cross, and in that respect, Father, you have my sympathy and, weak as they are, my prayers. Truly. But as for inaccurate media reports, while those are certainly a pain, at least some of that inaccuracy has been generated by you.

[It’s distressing to have to endure] disruption to a mission which is at the core of my life.

Stop. Something is seriously askew here. Nothing, not even the most visible (and arguably the most effective) pro-life work in the world, is at the “core” of any priest’s life; nothing is there, besides the High Priest Jesus Christ. That is no pious platitude. For any priest, religious or diocesan, to assert before the world that anything is at the core of his life besides the Son of God is very disturbing.

Tears, sleepless nights, anger, righteous indignation – this and more come to me each day because something is happening to the youngest members of the human family.

Forgive my impatience, Father, but I don’t see anything in this litany of woes that can’t be claimed by virtually every conscientious Christian parent trying to raise children in this wicked age. And nothing in this list has not been endured by every normal adult who, in his or her own way, is trying to make the world a better place, often in the face of appalling injustices (one of which, to be sure, is abortion, and most of which aren’t) but with much less freedom and far fewer resources than you have been blessed with. The vast majority of such folks, however, don’t go around blogging about it. They just quietly do the best they can with what they have.

The images of their mangled bodies accompany me to sleep and greet me when I awake; the cries of their silent voices mingle in my ears with the voices of those who speak to me; their aggrieved rights come to the forefront of my mind when anyone’s “rights” are discussed.

Well, if that's true, Father, then you need some time off. I mean it. If the last thoughts through your mind each night are not ones of gratitude that the Lord gave you another day on this earth, but only mangled bodies, and if the first thing you think of each morning is not His assured triumph over every evil, but more mangled bodies, then, you need some time off. If you can’t hear the voices of the people that God sends into your life without hearing the cries of dying babies, and if you can't see anyone’s suffering except in terms of suffering babies, then, in all seriousness, you need some time off. Thank Bp. Zurek for imposing it, however ham-handedly, on you.

The consolation is that there are things I can do to stop this holocaust…

Noooo, the consolation of a priest (well, of every Christian, but especially of every priest) is God. One can’t just continue, as you seem to do time after time, blowing past such key points.

I’m sitting here in Amarillo right now because I’m a faithful and obedient priest, as I promised to be long ago.

Golly, is that supposed to make Amarillo Catholics feel more loved? Seriously, your remarks about the Church in Amarillo have never been very gracious, and now their parishes face offensive picketing by a group that you advise and endorse. I don't see what Amarillo Catholics have done to deserve such mean treatment. I hope you will disavow that action proposed in your behalf very soon.

But there’s a more fundamental reason I’m sitting here … [it’s] because cooperating with Church authority at this moment is the best way to preserve the mission I lead to save these children.

Cooperating "at this moment"? What does that mean? That “conditional obedience” which I mentioned a day or two ago is back. If “sitting here in Amarillo” gets in the way of the “mission you lead”, are you outta there? Regardless of what you might mean, do you realize what you are saying? Do you realize the kind of example you are setting for seminarians and young priests who, I assure you, feel just as strongly about injustice, including the injustice of abortion, as you do, and who are watching to see how this awful mess resolves? They want to know, is the priesthood (and all of its obligations) a vocation, or is it a devout context in which to carry on a life-long service project?

But let’s be clear. Nobody needs anybody else’s permission to save a human life, to rescue a child from dismemberment and decapitation.

Okay, fine, let’s do set aside the righteous rhetoric and be very clear here: a secular priest like you needs permission from his bishop to take on just about any significant public activity, especially full-time work outside of his home diocese, and a diocesan priest most certainly may not carry out such activities in the face of lawful directives against his undertaking them. I promised not to talk as a canonist, here, so I’ll skip the list of relevant canons. But they aren't hard to find.

In fact, to fail to do so is to fail miserably as a priest, as a Catholic, as a Christian, and as a human being. God deliver us from that fate.

That remark shows a startling contempt for the lives, work, and witness of tens of thousands of holy priests, hundreds of thousands of holy religious, and millions of holy Catholics and human beings who have never saved a baby from an abortion or taken a single step in prayer outside an aboratorium. And I say that to you as a Catholic man who has done both, many times.

The daily, unseen strivings of the People of God—even those whom you label as miserable failures for never having saved a human life or rescued a child from dismemberment—contribute mightily to the holiness of the Mystical Body of Christ, a holiness on which we all, including you, draw daily. Such people deserve your respect and even gratitude, not words of disdain and disparagement.

I offer a final suggestion with, I hope, with your good, the good of the pro-life movement, and the good of the Church, in mind: stop airing your angst about your situation in public, and let cooler heads on both sides, guided by law, resolve this conflict.

For the rest, this too shall pass.

Updated, 19 Sept 2011:

"Saving lives takes precedence over obeying orders. If not, explain this:” (19 Sept 2011).

This petulant ‘tweet’ from Fr. Pavone confirms, I suggest, the concerns many have expressed regarding the adversative stance that Pavone is publicly showing toward lawful ecclesiastical authority. I'll just say (at the risk of pointing out the obvious) that Congress' interpretation of the rules of military conduct as they apply to soldiers under heavy enemy fire sheds little light on the degree of compliance expected of diocesan priests when they receive lawful episcopal directives.