“While there were occasions in which I had to speak with him about sensitive, even unpleasant matters, Father Pavone, in my experience, demonstrated himself to be an effective and generous priest, completely dedicated to the ministry, especially pro-life ministry. I have seen the fruits of his ministry in the diocese and elsewhere on the national and international scene,” Waldow wrote.
“It is in this context that I encouraged Father Pavone to leave the diocese and place himself beyond the impact of Bishop Zurek’s personal animus toward him, so that he could continue to flourish as a priest and that the fruits I had seen personally could continue to mature.”
‘Frank, you are incorrigible’
A second letter, dated May 5, 2017, a little over a year after Waldow’s, is from Zurek. The bishop wrote that he would pursue the priest’s laicization if Pavone didn’t voluntarily submit his own request to be dismissed from the clerical state. Zurich gave Pavone 15 days to respond.
“It is with a heavy heart, but also with absolute frustrations with you that I write this letter,” is how Zurek began. He cited Pavone’s “scandalous behavior,” “involvement in partisan politics,” “persistent disobedience,” and “lack of respect for legitimate ecclesial authority, control, and oversight.”
Much of the letter concerns the 2016 episode dealing with the aborted baby’s remains.
“I have received hundreds of emails, many calls, letters, and notes from Catholics, non-Catholics” and non-Christians, Zurek wrote. “All were outraged, horrified, and deeply scandalized by your actions. The gravest damage has resulted.”
Zurek also cited Pavone’s “partisan rhetoric in favor of one political candidate and party,” which the bishop said was a violation of canon law.
“Frank, you are incorrigible,” Zurek wrote.
“You have no respect for me, my office, my authority, my oversight,” he wrote.
“I have been dealing with your disobedience and scandalous behavior for years. There is nothing more I can do with you,” he wrote.
“In good conscience, I will not even consider allowing you to excardinate to another diocese,” the bishop concluded.
“You would just continue to be disobedient and act scandalously, as you have in your excardination from New York into the Amarillo Diocese,” he wrote, adding: “My predecessor, Bishop Yanta, told me that he deeply regrets incardinating you into the Amarillo Diocese.”
In a statement Thursday, Pavone claimed Zurek never fully investigated the facts of the 2016 incident and misrepresented Pavone’s other alleged infractions.
Pavone said the two letters, taken together, provide a fuller picture of what led up to the Vatican’s drastic measures against him. And he stood by his earlier statements that he has not seen any official notification of his laicization.
“My public comments are consistent with what the official says here. I simply have been saying that I, personally, have not seen the decree, nor has my canonical team,” he said.
“But again, both the diocese and the Vatican knew of my communication to the bishop that any further effort to contact me directly would be considered and treated as harassment,” he added. “In my experience, this was not a process; it was abuse, and the authorities need to respect that whether they agree with it or not.”
You can read Bishop Zurek’s full letter to Frank Pavone below:
Shannon Mullen is the Editor-in-Chief of CNA. He previously worked as a features writer, investigative reporter, and editor with the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press. He has received numerous national reporting awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
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