- In the first part of our interview, you told us how Cardinal O’Connor of New York gave you permission to devote your ministry to protecting the unborn from abortion, but how his successor, Cardinal Egan, did not want to let you continue doing that, despite the success of the ministry.
Let’s go back to that for a moment. Do you have any indication of why Cardinal Egan did not want you to continue a successful pro-life ministry ?
Yes, I do, because another Cardinal let me in on it.
One day in Casper, Wyoming, when I was on a trip in March of 2001 speaking to clergy and women’s groups in the diocese (and I am on the road most of the time in my Priests for Life ministry), I received a phone call at about 7:30am am local time as I was getting out of a car at my first venue of the day. It was from Cardinal William Keeler, who at that time was the Archbishop of Baltimore. He was calling me in his capacity as the Chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities. He evidently didn’t know I was on Mountain time, two hours earlier than Eastern Time.
He told me he had just gotten off the phone with two other cardinals… Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, and my own Ordinary, Cardinal Edward Egan. All three of them were talking about me and Priests for Life.
Because we had recently launched a national billboard campaign to promote awareness that healing and forgiveness are available to those who have had abortions.
And to make a long story short, the bishops wanted it done their way. They wanted us to use the money we had raised for our billboard campaign and use it to put up the billboards they had designed, because, they maintained, theirs were better and, after all, they’re the bishops.
- So what was the concern of the bishops about your billboard project?
There were three concerns: a) they didn’t think the content was appropriate; b) they didn’t think we had adequately consulted them, and c) they didn’t think the Churches were ready to receive the number of people who would come forward as a result of a major advertising campaign.
Now my team and I don’t mind criticism offered in good will; we all can learn from it.
But what was disturbing about the bishops’ concerns – and those who worked for them – was the heavy-handed, controlling attitude that they displayed. This was my first real exposure to that, and there would be a lot more to come. And it continues to this day.
The bishops ordered us, at our expense, to take down the billboards we had put up, and to throw away the ones we had made. They didn’t ask about the consultation we had undertaken and the advice we had received from experts in healing after abortion. Their own experts were all that mattered to them.
And saddest of all, I had one of the bishops’ key advisors on healing after abortion say to me that they were concerned that someone would see the billboards, turn to the local Church for help, find no response, and commit suicide.
One wonders why, 28 years after Roe, the bishops felt so unprepared. Moreover, what about those who would commit suicide because they never received the offer of help in the first place?
This whole thing just struck me as cowardice.
- How was the matter resolved?
My board and I cooperated with the bishops, although at first, Cardinal Keeler didn’t give me a chance… I was on the road constantly, and because I didn’t respond to one of his letters immediately (it was at the office; I wasn’t), he wrote to all the bishops about my lack of cooperation before I could even get back to my desk to read his letter.
Once I did, I set things in motion to stop using the billboards we had made. The bishops’ pro-life committee and I issued a joint press release saying we were happy to work together. Our bishop advisors congratulated me on doing a good job at resolving the matter.
But the bureaucrats at the bishops’ conference continued to badmouth our work, including in Rome, and to try to hinder the healing ministry we were carrying out in partnership with Rachel’s Vineyard, which two years later, at the request of its founders, Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke, became a ministry of Priests for Life. Since that time (2003) I have served as the Pastoral Director of this largest ministry for healing after abortion in the world.
- So picking up from our last interview, what happened once the Vatican permitted you to incardinate into the Diocese of Amarillo?
Bishop John Yanta established a “Society of Apostolic Life” called the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, and we began accepting and training seminarians to eventually do fulltime pro-life work as priests, just as I was doing.
But as time went on, we realized that the model Priests for Life had established since 1993, namely, that priests and lay people living in different places would be available at all times to respond to the needs of the pro-life movement and travel around the country doing that work, was not compatible with a centralized community, as a Society of Apostolic Life required. The bishop was rightly concerned that I wasn’t in Amarillo enough.
Various bishop advisors and the Vatican eventually helped us discern that we had all moved too quickly to set up the Society, without giving ourselves enough time to experiment with that model.
I was content, however, to be able to say that we had made the effort to find a home in the Church for priests, like me, who felt called to devote their ministry to saving the unborn. That ministry would continue, according to the structure it had since 1993, with my team of priests and laity traveling the nation and the world non-stop to end abortion.
- After that, Bishop Yanta’s time came to retire, and Bishop Patrick Zurek became bishop of Amarillo. Did he welcome you?
He was a problem from before he became Bishop of Amarillo. While he was still auxiliary bishop in San Antonio, the bishop came to one of our Priests for Life receptions at the bishops’ conference, only to leave one of our top donors in tears because of a discussion he had with her in which he complained about the effort to have priests preach often on abortion. This donor told me, “He certainly doesn’t like you,” and then after she left, the bishop chided me, saying, “This was not good. You can’t have priests preaching on abortion all the time.”
As if that was what we advocate. How about asking me what we do rather than chiding me for a caricature of what we do?
In his first meeting with me as my new bishop, he said, “My wish for your ministry is not death” and “I do not dislike you.”
He never gave me a letter of endorsement for the work of Priests for Life, and shortly into his administration, he asked me to remove from the Priests for Life website any mention of his name, including documents we had posted of his pro-life statements and talks, and asked me also to remove my “Celebret” card, which bore his signature.
He refused multiple opportunities and invitations to visit our Priests for Life headquarters, did not ever acknowledge the letters Priests for Life sent him, and despite my years of experience in the pro-life cause, never asked my input or assistance for the respect life activities of the diocese.
In what will be a very long and detailed story in the subsequent parts of this interview, we will see how this bishop lied to me and about me publicly, violated various norms of canon law in trying to stop my work, was corrected by the Vatican multiple times in regard to his mistreatment of me, and how in fact he is persisting to this day in trying to have me dismissed from the priesthood! This is so despite the fact that my ministry and I have been so strongly supported over the years by the Vatican, by other bishops, and by the People of God in every denomination, as has been well documented at www.PriestsForLife.org/Praise.
We will discuss all this in subsequent parts of this interview, but in the meantime I am providing much longer, documented accounts of all of this history at www.FrFrankPavone.com. Meanwhile, the best thing that people can do about all this is simply to become more familiar with our work at Priests for Life, be involved with our projects, and support our efforts to end abortion!
(To be continued…)