Frank Pavone, Head of Priests for Life, Suspended after Accusations of Financial Mismanagement
Frank Pavone, the leader of Priests for Life, has been suspended from engaging in active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, as a result of concerns about financial improprieties.
The local bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, wrote in a letter to all of the bishops in the US, “My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship over the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization. The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”
Pavone began running PFL full time in late 1993, and subsequently moved it from California to Port Chester, New York, and then to the New York City borough of Staten Island. In 2007, he attempted to open a seminary in Amarillo, but this move was abandoned due to a lack of recruits—despite the organization’s $10.8 million budget.
Pavone has used his own image and personality to promote his cause, posting large photographs of himself in a wide variety of materials, especially outdoor advertising. He often described himself in terms reminiscent of a touring performer or campaigning candidate for office. In a May 2006 letter to supporters, the PFL leader basked in the “commitment and enthusiastic response” of his fans. He added that the “dynamic” of his interaction with supporters—hence, not his commitment to the cause—was “what drew me into full-time pro-life ministry.”
The priest avidly courts media attention. For example, he administered the widely publicized 1998 confirmation ceremony—without a bishop, despite a clear church teaching that bishops should perform confirmations—of Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey, the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case.
Perhaps his most intense moment in the spotlight came in 2004, when he became deeply involved in the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade and whose parents, supported by Pavone, opposed her husband’s ultimately successful bid to have her feeding tube removed.
Pavone and his organization were the subject of a report by Catholics for Choice, Faithless Politics: Priests for Life Defies Constitution and Conscience.
Most recently, Pavone has been involved with a bus tour of the south—an attempt to imitate the Civil Rights movement’s summer of 1961 Freedom Rides and highjack the moral mantle of the historic movement. Calling it the “Prolife Freedom Ride,” the organizers have compared fetuses to “slaves” and claim to be the new Civil Rights movement, according to Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a PFL employee. Pavone’s group was met with derision by local residents and advocates for reproductive justice during a demonstration at Atlanta’s King Center. The full story is available here.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, suggested that, given Pavone’s history, this suspension was not a surprise. “Priests for Life’s ultra-right-wing positions on abortion and other issues have alienated many laypeople and priests alike. Its links to the antichoice movement’s extreme, aggressive fringe, such as Operation Rescue leaders Randall Terry and Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, have been a constant scandal. Ultimately, Priests for Life appears to never have attracted more then one in five US priests. Perhaps it was inevitable that his financial stewardship would also come into question.”
This is the second scandal to hit a prominent antichoice organization in recent months. In January, it became public that Fr. Tom Euteneuer, the former head of Human Life International, had resigned as a result of sexual improprieties. Euteneuer acknowledged that he had “violat[ed] the boundaries of chastity with an adult female who was under my spiritual care.”