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Bishop Zurek Clamps Down On Fr. Frank Pavone

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It has already been widely reported, that Father Frank Pavone, head of the militant anti-abortion group Priests For Life, has been suspended from active ministry outside of his home diocese of Amarillo, Texas. His Bishop Patrick J. Zurek said he acted in the face of “persistent questions and concerns” about the group’s finances.

The concerns about PFL seems to have been well-founded. Religion News Service reports that the organization failed to disclose financial details and reported a $1.4 million deficit in 2010 (PFL has not filed federal tax forms since 2008).

In a letter explaining the suspension, Bishop Zurek said:

The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight. There have been persistent question (sic) and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently. These financial questions and concerns have persisted with no clear and adequate answers since the time when Father Pavone was under two previous bishop ordinaries. Since he has consistently refused to subject the PFL to a transparent and complete auditing of all expenditures, I have reasons to be alarmed at the potential financial scandal that might arise if it were the result of my failure to correct Father Pavone’s incorrigible defiance to my legitimate authority as his Bishop.

But the bishop also is concerned with Pavone’s ego, stating, “Father Pavone has gradually lost his need to show appropriate obedience to his Bishop.” He further observed, “It seems that his fame has caused him to see priestly obedience as an inconvenience to his unique status and an obstacle to the possible international scope of his ministry.”

The Amarillo Globe-News reported that Pavone was a no-show at an invited October 6 meeting with the bishop.

Pavone stated that he skipped the meeting on the advise of his canonical attorney.

In the meantime a picture of an organization with well-paid but inept executives is emerging.

PFL and its associated groups bring in a lot of money. Tax returns show that between 2004 and 2008 alone PFL raised 45.5 million dollars. Mother Jones magazine reports that in 2008 the group’s executive director made $95,394, the vice chairman of the board made $162,253. MoJo further reported, “The group also spent $736,146 on travel-some of which may have funded Pavone’s efforts to promote the group.”

The Amarillo Globe-News further reported that the State of Pennsylvania fined PFL a total of $8,000 both last year and in 2006 for its failure to renew its 2005 registration as a charity. It also failed to disclose to the state it had hired a marketing company to conduct fundraising campaigns there in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

As the Globe-News pointed out, the failure to report the fundraiser is a bad sign for any not-for-profit:

“Another big no-no,” said Ron Barrett, vice president for nonprofits of National Corporate Research, a business that assists charities in keeping registrations current. “In 23 states, if you’re soliciting and you use a paid fundraiser, you have to send copies of the contracts and alert the states that you are using a paid fundraiser.”

Pennsylvania hit Priests for Life with another fine, this one for $6,000, last year for noncompliance. The nonprofit’s failure to disclose the marketing contract also resulted in a subsequent Pennsylvania investigation that led to penalties for the contractor last year, Pennsylvania State Department spokesman Ron Ruman said.

Meanwhile, Priests for Life may be feeling the pressure of the scrutiny directed at Pavone. The National Catholic Reporter recently reported that PFL “…sent a new desperate plea for money in a letter to donors dated Nov. 4, 2011.” The letter goes on to say that “many supporters have withdrawn their support of PFL because of the controversy surrounding it.”


2 Responses

  1. Hmmmm. Makes me wonder who in this clueless group was related to the ‘paid fund raiser’.

  2. Frank, thanks for providing the latest news about this story. To my mind, it rings a warning bell about the way in which our governmental systems are increasingly heavily invested in “faith-based” services that supplement and replace programs once sponsored by government dollars. This has been a trend from the Bush period forward, and one Obama did not reverse–to his discredit.

    There are many indicators that the faith-based groups receiving federal or state dollars often don’t account adequately for their use. There are also many indicators that money given to these programs to serve human needs ends up in the pockets of church leaders sponsoring the programs.

    I’m not suggesting Pavone’s programs are directly supported by tax dollars. What I do want to point out, though, is that many faith-based programs, particularly those that overlap with political lobbying, lack adequate supervision, and there’s too much potential for financial abuse when no one is demanding that these programs account for their use of funds.

    And as I write all of this, the latest Pew study on religious lobbying groups shows skyrocketing amounts of money being used by religious groups to lobby in D.C. Our U.S. Catholic bishops are number two on the list, in terms of dollars being spent on political lobbying.

    I often wonder where Jesus has gone these days, in our church and others.

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