Ethics Institutions

Cardinal Timothy Dolan cuts ties with anti-abortion crusader Frank Pavone

Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, left, leads a prayer beside Rev. Patrick Mahoney right, in front of the Supreme Court, as they support businesses challenging the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday (March 25). RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

NEW YORK (RNS) In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.

Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, left, leads a prayer beside Rev. Patrick Mahoney right, in front of the Supreme Court, as they support businesses challenging the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday (March 25). RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, left, leads a prayer beside Rev. Patrick Mahoney right, in front of the Supreme Court, as they support businesses challenging the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday (March 25). RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.

“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.

“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

The cardinal said he had “no idea” what the Vatican intends to do now.

In a statement emailed to Religion News Service on Monday (Dec. 15), the Staten Island-based Priests for Life rebuffed Dolan’s criticisms, contending that the group has had “clean” audits for 15 years and saying the dispute is, in fact, “about control.”

Priests for Life is “working with the Vatican to fully implement all the Church’s expectations,” the group said, adding that the Vatican “has been consistently supportive and favorable towards Priests for Life.”

The statement said the Vatican and Pavone agree that “it does not serve the needs of the Church or the cause of life to argue a matter in public that is still being worked out in private,” and said it would not be “appropriate” to comment further.

Despite Pavone’s ties to influential church conservatives and his long-standing promotion of a cause that has topped the church’s agenda, there are signs that Pavone could be wearing out his welcome.

RNS photo by David Gibson

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director, Priests for Life. RNS file photo by David Gibson

For decades, the outspoken Pavone has often clashed as much with his own bishops as he has with abortion-rights foes.

Pavone had tense relations with Dolan’s two immediate predecessors, the late Cardinal John O’Connor and retired Cardinal Edward Egan, and in 2005 he moved to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where the bishop there promised him greater freedom. But Pavone’s grand plans to build a $130 million seminary there went south; when a new bishop, Patrick Zurek, was installed in Amarillo in 2008, he demanded a full accounting of Pavone’s $10 million annual budget, one of the largest among anti-abortion groups in the U.S.

In 2011, Zurek denounced Pavone’s “incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop” and suspended his ministry. It then emerged that Priests for Life had been badly mismanaged, running an unsustainable $1.4 million deficit and failing to make key tax filings or allow proper financial oversight and safeguards.

Pavone moved back to New York, saying he had the Vatican’s support and that he would not be cowed by any bishop. Then earlier this year, he and Zurek said they reached a settlement in their standoff and the problems seemed on their way to a resolution.

But that apparently wasn’t the case, and Pavone’s fate now seems to rest with Rome.

KRE/AMB END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

67 Comments

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  • The fact is that Fr. Pavone is now in defiance of the Vatican and the American Conference of Catholic Bishops. The church has long survived on the basis of a hierarchical structure and priests who rock the boat are going to be noticed and the structure is going to stop the defiance whatever way it needs to be done.

    I have long wondered why the church sanctioned the organization Priests for Life, when the whole of the church is formed to fight abortion. Yet here was another organization that was formed to fight, but now with the limelight focused on the founder, it seems that the church will not “cotton” the continued defiance of Fr. Frank Pavone.

  • Its interesting to note the defiance here has to do entirely with fiscal responsibility.

    Fr. Pavone has been resisting internal audits and any attempt to wrangle in the finances of his organization. It never looks good to be seen resisting financial oversight. It raises suspicions one is either irresponsible or engaging in some kind of shenanigans.

  • Hailing, myself, from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it was well known that Cardinal (Archbishop) Dolan was not too active in the pro-life community. The frustration we felt and the sentiment we experienced is why this story is not surprising. Although this is a fiscal story, it was to be expected.

  • I’m sure there is an innocent explanation as to why this Pavone character is so dead-set against anyone looking at his organization’s finances.

  • Priests for Life is a 501 C 3 non profit corporation with a board of directors. It is not an organization contolled or formally affiliated with the Catholic Church. It Is a separate nonprofit corporation. Father Pavone is an individual who is a member of that Board of Directors. He is not in control of the organization but answers to the board of directors as its national director. While a bishop has control of a priest and a priest is subject to obey his bishop according to his conscience , the bishop does not necessarily have control of a private not for profit corporation governed by a Board of Directors ans not under the direct control or affiliation with the Catholic Church. The interesting question is why does not the archbishop of New York inquire as to those organizations in New York directly under the control of the Diocese and encourage them to be transparent? Why is a private letter between bishops being leaked to the public? Why is this information being released during the end of the year when donors are making decisions regarding their giving? Thoughts to consider.

  • Thanks for the good reply John. If you want to understand this situation, read Raymond Arroyo’s Book on Mother Angelica. She had similar struggles. The Bishops wanted to destroy EWTN in the early years and take it over later on causing Mother to cut all management ties with it. Same is happening here. US Bishops want Priests for Life to go away.

  • And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

  • Given the sketchy financials of Priests for Life, it doesn’t need the Vatican’s hand to go away. Probably just a few more stories about irregularities, deficits and accusations of embezzlement or fiscal mismanagement.

  • Don’t believe that about the finances. They said the same about Mother Angelica in an effort to take control.

  • If Cardinal Dolan would order a forensic audit of the Sheen Center or Guardian Angels Parish, both in Manhattan, he’d find much more wasted and/or stolen money than he suspects to find with Fr. Pavone.

  • The fact is that Fr. Pavone has given clean audits to the bishops. But if as Dolan clearly states, he wants to institute a new board of directors, that indeed has nothing to do with financial reforms. Dolan is attempting a takeover, and given Dolan’s record on life and marriage, who in their right mind would allow such a thing? He is trying to sideline Pavone and his work which is always running into trouble near a presidential election. I wonder why? Pavone’s organization is a civil organization. As legal entity not dependent on the Church with its own board it is clad that Priest for life has duties and rights which can not just be overtaken by Dolan. Dolan is totally unreliable. Good for Fr. Pavone, i would never give that possibility to Dolan, either. Charles

  • Priests for Life is “owned/run” by the board of directors. If Cardinal Dolan wants and has a right to financial information, I don’t understand why he is talking with Pavone. He needs to work with the Board.

  • Obviously, Father Pavone was concerned that Cardinal Dolan would dip into the Priest for Life till to rebuild his edifice Cathedral, while the NY Diocese closes dozens of Small Christian Community Parishes that served their Parishioners but couldn’t afford Cardinal Dolans Champaign Appetites.

  • “The church has long survived on the basis of a hierarchical structure and priests who rock the boat are going to be noticed and the structure is going to stop the defiance whatever way it needs to be done.”

    That worked real well when it came to selling indulgences and the Reformation. The perfumed Princes of that time really showed that renegade Martin Luther, didn’t they?

  • When is the Vatican going to audit Cardinal Dolan’s extravagant rebuilding of St. Patrick’s, the closings of so many local Parishes, and his celebrations of alternate lifestyles as Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

  • If Cardinal Dolan wants to audit a Catholic? Charity he should start with his own Catholic Relief Services, CRS, which, like those in other US Dioceses is supporting Pro Abortion Organization, such Planned Parenthood and also Gay and Lesbian promotion groups. Of course, Lord Dolan wouldn’t audit his own fiefdom. He would simply build new monuments and make TV appearances promoting the rainbow NY St. Patrick’s Day Parade!

  • Father Pavone does NON STOP what the Church in the USA barely mentions to its parishioners. How many Cardinals and Bishops spend much time in their catholic duty of protecting Life? Yes there are some but they are not the majority.
    Cardinal Dolan has shown his stripes in his past with his support of Pres. Obama, Gay Marriage with his so called “Friend” NY Governor Como and now singlehandedly destroying the St Patrick’s day parade from the faith driven celebration it was a long time ago.
    By the way I am a life long Catholic and active in my Church. I Pray that Fr. Pavone keeps on doing what he has been so successful at for so many years.

  • AMEN! It is far better that Fr. Pavone keep his money separate. If he were to co-mingle it with diocesan funds, it could get easily eaten up by lawsuits, and other things which are irrelevant to the cause of the fight for children in the womb!

  • Excellent points! How sad it is that Fr. Pavone’s plans for a seminary got put on hold. I have heard that many of the seminaries are in need of reform. I think it is Cardinal Dolan’s actions that raise questions. Father Pavone may be cannonized one day for his tireless work for the unborn.

  • This is sort of an odd article referring the Father Pavone as being on an “anti” abortion crusade. You have to wonder if the writer (Gibson) is himself pro-abortion? That type of phraseology is used by the media to shape our thoughts. Just for the record, Father Pavone is “pro” Life; the people on the other side are “anti” Life. As for Father Pavone’s relationship with his bishop, well I’ll leave that to Cardinal Dolan, and his priest. I only hope that it all works out, as Priests for life have saved more babies than any other organization.

  • Cardinal Dolan is not the only Bishop who has issues with Father Pavone. Bishop Gainer of my Diocese, Harrisburg, PA , also has issues. How have other bishops responded? Does Father Pavone have any support from Church leaders, other than support for Father Pavone’s pro-Life positions?

  • Apparently Dolan isn’t getting enough from Fr. Pavone. I’ll side with Fr. Pavone on this one. He’s not perfect, but Cdl. Dolan is even less perfect.

  • I used to donate to Priests for Life, but cut my own ties with them when one of their publications included a ludicrous article linking abortion to “witchcraft.” (It was a pathetic spin on an obscure feminist-studies paper.) That they would resort to distortion in the service of the cause made me suspect that larger things could be amiss. It’s a terrible shame, because their ministry is badly needed, but their material is often too crudely crafted to share beyond the true-believer fold…and now, it appears, Fr. Pavone has burdened the org with an outsize ego as well.

  • This fiasco reminds me of what Blessed Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen went through when the Cardinal (you’ll have to guess who) demanded a percentage of the take that was coming in from the Archbishop’s Prime Time TV Show and when the Archbishop explained that he was the Director of the Propagation of the Faith and that he could not disperse the funds, the Cardinal sent him into exile telling him to get off TV and go to Rochester NY where he eventually died. So much for saving souls…..Satan at work!

    Then, I recall that the Bishop of Amarillo, TX where Father Pavone’s order is from demanded an accounting as well….and sent Fr. Pavone into exile in a humble convent cell in the middle of nowhere miles outside the city with only his cell phone. Thousands of babies lives saved…..so much for saving souls. Satan at work.

    Then, I recall the Bishop of Corpus Christi, TX who was ready to pronounce Fr. Corapi guilty until proven innocent and threatened to send him into exile..but Fr. Corapi chose to leave and pray out his life in his home. So much for the millions of souls saved world wide…..in favor of a few bucks….Satan at work again.

    With all of the harsh, corrupt and Satanic goings on in the church, who would want to be a priest? IMHO, the Bishops are over stepping their authority in the name of a piece of the action….What would Jesus do or say? I’m sure that Jesus would be grateful for all of the souls that have been saved because of Archbishop F.J. Sheen’s TV program, Fr. Frank Pavone’s organization’s efforts and Fr. Corapi’s charismatic appeal and global TV appearances saving many souls rather than fattening the cash cow in each of those Dioceses.

    I would be shaking in my boots if I was Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the others like him. Am I mistaken? Are not priests in the business of saving souls? Lord, have mercy.

  • I agree totally. In fact, when it comes to saving souls as opposed to fattening the cash cow….I’m in favor of my Lord’s desire and that is “priests are in the business of saving souls.” Cardinal Dolan needs a long rest from his duties.

  • This is Father Frank Pavone’s position:On May 18, 2012, the Congregation for the Clergy of the Vatican, after Father Pavone appealed his case to Rome, sent out a ruling in favor of Father Pavone’s case. The Congregation declared that Father Pavone is not now nor has ever been suspended. Father Pavone remains a priest in good standing all over the world. Wikipedia.

    If Rome says he is in good standing, perhaps you should question your Bishop’s gripe?

  • Father Frank Pavone is no longer a priest in the Diocese of NY. He is a part of the Amarillo, TX Diocese. So, perhaps the loud mouth should be quiet and sit down and stop giving the biased media more ammunition against the Catholic Church. I’m praying for Fr. Pavone that he will end up with a position from Rome that will secure him as Director of Priests for Life and Rachel’s Vinyard, etc. His work is to be congratulated not criticized. But then, look how the Pharisees persecuted Christ!

  • Everyone knows this is all because Dolan got chicken instead of the steak he ordered at the “Al Smith Dinner and Scandal Celebration Fund Raiser” of the anything for a buck aka the tea with Hitler crowd. I mean let’s face it, it made him grumpy. One wonders if the problem really lies with Fr. Pavone or the apostles eating food offered to idols? It does not seem all too Pauline-ish does it? It strikes me as more akin to a sell-out this Dolan and dinner thing so what should we then think of this Pavone issue? Just what is the cardinal’s thinking here… who can say? What is the bigger problem, 50 million dead children or the ten million dollar Pavone budget, or maybe comedy relief at a Catholic Charities event? My money is on the food. It was the chicken both figuratively and literally that caused the problem. So… why did the chicken cross the road? It was to avoid the other side, not to reach it.

  • what with the political winds changed at the vatican under pope francis,look for fr. pavone getting”das boot” as they say.he was allowed to get away with his right wing agenda for years,even supported by the church.now with this financial scandal in his baggage..it’s ciao!

  • I agree. 180 million and counting for St Pat’s as Dolan marches with gays in the St Patrick parade, violates canon law by giving communion to pro abort politicians and ask poor poor churches that are barely surviving to give over 30,000 in the cardinal’s appeal as these churches can barely pay heating bills. I don’t know what to think anymore. God help us.

  • All prints must be like Pavone and say what has to be said in the church to the Catholics against abortion, gay so called marriedge, elections without the fear of offending the sinners.
    If the bishop takes control of priests for life, it will not be effective.
    The church is being silent about critical issues and this is the reason evil is advancing, gay so called marriedge is legalized, Catholic schools and universities are controlled by secularists.

  • All priests must be like Pavone and say what has to be said in the church to the Catholics against abortion, gay so called marriedge, elections without the fear of offending the sinners.
    If the bishop takes control of priests for life, it will not be effective.
    The church is being silent about critical issues and this is the reason evil is advancing, gay so called marriedge is legalized, Catholic schools and universities are controlled by secularists.

  • Considering how well the sex abuse scandal was handled by the bishops who gives Mr. Dolan any respect at all??

  • Dolan and Francis need to leave the Catholic Church. Both want to stifle talk about abortion. Shame on both of them!

  • True. Why are Pope Francis and Dolan silent on abortion? Pope Francis has directed Catholics to silence themselves on abortion. I feel both should be ignored.

  • Yeah. Dolan needs to get the boot. But Pope Francis agrees with Dolan. Both need to leave the Church.

  • Yeah. We have the old lady Cardinal Tilt-a-Wuerl here in DC closing schools and picking parish pockets. He needs to go ASAP and take his lace bonnet with him. He almost wrecked Pittsburgh before he came here. Get ridda dah bums!

  • I guess you are right, James. The Popearama said that but he is also Mister Magoo! I would give to a second collection to send him back to Argentina or maybe as chaplain to Raoul Castro.

  • The Church has tried to disgrace Pavone but now the pigeons have come home. Francis and Dolan need to keep quiet and let orthodox Catholics speak.

  • I agree. Clergy are thieves. One Bishop tried to steal Mother Angelica’s monastery and media setup. She threatened to burn it down before they could. Pavone and Angelica are model Catholics. Teresa of Avila stood up against the strong arming by the Church back then also. I applaud them.

  • Agree. Catholic Charities supports abortion. Time to sue those who use Catholic in their names but are not following true Catholicism like female and male religious, hospitals and universities.

  • There is no sanity. Look what we have for a Pope? Climate change encyclical and “who am I to judge”. He is an idiot.

  • THE PICTURE OF FATHER PAVONE SAYS IT ALL. KNEELING IN ICE FOR CHRIST. WHEN I SAW THE EDICT IN MY CHURCH BULLETIN WITHOUT ANY EXPLANATION I JUST FOUND OUT HE WAS BEHIND IT. PAVONE’S WORKS OUT RANK THE CARDINAL. THE POPE MAY BE TURNING THE FLOCK AWAY. I AM RESERVING JUDGEMENT UNTIL HIS MOTIVES BECOME CHRYSTAL CLEAR. BUT SOME PEOPLE USED THE WORD COMMUNIST EARLY ON. IF HE TURNS OUT TO BE A COMMUNIST THAT WILL MAKE TWO TO BE IMPEACHED . A POPE AND A PRESIDENT.

  • I CHECKED 3 PARISHES WHEN THE BABY PARTS SALE WENT ON AT PLANNED SLAUGHTERHOOD. NO PULPIT PREACHING AGAINST ABORTION. I THOUGHT THAT WAS STRANGE. THEN I ATTRIBUTED IT TO FEAR OF LOSING 501C STATUS. GOD WILL NOT BE MUZZLED.

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