Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A response to Ed Peters' criticism of Fr. Frank Pavone Interview

In a Sept 26 blog post entitled "Is John Wesley really the ministerial model Fr. Pavone wants to invoke?" Ed Peters took "Kresta in Afternoon" to task for the Sept. 19 interview with Fr. Frank Pavone, calling it a 40-min. infomercial and neglectful of canon law. Because Ed is a frequent guest on the show and counted as a friend, I thought in a spirit of fraternal disagreement that I should respond publicly. I believe Ed completely missed the objective of the interview. A paragraph of Ed's post is below:
"I thought it a bad idea for Kresta to give Pavone what amounted to a 40 minute infomercial while his dispute with Zurek was in full swing. Whatever problems provoked this conflict, its correct resolution must draw heavily on objective principles of canon law, and neither Pavone nor Kresta are competent to explain that canon law to the public. Indeed, Pavone’s characterizations of canon law went unchallenged in the interview and he deftly skirted some other key issues."
Below is my response to Ed's criticism:
As most of you know, I interviewed Fr. Frank Pavone last week.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters and some other friends thought it imprudent for us to offer a forum for Fr. Pavone. They didn’t think Fr. Frank was acquitting himself very well and were afraid that the more he spoke the worse the situation would become. That may or may not turn out to be true.

But in a situation like this I ask myself as a Catholic, “How should I respond?” Then as a Catholic with a microphone I ask, “How should I respond?” In my role as a Catholic I respond with prayer and offering fraternal support to a brother I have worked with on various projects. As a Catholic with a microphone and an audience, I decided to post all the relevant materials including Ed Peters’ numerous commentaries and ask the principals if they want to speak to you.

We are a media outlet. We are, of course, not merely a media outlet, but on “Kresta in the Afternoon” we do current events in light of the teaching of the Church. The Fr. Frank issue is significant news for our listeners, as Ed well knows given the amount of time and ink he has spent analyzing it both as a canon lawyer and in personal commentary. Rule #1 in journalism is to get as close to the sources as possible. That would be Fr. Pavone and Bishop Zurek. We requested interviews with both and Fr. Frank replied “yes.” The Bishop’s office chose not to reply. My responsibility was to get as close to the principals in this story as possible, ask clarifying questions, and let you ask your questions. We did just that.

Ed was one of a few friends that didn’t think I should have done the interview. But Fr. Frank is a big boy…he has an Episcopal advisory board, he has a canon lawyer with him, and he heads up one of the most respected pro-life organizations around the world. He didn’t ask for my advice as to whether or not he should do the interview. Even if he had I would have told him that he was in the best position to judge this.

He is making decisions for himself which may or may not be good for him, his ministry, or the Church. The same for Bishop Zurek. We asked some clarifying questions, as did our audience, about obedience, misguided supporters, authority, and more. His answers are now part of the public record and shed some light on the situation from his point of view. Again, only one of the principals in this story decided to respond. Now Fr. Pavone’s statements can be verified or proven false.
Peters is upset because we did the interview at all when he thinks this should have been handled behind the scenes canonically. But Ed's dozen or so posts have all been public.

Nobody seems to know how Bishop Zurek’s statement to the United States Bishops got “leaked” to the public, but once public, Priests for Life had to respond to preserve its reputation. Priests for Life apparently has decided to let Fr. Frank Pavone continue to represent them during this period.

Others are welcome to make comment as Ed as done over a dozen times now. It’s not up to us or Ed to save Fr. Frank from himself, which appears to be what he thinks should have happened, as if we know how he or the Bishop want to address our audience. This is an immature, paternalistic approach which lords it over Fr. Frank. You don’t like the way he responded? Write commentaries. But without the interview Ed would not have from Fr. Frank’s own mouth his rationale for how he wants to present himself and manage public impressions of the conflict. In fact, all of Ed’s many commentaries have been without any contact with the principals.

Calling the interview an “infomercial” is silly. It was not a hostile interview. Why should it have been since the diocese of Amarillo doesn’t allege any wrongdoing and he is a priest in good standing? Why should it have been an interview which tested Fr. Franks’ grasp of canon law when in fact I don’t pretend to be a canon lawyer? This was an interview with a friend who is loved and appreciated and quite familiar to many in our audience who wanted to give people a chance to ask clarifying questions. You can’t complain that a bowling league isn’t a chess match. These are different things.
I’ve done one interview on the topic. Ed has made 12 posts on his public blog without interviewing Fr. Frank or his canon lawyer or Bishop Zurek. Fr. Frank’s canon lawyer has published a public statement. Since Ed seems so interested in keeping this in the public eye why doesn’t he interview? So I'm going to invite Ed to debate Fr. Frank’s canon lawyer. They’ve both gone public on this. Canon law issues are not above the head of the Kresta in the Afternoon listener. And I, for one, look forward to it.
Al Kresta


  1. I expect your interview may have seemed soft if you were not aware of all of the circumstances. You did discuss with him to some extent the religious order "Missionaries of the Gospel of Life" that Bishop Yanta decided to suppress, but didn't really press the issue of whether millions of dollars had been raised for their seminary in Amarillo and then spent on other things. I would think that would be a primary concern of the Bishop of Amarillo. I'm not sure whether even Fr. Pavone knew at the time of the interview that another related organization "Gospel of Life Ministries" had been automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file required returns for 2007-2009 and their spokesperson still seemed to not understand the why of it in a more recent interview.

  2. Dear Al,

    I've been a long time listener, and look forward to many more years of good programming at Ave Maria Radio.

    On this case, when I first saw Bishop Zurek's leaked letter, it seemed more like a dispute between the two that needed resolving. When Father Pavone said he was going back to Amarillo to comply, I really did not expect to see him in the spotlight so much about his situation.

    It would have been one thing to return to Amarillo and continue with whatever he could do on his regular pro-life work from an office there since it seems no prohibition was in place. Even if he had continued with his regular communications, in general, it would have been ok and not drawn any fire. But, he has been putting out tweets, facebook entries, doing interviews, etc., about his situation, while his bishop is away. Some of us have discussed these things, including Ed Peters, but they are a response to something Fr. Pavone initiated or supported. What prompted me was seeing Father's supporters respond to these continued communications likening the bishop to Satan, or being part of the "smoke of Satan".

    In light of what appears to be some errant language in Bishop Zurek's communication, it was understandable that he would want to put out a statement, clarifying his status. Msgr. Waldow in Amarillo followed up with a statement. His public discussion of the case should have ended there as he awaited for his bishop to return.

    Nothing the bishop said lowered my opinion of Fr. Pavone. I dismissed it as a misunderstanding of some kind that would get worked out in time. It has been his behavior, and things he says, and things he does not say, that have been off-putting. I really expected a vigorous repudiation of some things that have been said, and done, against Bishop Zurek by his supporters.

    I distincly heard Fr. Pavone say in your interview with him, that he told Gregg Cunnhingham of CBR that his campaign against +Zurek for recalling him to Amarillo was "inadvisable" (using graphic photos of abortions in front of parishes and an elementary school until Fr. Frank was "released" from his "ecclesial house arrest".)

    Why then, did Fr. Pavone, just four days later, tweet this:

    Tow [sic]banner planes with photos of #abortion are flying over Amarillo this weekend, and trucks with the photos are on the road.!/frfrankpavone/status/117720030787022848

    On September 19, in the tweet quoted below, he linked to a story about a soldier who was awarded the top medal for saving many lives, while disobeying orders:

    Saving lives takes precedence over obeying orders. If not, explain this:

    Did he really think people would not see this as a veiled reference to his own situation?!/frfrankpavone/status/115813680557461505

    These kinds of messages put out by Fr. Pavone have not been helpful.

    If Priests for Life cannot function for a few weeks or a few months without Fr. Pavone out in the spotlight, then they have a serious problem. An entire team of Russian hockey players perished recently when their plane went down on take-off. What is PFL going to do, should God pull his time-card sooner than later?

  3. Hello Al,

    I read your comments carefully, and have replied over at my blog,

    Sincerely, Ed Peters

  4. Diane


    Call off the buses encircling the Catholic schools Fr Pavone!

  5. Diane has expressed my thoughts and concerns on this situation very well. I especially agree with this part:

    "Nothing the bishop said lowered my opinion of Fr. Pavone. I dismissed it as a misunderstanding of some kind that would get worked out in time. It has been his [Fr. Pavone's] behavior, and things he says, and things he does not say, that have been off-putting."

  6. I think Fr. Pavone erred in doing the interview. It was improper. He should not be going public but should be handling this behind the scenes as he said he would. In that vein I think Al erred in airing the interview. In addition, Al's response to Ed Peters sounds snide. I have always been a great support of Fr. Pavone from the very beginning of Priests for Life but I do not think he is handling this in the best possible way. Neither is the bishop but two wrongs don't make a right.