It's Bishop Zurek's Turn for Transparency in the Priests for Life Scandal

September 16, 2011

It's Bishop Zurek's Turn For Transparency in the Priests for Life Scandal

James Todd

September 16, 2011 - There is one bald-faced contradiction in the story of Fr. Pavone and Bishop Zurick this week that I think is telling.  It concerns the issue of money and finances. 

In the statement released by Bishop Zurick he said: "My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priest For Life (PFL) organization." The bishop further states: "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."

Compare this with what we know from the statement released by Fr. Pavone.

"I want to say very clearly that Priests for Life is above reproach in its financial management and the stewardship of the monies it receives from dedicated pro-lifers, raised primarily through direct mail at the grassroots level. To this end, Priests for Life has consistently provided every financial document requested by Bishop Zurek, including annual financial audits, quarterly reports, management documents—even entire check registers! In fact, on June 20, 2011, Priests for Life received the results of its independent audit examination for the year ended December 31, 2010. The organization's auditors issued an unqualified audit opinion indicating that the financial statements 'present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Priests for Life, in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America'. This marks the tenth consecutive year that the organization's auditors have provided a 'clean' audit opinion, when reporting on the respective year's financial statements. Priests for Life has been completely transparent with Bishop Zurek and any other bishops who have requested information regarding our management and finances. Indeed, we have 21 bishops and cardinals who sit on our Advisory Board, and they are kept fully informed about our finances."

At first glance, these two positions, with regard to the financial stewardship of the organization, cannot be reconciled. One would think they are looking at different sets of books. However, upon further reflection, there is a way to read and interpret the statements by both parties – which allows for them both to be truthful… and it is not something an audit would reveal, because it is not an irregularity.  The heart of the disagreement, I suspect, is HOW the money is being spent – managerial differences, if you will, in HOW the organization is being run its priorities, and its money spent.

This is further supported by a statement made by Monsignor Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy for the Diocese of Amarillo. The Amarillo Globe quotes Msgr. Waldow, when referring to Priests for Life and their donations:  “This is patrimony of the church. It belongs to the church. People give their money over the understanding that it goes to the church or church auspices and programs and ministries.”

You may recall that after being critical of Fr. Pavone’s stewardship of the finances, Bishop Zurek also then referenced: “Father Pavone’s incorrigible defiance to my legitimate authority as his Bishop.”

I suspect the obedience issue the Bishop is referring has to do again, with the HOW part of this equation, meaning that Fr. Pavone disagrees with the Bishop's advice and vision for Priests for Life - and therefore has not been following them.. In fact, Father Pavone in a letter addressed to Cardinals and Bishops dated September 12 states the following:  “Bishop Zurick is my Ordinary, but he is not the Bishop of Priests for Life.”

So it appears that the bottom line in all of this is the control of a $10 million dollar organization.  

With all due respect to the Bishop as a person, and the position of his office as a successor to the Apostles, he has some explaining to do if he is to convince the legions of pro-life people who know of the tremendous work Fr. Pavone has done – of the correctness of his (the Bishop’s) decision. Transparency should be a 2-way street…,  and now it’s the Bishop’s turn to show some transparency and reveal the facts that support his statements and decision.

1. We need to see an itemized list, with specifics and details, of the “deep concerns” that the bishop has with Fr. Pavone’s financial stewardship.

2. We need to have an adequate explanation, in light of the mountain of financial data provided by PFL, of how Fr. Pavone has failed to provide “a transparent and complete auditing of all expenditures”.

3. And lastly, to be convinced of the appropriateness of the Bishop’s decision, we need to have specific details of Fr. Pavone’s “incorrigible defiance” of the bishop’s legitimate authority.

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