Pavone Resumes Leadership Of Priests For Life, Dives Into Partisan Politics

A controversial priest who heads one of the nation’s largest anti-abortion groups is back at the helm after a year of exile.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life in Staten Island, N.Y., resumed control of the group recently after spending a year in Amarillo, Texas, where he served as chaplain to an order of nuns.

Pavone was called to Amarillo by his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, after Zurek expressed concerns about the budget of Priests for Life. At its height, the group had a budget of $12 million annually but was operating in the red. Zurek was so concerned that he sent a letter about the matter to every bishop in the country.

During his Amarillo sojourn, Pavone ran Priests for Life via the online video resource Skype and continued issuing fund-raising appeals. He also asked the Vatican to overturn Zurek’s order confining him to Amarillo. Church officials in Rome gave him permission to resume travel, and Pavone promptly returned to New York.

In a recent profile by Religion News Service (RNS), Pavone boasted that he is working with the Vatican to find a way to make his group an independent ministry, a move that would free him from control by any bishop.

Pavone told RNS that Priests for Life’s budget now stands at $10 million. He regularly issues urgent appeals for support and told RNS that the financial problems the organization had were due to paperwork “slipping through the cracks.”

RNS reported that the problems were extensive. Documents emerged, the news agency said, that showed the group was running a $1.4 million deficit yearly and that required Internal Revenue Service statements had not been filed. The group had even been fined in Pennsylvania for soliciting donations without authorization.

Pavone told RNS that the organization is on the rebound and that he hopes it will break even this year.

He also defended his frequently combative style.

“Some people have called me too aggressive,” Pavone said. “Well, too bad.”

He added, “There can be heated debate. There can be loyal opposition. That is how the church grows. The solution is not to lock me up in some convent. The solution is to sit down at the table like adults.”

Pavone’s group is tax exempt, but prior to the election it distributed a voter guide that attacked President Barack Obama and promoted Mitt Romney. Pavone sought to have the guide distributed in Catholic churches and criticized those that refused.