Catholics are understandably bewildered, angry and ashamed of the Vatican’s treatment of Father Frank Pavone.
For many, Father Pavone is a pro-life Catholic hero. They don’t know about his arguments with his bishop and they don’t follow him and his social media closely. All they can see is that the Vatican has cancelled a faithful, outspoken Catholic priest with no recourse to appeal while the pope cuddles up to Father Rupnik–a fellow Jesuit who is an alleged serial rapist of nuns.
The facts, as you might have guessed, are complicated. The guys at The Pillar do an excellent job of explaining both cases. Go here to have your questions answered about Fr Pavone’s case, and here they explain the case against Fr Rupnik. To get more of the background on Fr Pavone’s battles with his bishop read Phil Lawler’s account here.
You can hear Fr Pavone give his side of the story in an interview with Taylor Marshall here.
The long and the short of it is that readers who limit their news consumption to headlines, scare quotes and tweets are likely to draw the conclusion, “The Catholic Church condones priests raping nuns and throws good pro-life warrior priests under the bus.”
While this conclusion is understandable–especially among those Catholics who are increasingly fed up with high level cover ups and regard Pope Francis as an incompetent, second rate clerical puppet–there is more to the story.
This conclusion is based on several wrong assumptions: Firstly, that “the Vatican” is this well organized, integrated, efficient body that produces a unified, thoughtful and consistent product. It assumes that “the Vatican” is shorthand for “Pope Francis” and that every decision, every tweet, every announcement is written by the Pontiff himself. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but there is a general assumption that “the Vatican” speaks with a unified, consistent voice in all matters and that somehow the Fr Rupnik case and the Fr Pavone case are linked. I saw one comment suggesting that the Pavone case was publicized to draw attention away from Fr Rupnik’s case. I think that would be to credit the Vatican bureaucracy and PR department with a level of forethought, co ordination and competency beyond their usual skill level.
As The Pillar guys explain, there are various dicasteries, groups and sub groups within the bureaucratic structure of the global Catholic Church and when you add all the religious orders and their various rules, hierarchies and governing bodies, then all the world’s dioceses and archdioceses–all with their own particular issues and circumstances, it is very complicated and one cannot assume that they are all working in concert–talking to each other and organizing their public relations to harmonize with each other’s proceedings.
Second, is the assumption that “The Vatican” is ejecting Father Pavone because of his pro life work. When you see Pope Francis hob-nobbing with the Bidens and Pelosi’s, then read about Fr Pavone’s laicization it is depressing, but again, to conclude that these two are linked and that “The Vatican” is sending pro abortion messages while pretending to be pro-life is an understandable, but shaky conclusion.
The third assumption is that “the Vatican” has it in for conservative Catholics–especially American conservative Catholics. I have no doubt that there are some high level Catholics–both in the USA and around the world who can’t stand Americans and especially dislike conservative American Catholics. I’m a conservative American Catholic and I’ve been called names, gaslighted, marginalized and ignored. It goes with the territory, but I’m not so self absorbed to imagine that anyone at a high level in the Church cares that much about me or feels threatened by me. Nah.
It’s more likely that Father Pavone’s case simply worked its way from the Bishop who initiated it through the system, and a decision was made to go through with it. Eventually I hope we will learn precisely what Fr Pavone did to cause such a drastic response. Then it is right to question not only the decision but how it was made public. Did the officials in Rome realize that Fr Pavone was a figure of national importance? The amount of $$ flowing into his organization should have caught their attention. Did they realize how their decision would be received? Probably not. Did they put in place a proper and transparent process of communication with all parties and then with the general public? The implementation of the decision seems pretty ham fisted.
The simple fact of the matter is, the Catholic Church is a big, global organization. Within our ranks we have saints and sinners, people of a conservative mindset and personality type and people of a liberal or “progressive” mindset and personality type. Some people believe themselves righteous and faithful when they are obedient and submissive. Others think they are righteous and faithful when they are being subversive and dissenting. That’s not just life in the Catholic Church. That’s life in the real world.
Are there saints and sinners in the Catholic Church. Yep. Bad sinners? Yep. Heretics and sex creeps and pedophiles and those who cover for them? Yep. So it has always been. Have you read the Old Testament recently? Or church history?
Does this mean I am simply shrugging and saying “So what?” Not really. These things concern and trouble me, but while I love the Catholic Church I love the Catholic faith even more–and the Catholic faith that subsists in the Catholic Church is something bigger, stronger, older and holier than the peccadilloes and quarrels and human failures of the church in any age.
We are all struggling with sin, repentance, acceptance and forgiveness. We all mess up and we don’t like to be called to heel. We don’t like our faults displayed publicly. We don’t like discipline. My job is to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and to love him and his Blessed Mother. That’s my first job. The next is to help my family and my parish to draw closer to the Lord, to serve and evangelize the wider community and, by God’s grace, to persevere in the faith both in my words and actions.
That seems a pretty impossible task, but while events in the wider world and wider church may distress me, my eyes are on what is local because what is local is real and what is real is a right here right now little fragment of eternity.