Amarillo Globe News:
An airplane, two trucks and one demonstrator holding signs made up the efforts of an anti-abortion organization Friday to urge local Catholics to implore Diocese of Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek to rethink his decision to keep prominent anti-abortion priest Father Frank Pavone in Amarillo.
The demonstration highlights the public nature of the dispute between the two church figures, which University of Dayton theology professor Dennis Doyle said is taking place within a larger conflict between the Catholic Church’s need for independence from secular authority and a push for greater transparency in the church after a maelstrom of sexual abuse scandals shook the church in recent years.
“I guess it’s playing out a little bit like a seesaw in that, as a Catholic, on the one hand I think that the church has to be subject to the laws of the land wherever it finds itself, and on the other hand the Catholic Church needs to have some degree of independence from secular authority,” Doyle said. “There’s pull in both directions, and I don’t think there’s any ultimate resolution to it.”
Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, said Pope Benedict XVI has recently emphasized greater transparency in the church, but that Lawler “wouldn’t take it too far” and said Zurek’s decision to make his concerns over Pavone public is a result of Pope Benedict’s efforts.
However, he said, church officials may have handled a situation like this differently 20 years ago.
“You have personalities involved. It’s hard to say,” Lawler said. “I’d say no, that I think it would be more likely 20 years ago that it wouldn’t have come to a head in public like this.”
Doyle said a push for more openness may benefit the church as a whole in the long run, though in the short term, publicizing conflicts and scandals in the name of honesty may hurt the church’s public image.
“Transparency is a two-edged sword,” he said. “It can hurt to have the light shine on you, but as you adjust to it, it’s better to be out in the light.”
The airplane, which started flying over town Friday morning, and the large trucks, which started circling about 3:15 p.m. around St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral and School, 1200 S. Washington St., all featured graphic images of aborted fetuses.
The sign carrier, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform Director Gregg Cunningham, said the two topics of his demonstration, Pavone’s conflict with Zurek and the effort to end abortion, are interrelated as Pavone, the founder of anti-abortion group Priests for Life, is unable to perform his anti-abortion work if he cannot leave Amarillo.
“We don’t want people to trivialize this dispute as some sort of bureaucratic accounting conflict,” he said. “There’s more at stake here than this. That’s why we want people to look at the pictures. We at least want people to understand that there’s a real baby at stake here and when Priests for Life becomes less effective, the odds of that baby dying go up.”
In a statement the bishop released Sept. 9 to all the nation’s bishops, Zurek said concerns over how Priests for Life managed donations are the main reason he decided to rein in Pavone.
Cunningham said he disagreed with Zurek’s decision to publicize his concerns about Pavone so widely. He said he plans to make his demonstrations about Zurek and Pavone very public by visiting every parish in the Diocese of Amarillo and he will not leave until the issue is resolved.
“We’re here peacefully. We come here as friends of the church,” he said.