A Roman Catholic priest nationally known for his anti-abortion activism has been ordered back to his diocese for "prayer and reflection" amid questions about whether he properly accounted for millions of dollars in donations.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of the advocacy group Priests for Life, said he has provided all the financial records requested by U.S. church leaders and has asked Vatican officials to intervene on his behalf.
"We have nothing to hide," Pavone said.
Bishop Patrick Zurek, of Amarillo, Texas, restricted Pavone's ministry to within the diocese, where he will be pastor to a women's religious order and spend time in reflection until the problem is resolved.
In a letter to the nation's bishops that became public Tuesday, Zurek expressed "deep concerns" about the financial management of Priests for Life and worried about the potential for scandal. He said Pavone's work has "inflated his ego" and the priest needed to show "appropriate obedience'" by providing information that other bishops had also sought in vain. Priests for Life has an annual budget of about $10 million and has offices in the New York borough of Staten Island.
"The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight," Zurek wrote in the letter, dated last Friday. "There have been persistent questions and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently."
Pavone was a former clergyman in the Archdiocese of New York, who transferred in 2005 to the Diocese of Amarillo to work full-time on anti-abortion issues. He said he lives in a small apartment and takes no salary from his organization.
Pavone became a spiritual adviser to the parents and siblings of Terri Schiavo during the uproar over removing the feeding tube from the severely brain-damaged woman. He gave the sermon at her 2005 funeral. He holds retreats on abortion issues for men and women and has traveled the country during elections urging Catholics to back anti-abortion candidates.
At a 2004 Republican National Convention rally in New York, he prayed that those attending would "mobilize countless others to vote and to vote correctly." Republican Sam Brownback, now the Kansas governor, named Pavone in 2006 to a 20-member exploratory advisory committee as the then-senator considered running for president.
Pavone said he was returning Tuesday to his diocese as requested and awaited word from the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy.
"It's an astonishment and bewilderment," Pavone said of Zurek's letter. "What does it take to allow a priest, a group of priests, to do pro-life work full -time?"