Ex-Board Member of Priests for Life Demands Investigation Into Pavone

News: US News
by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 10, 2023   

Andrew Smith urges Pavone to step down, confirms misconduct allegations

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The following is a statement from Andrew Smith, former board member of Priests for Life, followed by a statement response from Fr. Stephen Imbarrato, former employee of Priests for Life.


Statement of Andrew Smith

I worked full-time for Priests for Life (PFL) from 2000–2004 and I served on the board from 2014–2021, after which I resigned under good terms. I willingly served in these different capacities over the years because I believed in the mission and considered it crucial to the goal of ending abortion, a task which I have dedicated my entire life to. I have always done and said what I thought was the proper course of action for Priests For Life and the pro-life movement.  

Over the past two months, many have expressed shock at the chain of public situations regarding Frank Pavone, from the laicization to the recent allegations of misconduct with women on his staff.  I have been very surprised to see the reaction from Priests For Life has been solely one of victimization and self-aggrandizement. I frankly expected better. I have seen no public expression of sorrow or regret at these events, in interview after interview, all that has been claimed is victimhood.  

Having only seen cold and clinical statements and a desperate attempt to blame Church authorities for all problems, I watch it all with my jaw dropping. Many friends have contacted me to ask, "What is going on?" Barreling on as if nothing had happened or worse, as if the laicization and accusations mean nothing at all, it seems to me that events have come to a point at which more public action needs to be taken. 

It is necessary that an immediate, impartial and independent investigation take place.

It is with this mindset that I now say that for the good of the Church and the pro-life movement, it is necessary that an immediate, impartial and independent investigation take place into the recent allegations against Frank Pavone. These allegations go back more than two decades and involve at least four women that we know of. They raise very disturbing concerns that cannot be simply covered up or shoved aside. An investigation should ensure that a thorough examination of the conduct of Frank Pavone, his treatment of the women in his employment and the concerns surrounding financial payouts can be addressed and resolved in a fair manner.  

It would also be appropriate for Frank Pavone to step down from any leadership position he currently holds, in any organization, to not only ensure the integrity of the investigation but the integrity of the mission as well. There is a need to step back, discern, investigate and evaluate future actions in a transparent way, since the actions of Priests For Life affect so many in the movement.    

In the usual course, an officer of the board would implement such an investigation, but since Frank Pavone is the chairman of the board as well as national director of Priests For Life, a conflict exists. It also seems that many of the current board are paid staffmembers of Priests For Life. It would therefore be impossible for the Priests For Life board, in its current make-up, to authentically demonstrate impartiality in an investigation of its chairman. Hence the need for an immediate, impartial and independent investigation.  

It would be reasonable for donations to Priests For Life to be withheld until such time as a thorough investigation takes place and these matters resolved.  

As I have read the various media accounts recently given in the Pillar Catholic, Church Militant and others, I want to verify that my long-time friend and colleague Fr. Stephen Imbarrato, with whom I have prayed, marched and rallied for life with many times over the years, is accurately depicting in recent media stories what he and I have spoken about many times over the years while I was on the Priests For Life board and he was an employee, in his struggles to achieve accountability at Priests For Life. Accusations of Fr. Stephen spreading false information or lies upset me deeply knowing the great risks and loss of reputation he suffered during the struggle to ensure a safe working environment at Priests For Life.  

I continue to be encouraged by Fr. Stephen's unrelenting witness to the Gospel of Life and his desire to ensure truth and justice prevail and pray that this sentiment be carried out in an immediate, impartial and independent investigation, with which I will freely cooperate.  I am praying and fasting for those who have suffered abuse, mistreatment or exploitation of any kind. May the Lord be merciful to them and may they receive due justice.

Andrew Smith
Former Employee and Board Member, Priests for Life


Statement Response From Fr. Stephen Imbarrato 

First, I stand on every public comment I have made publicly either quoted in articles or stated on social media, and I will, if presented to me, answer and refute any claims of specific inaccuracies or falsities. Thus far no such claims have been made except as to "special compensation" of victims. One can wordsmith, but I attest that a woman I counseled was compensated for harassment she endured over a period of time while employed by Priests for Life.

Second, I want to state publicly that I am in full agreement with what my friend, Andrew Smith, is proposing and has stated.

I attest that a woman I counseled was compensated for harassment she endured over a period of time while employed by Priests for Life.

Andrew and I met each other and Frank Pavone for the first time in June of 2000 at a discernment retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville. Andrew and I became immediate friends. He subsequently went to work for Priests for Life while I entered Holy Apostles Seminary. We communicated often during my seminary years.

In December 2001, we visited the original Ground Zero viewing platform the day it opened. He subsequently visited the seminary and spent a Triduum with us. In 2004, Frank Pavone presided over Andrew and Jacqueline's wedding and I assisted as deacon. During my seminary years, I directed Seminarians for Life, also known as Seminarian Life League, for three years under the sponsorship of Priests for Life.

As Andrew states he was a Board Member from 2014 till 2021. I was a member of the Priests for Life pastoral team from June 2015 till my resignation in December 2018. Over the years, Andrew and I spoke often about many issues we experienced during our tenures at Priests for Life.

As Andrew stated, we are aware there have been at least four allegations of improper conduct on the part of Frank Pavone. I was involved in one situation as a counselor to which I can directly attest. My longterm advisement in this matter came about because Priests for Life, as much as they had a very detailed workplace sexual harassment policy, they had no human resources department or independent, confidential workplace sexual harassment committee.

We know that as early as the 1990s, according to a Pillar Catholic article, a young woman alleges she was sexually harassed in her workplace (commonly used terminology) over a period of time by Frank Pavone. We also know that, according to a Church Militant article, an anonymous priest, whom both Andrew and I personally know, stated that he encountered two allegations of misconduct during his tenure with Priests for Life.

I agree that these allegations should be independently investigated and that Frank Pavone should step down during said investigations. I should also note that in December 2018, at my demand, the PFL board put into place an independent, confidential workplace sexual harassment committee and that they notified all employees of such a committee.

After I resigned, I have no idea if that committee remained available to the employees, but I do know that the board of directors is far smaller and different now than in December 2018. In the absence of an HR department, such an independent, confidential workplace sexual harassment committee for the safety of the employees is mandatory. I wonder what is currently in place to prevent or remedy such matters? 

I also want to state, at this time, that I was well aware of  the situation between Frank Pavone and his bishop during my tenure. Frank Pavone and Anthony DeStefano discussed it often with the employees. I always had my doubts about the narrative we are being told every year. I regret that I did not leave the organization when I found out that Pavone had no faculties as a priest, but it was clear the organization needed an activist priest in good standing, especially to represent the PFL at EWTN.

I do believe that Frank Pavone has not been totally honest about several situations in his seven-plus years of disobedience to his bishop.

I do believe that Frank Pavone has not been totally honest about several situations in his seven-plus years of disobedience to his bishop. According to published reports, he was not completely honest about his not knowing what was happening as to his eventual laicization.

I was very closely involved in the baby/altar incident. I celebrated Mass on that altar many times in my three-plus years, as did Frank and Fr. Denis Wilde. I never knew the altar to be used as a table or for any other purpose but an altar. I truly believe, as reported by Mary Pezzulo, that Frank Pavone was not completely honest about the baby and the baby's history. I arranged for the baby to be buried in Albuquerque, but was not allowed to attend or offer a graveside service for the baby and cannot attest firsthand that the baby was actually buried. Documentation of burial does exist and Jerry Horn told me such proof was being demanded by Bp. Patrick Zurek.

I also question Frank Pavone's integrity as to his statements regarding Bp. Michael Sheridan and another bishop who supposedly was going to take him into their diocese. Published articles surely seem to raise serious questions about these situations.

I know many people have many questions, and since PFL is a very prominent pro-life organization, as Andrew states, with revenues in excess of $10 million a year, with thousands of donors, I think it is imperative that an independent investigation be conducted so everyone can objectively obtain the truth. And I do agree, in light of everything that has become public, that Frank Pavone should immediately resign to ensure that any investigation be independent.

Fr. Stephen Imbarrato
Former Pastoral Team Member, PFL (June 2015–Jan. 2019)

 

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