Written by Melody Lyons:

When a man gives his life to Christ and accepts the collar of obedience at ordination, there should be a reciprocal devoted tenderness from those in authority over him. Familial.

I’ve spoken with many jaded men, old and young, who carry the absence of this fatherhood as a deep wound: that their sacrifice was accepted by God and man but turned over to an institution infiltrated by those who do not love, do not serve, and do not father.

I do not think the injury to the faithful by the laicization of Father Pavone is primarily about him. Most don’t know him personally. We feel it as another painful reminder that the family is shattered and it is not even clear to whom we owe obedience.

That reminder has been inserted into a pre-existing collective grief and a creeping doubt about inerrancy, authority, and truth itself.

A week before Christmas, amid a season of hope (because I guess it couldn’t wait), we’ve been shaken again. The family is in turmoil, the fathers are derelict, and once again, we are reminded that we are left without their protection.

Rome has issued a clear reminder that the unrepentantly wicked will remain priests in good standing while the others (maybe inept, weak, zealous, defiant, politically inconvenient, a conscience prick to bad leadership, whatever) are picked off one by one…

And we are helpless to it.

We are reminded to be obedient, which reminds us of our complicated and cyclical grief. We know that not every act of obedience is holy and noble. And the tension builds, usually interiorly where it is held painfully.

How many heard the news about Pavone today and had to force their feet into their shoes to attend Mass? I’ve heard from a few. Discouragement. Anger. And it’s not really about Pavone. It’s much more personal.

I don’t write for the people who say that they have never and will never be shaken, I write for those good people who have to fight hard to keep going. That’s not a small number.

The details of Father Pavone’s punishment are only relevant insofar as the authority who delivered it is trustworthy and consistent. And that is why this is a wholly grievous circumstance regardless of what Father did or didn’t do…

Because most of us are have never personally suffered under Pavone, but we are living our own terrible dilemma, watching helplessly as wolves dismantle what we cherish.

It is hard not to see this act as calculating. If it is, it’s brilliant; further dividing the faithful. Getting into the cracks. And we know…

If Rome is going to punish financial malfeasance, every diocese will lose priests and bishops. But it won’t.

If it is going to punish excesses of public engagement, that will wipe out even more. But it won’t.

If it is going to punish “blasphemies” and sacrilege, it might want to start in Chicago. But it won’t.

If it wants to punish persistent disobedience, it had best check on Rohr who is about to die as a priest in good standing. But it won’t.

On this beautiful 4th Sunday of Advent, I am thinking of the many good shepherds who don’t know if obedience calls them to defy their bishops or to submit to them. And to those who do their duty, love their people, but who feel the absence of tender fatherhood from those to whom they have promised obedience…

I am thinking of those priests who privately discuss the limits of obedience and where they will (or won’t) draw a line in the sand. Who wonder how martyrdom (white or red) will come and beg for the wisdom and courage to move through it faithfully. I think of their communities who watch and wait for answers, which these shepherds may not know how to (or feel free to) give.

I’m also thinking about Christmas and the promises of God… and how no machinations or stupidity or evil can crack the unshakable foundation of Jesus Christ.

Come Emmanuel! Be with us. Be with Father Pavone. Reward Him for his service to you and guide him to the way of Your everlasting glory. Be a tender Father to him now and always. Amen.


Final note: I don’t call him “Father” as an act of defiance. I will stop when I have seen official confirmation that he has been laicized and all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.