How to Hang Your Honest Priests on Tenterhooks

Statue of St. Bartholomew in Milan Cathedral
Happy St. Bartholomew Day! (statue of the flayed Apostle, in Milan Duomo)

We priests of Richmond, Virginia, have a diocesan brother who sounds just like Fox News’ Shepard Smith. A native son of Roanoke, this lovable priest once presided over the diocesan Priests’ Council. Recently, his brother priests elected him the dean of their sub-division of the diocese.

Then suddenly the bishop removed him from office and suspended him from ministry.

Local reporters in Norfolk tried to make sense out of this. The bishop had published a letter, explaining that no one had alleged sexual abuse. Rather, Father had violated the diocesan Safe-Environment Regulations. One reporter went so far as to publish these regulations, for her readership’s benefit. But the diocese has studiously refused to specify the crime.

The diocese said: We referred the matter to law-enforcement. So another reporter asked the police what Father had done wrong.

The police replied: “We do not have any open activities involving this individual.” The FBI spokesperson in Norfolk said: “I don’t have any insight into this.”

So the reporter asked the diocese again: To which law-enforcement agency did you report this? Answer: “We will not give further details about who, or the investigative process.”

…As you can see, dear reader, few things could be more opaque than the “transparency” of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond…

Now, how can a priest violate the Safe-Environment Code of Conduct?

1. By giving a ride to a minor, without anyone else in the car. 2. By having a minor as an overnight guest in the rectory. 3. By walking-in on a minor who is bathing or changing. 4. Using physical discipline with a minor, or humiliating, ridiculing, or degrading a minor. 5. Exposing a minor to sexually oriented materials. 6. Offering alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs to a minor, or being under the influence of any of these yourself, while interacting with minors. 7. Failing to exercise caution in interacting with minors via e-mail or the internet.

Plenty of eminently reasonable rules here. But different people could interpret exercising caution in interacting via e-mail and the internet in different ways. So much so that: it hardly counts as a ‘rule,’ in and of itself. More like vague good advice.

So I think I can safely say that I speak for most of us priests when I point out: Whatever Father Joe Metzger’s crime may be, we deserve to know precisely what it is. We should know what he did wrong, if for no other reason than to take care we avoid it, as well as all those who minister with us.

What we parish priests minding our business do not deserve is: to live in fear. Fear that we could get suspended for some secret violation. Some ‘failure to exercise caution’ that different people could interpret in different ways.

…According to an e-mail that we priests received from the diocesan office about this, our brother was suspended after an “inquiry into the complaint by the Office of Safe Environment and consultation with the Diocesan Review Board.”

Since the membership of our Diocesan Review Board remains top-secret, your humble servant cannot offer any insight there. That said, I do have some contacts in another matter. Apparently the diocese of Scranton has just begun a similar investigation, into the rector of the National Shrine, no less.

A friend I have on the inside managed to get me a picture of the Scranton team at work:

The Office meeting Steve Carrell

Here in Richmond, it feels like our fate lies in similarly competent hands.

15 thoughts on “How to Hang Your Honest Priests on Tenterhooks

  1. You Catholics claim to love your priests. Why, then, do you allow the priests to be subject to having their lives destroyed, as Mark describes, by the tyranny of the bishops and the bishops’ cult of secrecy? Why in God’s name don’t you rebel against your vicious, conniving bishops? Martin Luther, himself a devout Catholic, rebelled. So could you!

  2. Ann –

    Our parish has rebelled, over 1000 signatures to save our beloved priest. Letters written multiple times to the Bishop, Nuncio and some to the Pope to no avail. The hypocrisy and politics are horrible but the one thing our beloved priest taught was the priest nor the hierarchy should be the reason to go to church. You have to reach deep inside and realize the Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of our faith. I will not give up on my faith but I will continue to pray that our priest returns to celebrating sacraments.


  3. This is a crime against all of your priests alright! Causing them to live their priestly lives in fear and with the possible physical results of long term stress a possibility. Such as heart attack, stroke, etc. Ahh I am so sorry to read of this. Why don’t you get ‘Church Militant’ in on the case? They have just formed an action arm for just such things.

  4. I do not know Fr. Joe Metzger personally, but pray for him and for his parish. The members of his parish quite obviously do not believe he did anything wrong. Why can’t the charge be made known to the public? Would that actually be worse for the priest and everyone else than the public left wondering? If he did something wrong, then let everyone know of what he is accused and then give him the opportunity to publicly defend himself. How are any priests to know when a very innocent remark might be twisted into something “inappropriate.” It seems the people in the pews who supply the money to keep the church running have been deemed incapable of understanding right from wrong and making a decision.
    Judy R.

  5. Ahh Mrs White we cant even seem to revolt against anything harmful at this point…. its sad….i was just thinking about you yesterday..hoping you were okay as i hadnt seen a recent post but i also know i may just have missed one…. also…. just rememberjust because there is a revolt doest mean anything will change…… i dont know what think of cardinal pell for example many think him innocent…. letters wrritten… petitions signed… Vatican quietly seeming to back his innocence with a full independent investigation later….many saying things couldnt have happened the way that is being said many worldw ide supporters.. he was remanded back to jail…… do i think hes guilty…..dont know…. do i think the revolting helped sadly nope…. i think the powers that be saw it as nothiing more than a house fly sitting on the rim of a glass. Sad but you know Martin Luther had sent an email or posted his grievances to the Vatican message boards it wouldnt have carried much weight today either….

  6. The Catholic Church hierarchy is suffering from a conflict of conscience, and Richmond is a classic example of the inept leadership resulting from the conflict. I suspect the fear and intimidation will get worse before it gets better. I agree wholeheartedly with Cheryl’s comment and many of us have had our faith strengthened by the events you refer to; however, this strengthened faith does not run thru Richmond. In due time this onion will be peeled back to the light of day. Father Metzger may never fully receive justice and an apology from Richmond, but his conscience is clear.

  7. Cheryl –
    It’s not about giving up on the faith but about what the faith teaches. The Catholic church’s organization allows its hierarchy to engage endlessly, without restriction, in duplicitous and self-serving acts that DIRECTLY CONTRADICT the teachings of Jesus Christ, in whom our faith is placed. How can laypeople think they’re living “the faith” when they ignore people’s suffering at the hands of their bishops of “the faith”?

  8. Re: Father Metzger
    Surely the Bishop has told Fr. Metzger why he suspended him. If so, why does the good Father not tell us what he is supposedly guilty of unless he has been told not to mention it. That would be unfair. Under those circumstances how can he defend himself? Will pray for him. Will also write a note to the Bishop.
    How can he defend himself.

  9. I Read All these comments,And I love them all,But this is with the higher command, That protects their own. But I love my ,Pastors,Priests Vicars,and our Deacons,They are the Grunts of our Great CHURCH.AMEN.

  10. Cheryl….thank you for your expression of what we as Catholics receive in the Mass…even when the world seems to be spinning out of control, we go to Mass….the Eucharist…the “Source and Summit of our faith” as you wrote. We do not give up on our faith or our God. Bless you.

  11. Can anyone explain why Knestout’s July 2019 letter letter announcing Fr. Joe’s suspension was quickly removed from the diocese press releases on its website? In his letter dated 13 August 2019,the bishop reminds me that “…Father Metzger’s leave of absence began last December…”. Something is rotten at 7800 Carousel Lane in Richmond.

  12. Look. Satan was given the 20th century to wreak havoc in a Job-like concession to the enemy as a test of His children. That’s the legend, right? Maybe a private revelation….I don’t remember. But we’re 19 years into the 21st century. It’s about damn time for the conclusion of this trial. I don’t see any weapons laying around in the armory except prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Ho hum. Only the finest forged fighting weapons this side of the Eucharist. And the army to fight alongside? Only the Shekinah Glory cloud full of witnesses! It”s time to man up and clean house. Our side has already won…we just need to claim victory for the Lamb and cast lots for replacements.

  13. PostScript to my previous comment. The absurdity surrounding Fr. Metzger continues to amaze one gifted with common sense. I recently reached out to wish Fr. Joe’s mother an early happy 85th birthday which is to be celebrated in New Hampshire, only to find out that Fr. Metzger has been incarcerated to the confines of the Richmond Diocese and will not be allowed by the Bishop to be present for her birthday in New Hampshire. The reason apparently, is that the egregious offense of texting a benign text (notifying a camp counselor, under the age of 18, in New Hampshire that he would not be holding Mass for the camp) is disobedience of the Bishop’s interpretation of the Safe-environment Code of Conduct. It is mind boggling that in a few short months the Bishop has discerned that Fr. Metzger is a threat to New Hampshire and at the same time the Bishop was never aware of McCarrick’s dalliances. The poor man must think we live in a vacuum. My only counsel for your fellow clergy is watch your six, there is a conflict of conscience in Richmond.

  14. We are one of the NH summer families who were fortunate enough to hear some of Father Joe’s powerful sermons. We continue to pray for him and wonder if there is any update at all regarding this situation. Thank you.

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