Bishop’s E-mail, Pleasing God, and Free Speech

My dear ones: Apparently His Excellency, Bishop Barry Knestout, e-mailed a number of our parishioners earlier today.

I have not yet had the chance to read bishop’s letter. I will do so as soon as I can, and I will provide a careful response. (I know that I still owe you, dear reader, my full account of the controversy. I promise to publish it as soon as I can.)

As I mentioned at Mass at St. Joseph’s this past Sunday, I have no intention of leaving my assignment–at least not before a tribunal of the Holy See hears the case.

The Martinsville Bulletin published an article about the situation today. I continue to stand by my hope that we can put this unfortunate conflict behind us. Especially considering how desperately we need to stick together, through this once-in-a-lifetime challenge we face. Please pray for that.

…In the meantime, I thought it might help for me to pull this Sunday homily out of Mr. Bates’ mailbag for you…

(written 1/10/2020)

baptismThis is what our souls seek, more than anything: to have the divine eyes gaze upon us with pleasure. To please God. To please the One Who can, and will, judge us truly and with complete righteousness. [Spanish]

We sinners would have had no hope of pleasing our Creator. But then He sent His only-begotten Son. God united Himself with us in Jesus, so now we can hope to please the Father. We please Him by making up our part of the Body of the only-begotten Son. The holy Church, cleansed by the Blood of the Savior, pleases God. The Body of Christ delights the heavenly Father completely.

In this Church, we agree on faith and morals. We share the faith of the Apostles, which they and their successors have handed down to us, through the ages. And we govern our lives by the Christian rule of conduct.

That does not mean, however, that we agree on everything. In the Catholic Church, we must respect each other’s right, and each other’s need, to study, to reflect, to form opinions, and to express ourselves.

From the very beginning of our Church’s pilgrimage on earth, open and honest debate has made up an essential part of the Christian life. The original Apostles argued about circumcising non-Jewish converts to Christianity. Different Apostles had different opinions about it. It took some intense arguing before they found the path forward, and went down it together. And the uncircumcised men of the ancient world all breathed a sigh of relief.

I dislike talking about myself in my homilies. But I find myself in a difficult situation. And it’s a difficult situation for us all.

The holy Catholic Church faced a profound crisis in the summer of 2018, as many of us remember. I began writing on my weblog about it, trying to understand the problem myself, and offering the reader whatever insight I had. I did eighteen months’ worth of writing on the subject—hopefully in the service of our Catholic faith, not against it. I don’t claim never to have made any mistakes. I’m sure I did.

Until this past November, our bishop, Barry Knestout, tolerated my writing on my blog. Then he made a surprise visit to Rocky Mount, a week before Thanksgiving. He ordered me, in no uncertain terms, to keep silent. To remove my blog from circulation entirely, and to publish nothing further–not even my Sunday homilies.

Who would have thought that anything I wrote was that interesting?

Seriously, though. My point-of-view on this.

The bishop has every right to correct me, even to censor my writing, if he judges it necessary. We Catholic priests do not enjoy an absolute right to free speech. From the sacramental point-of-view, my ministry as parish priest here depends completely on his ministry as diocesan bishop. If the bishop identifies as unorthodox something a priest of his has written, the bishop has the duty to insist on a public correction.

That said, bishops have to operate according to law and order, just like everyone else. He does not have the right, I don’t think, to silence someone completely. He doesn’t have the right to cut off an appropriate means of self-expression. Especially when there’s actually no question of unorthodox teaching here.

bill-of-rightsI know I often bore you. But I don’t think that I have belabored my points about the sex-abuse crisis at Mass. I have spoken about it a few times in my homilies, when it seemed like circumstances called for it. But mainly I have expressed my opinions on the subject just on my blog–in posts for people to read as they might choose, or ignore as they might choose. I don’t remember ever insisting that my parishioners had to read my “world-famous blog!” To the contrary, my blog seemed like just the kind free-will forum for me to express myself, without fear of reprisals. All kinds of cranks publish all kinds of blogs, after all. If I’m just another nut-job with a laptop—so be it. At least, that’s how I saw it, until this past November 21.

A month ago, I wrote the bishop asking him to reconsider his decision. He answered, expressing his willingness to meet with me next month, in February. If I don’t have a nervous breakdown before then, I will try to persuade the bishop at that meeting that: He shows the strongest and most-admirable leadership by tolerating the free expression of opinions. Especially opinions regarding the sex-abuse crisis in the Church.

In the Middle East, cool heads are looking for an “off-ramp” from war between Iran and the United States. If I might, let me ask you to pray for an off-ramp from this controversy between the bishop and myself. In November, he sternly threatened to remove me as pastor here if I did not silence myself. I, for one, do not want to be removed as pastor here. You might want that, and I could understand why. But I don’t.

Please pray that the bishop will leave me at least a little patch of ground to stand on. I want to keep standing here with you. But everyone needs to be able to say their piece somehow. For good or ill, I have a great deal to say about the McCarrick situation, and the sex-abuse scandal in general.

In our second reading at Mass, we hear St. Peter declare: God shows no partiality. He has proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ. May the peace of Christ reign. Not a false peace that silences anyone with hard things to say. But the true peace that comes from believing that the Lord Jesus can and will conquer all evil.

5 thoughts on “Bishop’s E-mail, Pleasing God, and Free Speech

  1. All things about should aside for the moment. Resignation when the Cardinals cannot meet would be a nightmare. Anything happening to Pope Francis now would be another disaster for the Church. I do not think it necessary as I said before, but right now neither the traditional nor something coherent could happen. You never know how to stay out of trouble, but I know someday you will find peace and healing. Always in a way no one expected.

  2. As one who was silenced & removed 35 y ears ago Fir speaking out on the subject of abuse I will pray for you.

  3. I agree with you Father Mark, especially in light of what has recently happened. I pray the rosary most nights for your intention. And I also pray that the Bishop’s heart will be changed by God. May God guide us all in this very difficult time.
    Ann Gunter

  4. His Holiness Pope Leo XIII infallibly taught the following in paragraph 32 of Immortale Dei: ” the liberty of thinking, and of publishing, whatsoever each one likes, without any hindrance, is not in itself an advantage over which society can wisely rejoice. On the contrary, it is the fountain-head and origin of many evils. Liberty is a power perfecting man, and hence should have truth and goodness for its object. But the character of goodness and truth cannot be changed at option. These remain ever one and the same, and are no less unchangeable than nature itself. If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption. Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law. A well-spent life is the only way to heaven, whither all are bound, and on this account the State is acting against the laws and dictates of nature whenever it permits the license of opinion and of action to lead minds astray from truth and souls away from the practice of virtue. To exclude the Church, founded by God Himself, from life, from laws, from the education of youth, from domestic society is a grave and fatal error. A State from which religion is banished can never be well regulated; and already perhaps more than is desirable is known of the nature and tendency of the so-called civil philosophy of life and morals. The Church of Christ is the true and sole teacher of virtue and guardian of morals. She it is who preserves in their purity the principles from which duties flow, and, by setting forth most urgent reasons for virtuous life, bids us not only to turn away from wicked deeds, but even to curb all movements of the mind that are opposed to reason, even though they be not carried out in action.”

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