Promise of Obedience + Groundhog-Day Mailbag


canon law codex canonici

I promised respect and obedience to my bishop when I became a priest. I have honored that promise for seventeen years, and I will continue to honor it. With all my heart I want to do God’s will. After all: What good does it do for anyone to want to do anything else?

Five months ago, bishop ordered me to remove my weblog from the internet. I obeyed. Then I tried to use appropriate means for settling the issue–means which the Church Herself provides.

A bishop does not have the legal right to silence a priest altogether, or to constrict a priest’s freedom in an unnatural way. A bishop has the duty to insist on clarifications and corrections, if and when a priest departs from truth and orthodoxy in his preaching or publications.

I acknowledge the bishop’s role there. I have asked many times for the clarifications and corrections that the bishop would have me make. Never got a specific response, or any kind of written response at all. In the meetings we had, he gave me only vague generalizations about what I had done wrong. I pointed out that we seem to have significant misunderstandings between us, and I asked for his specific objections. No response.

The Church has explicit rules about a bishop removing a parish pastor against the pastor’s will. So far we have followed none of those rules.

In his letter to me yesterday, the bishop ordered me to move. But he did not provide the address of the domicile to which I was to move. This tells me that he understands, like I do: we have many more legal rivers to cross here.

Bishop proposes that I become a prison chaplain at-large for the diocese. If that proves to be God’s will for me, I will embrace it with all the devotion I have. I would hold it a great privilege to serve in that way.

But no parish priest fails in ecclesiastical obedience by simply insisting that we follow Holy Mother Church’s own rules. Church law exists to protect everyone from caprice and injustice.

…For your reading pleasure, the last of the unpublished homilies and essays, from late January and early February:

The St. Bede, Williamsburg Affair, written Jan. 16

RIP Kobe Bryant, written Jan. 27

Auschwitz Liberation Anniversary, written Jan. 27

Could King David Do God a Favor? written Jan. 29

February 2 Co-incidence? homily for Presentation Day

The Basis of Psychological Health, written Feb. 3

Galilean Topography, written Feb. 10

The Queen of Sheba and Us, written Feb. 12

First Commandment, written Feb. 13

Valentine’s Day: the Truth about Sex


10 thoughts on “Promise of Obedience + Groundhog-Day Mailbag

  1. I am thankful for the legal process in the church. I pray that it be God’s will that Fr. Mark be allowed to continue as pastor of these parishes, where he has meant so much to the religious faith of so many. I have been blessed to have Fr. Mark as priest during many Masses. Never have I felt that the Mass had become routine for him. Never. He is truly a priest of God.
    I pray for a path of reconciliation between priest and bishop, not only for the sake of all those involved, but that it may be an example to the world that we (the faith, leaders and lay) practice what we teach and say we believe.
    I have faith in Fr. Mark and know he will be a true priest wherever he serves. I wish I could have faith in the Bishop, that he really cares. But I don’t. Unfortunately, the Bishop’s words [in his letter, “I convey my prayers for all during this transition,”] meant absolutely nothing to me. Empty words…I felt almost insulted….and how very sad that this should be so.
    I pray for myself that God will forgive me…..
    Judy R.

  2. Judy… i too felt kinda insulred by the bishops words…. they sounded…. incredibly empty…. now granted noth8ng the bishop said would have made me feel all warm and fuzzy…. but his words were seemed said only because he knew he should…. i say seemed because i wont judge where his heart is…. but i believe his actions to be a bit off on the teachings of holy mother church… and he has turned it personal….sad….

    You know Father Mark….if something happens and this goes against what we all pray the ultimate outcome would be…. i believe that the system would be blessed to have you as a chaplain… if circumstances were different (in many ways) i might even be excited for you. That said…. i very much pray that you will not be going anywhere.. i know what a difference your masses have made in my faith life as well as others….

  3. A bishop is not free, however, to remove or transfer a pastor from his office without following a detailed and nonnegotiable process defined by canon law This procedure can only be initiated if a priest has met one or more conditions for removal outlined in the law, which include actions “gravely detrimental or disturbing to ecclesiastical communion,” along with permanent infirmity of mind or body, a loss of good reputation among his flock, and neglect of his duties in the parish.

    Even if a priest has met those conditions, before he can be removed from the office of pastor, the bishop must formally consult with certain priests appointed by the diocesan priests’ council, he must allow the pastor the opportunity to see the evidence against him and make a defense, and he must discuss that defense with the priests appointed to consult with him.

    During this whole process, the bishop can neither remove the pastor nor appoint a replacement.

    If the bishop does issue a decree of removal, the priest has the right to appeal his case to Rome, where the Congregation for Clergy, or eventually the Apostolic Signatura, can examine the decision and the process used to reach it

    A bishop also has the prerogative, in certain limited circumstances, to declare that a priest is impeded from exercising priestly ministry, but that must be done through a delineated process, as well. A bishop could also withdraw certain faculties for ministry from a priest, but only if he has good reasons, and only if he has followed the procedural requirements of canon law.

    In short, while no priest has a right to an assignment or to ministry, once a priest is appointed a pastor, he cannot be removed from his office, or from his ministry, without serious cause and without observation of the law’s procedural requirements. Similarly, prohibiting a priest from residing in a certain place can only be done in the limited circumstances allowed by canon law.

    This also means that, except in very limited and unusual circumstances, a bishop is not within his rights to attempt to remove the legitimate pastor of a parish from its property or to threaten to have the police do so. Were a bishop to do such a thing without observing canonical requirements, and the priest appeal to Rome, it is likely that the Vatican would order the pastor to be reinstated.

    Neither can a bishop compel any priest to undergo a psychological evaluation or engage in psychological treatment. While a bishop might condition future assignments on a “clean bill of mental health,” he cannot force a priest to be diagnosed or treated against his will, or to disclose the details of his mental health if he does not wish to do so.

    Canon 519 says that the pastor exercises “the pastoral care of the community committed to the pastor under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing.”

    The authority of the diocesan bishop is not absolute; nor is the autonomy of the pastor. But both exist, as defined by canon law, for the service of the Church and the salvation of souls. Understanding the authority of bishops and the rights of pastors is important at a moment in the Church’s life when so much seems unclear and when many questions remain unanswered.

  4. I believe Fr. Mark has been given a great grace to expose, through his own story, the underbelly of the Church’s hierarchy. Of course, not all church officials behave like this, but by showing all the communications between him and his bishop, it’s clear that there is a manipulation of the highest degree going on. When the Bishop sends emails to Fr Mark’s parishioners and informs him of his removal with no personal contact, the power play is clearly visible. It’s very difficult for a parish priest to shed a light on something like this. It’s a very sad situation and I pray that God will resolve it in a way that only He can.

  5. Fr. Mark would do a grave injustice if he failed to pursue the path of helping to unveil corruption at the highest levels of our Church. Father is walking the narrow road which leads to salvation. The Bishop, it seems, is walking the wider, more comfortable road. (I am not judging him but my comment is based on activities to date).Father Mark’s heart is exactly where it needs to full swervice to his beloved Church which is God and His people. I pray for all of the Catholic heirarchy who are determined to protect themselvess at the expense of the souls intrusted to to thier care (including loyal Priests). Father Mark, wherever you land, you will continue to be a man of God and committed to bringing others to The Father. I continue to pray for you daily.

  6. I am not of your faith but I have followed this story. In these troubled times when we need true leaders I must say, Father Mark, you have ‘True Grit’!

  7. Father,

    I enjoy your writing and wish you well in your defense. Full disclosure; I am not a practicing Catholic any longer. That said, I hate seeing the old team suffering the way it is.

    From a distance, and now without a dog in the fight, it feels like I am watching train wreck after train wreck.

    If I could offer any advice, solicited or not, it would be to keep this coming fight about the issues and not about the personalities. Fear and hubris is a bad combination.

    I would offer also, never discount an organizations instinct to survive and protect itself. You are in, till you are not, and when you are not, the full weight of the group will move to isolate you to protect the group.

  8. It is indeed ironic that a priest who protests against sexual misconduct in the church is relieved of his duties while those that commit the misconduct retain theirs.

  9. Congrats on getting support from the white, nationalist “Catholic” site Church Militant. With friends like that, the bishop is right to remove you.

  10. As I live out my own version of ” Groundhog Day” distant from my family, I find myself drawn to follow your “trials”.
    For me, the issues you blog about are symptoms of a larger issue. The Church has lost touch with the congregation. This has been going on for a long time, but appears now to have reached the tipping point. Church leadership can’t see or understand this, and choose to keep going forward in the same old way looking for a different outcome.
    I am sure the Bishop and his team put a lot of effort into his email. I am equally sure they felt they had the perfect instrument to convince the congregation of the rightness of the their path. If they had reached past the sycophants to an objective reviewer, they could have gotten some feed back on the impact their email would have on the secular reader.
    In the simple comparisons of the writing styles, the Bishops letter and your blog, one can see the crux of the issue. You write from your heart, in a direct manner, trying to inform. The Bishop’s note (to me) fails to achieve the same result.
    I my many years bounding around the world, I have seen this type of communication style many times. We normally categorize it as bloviating. If you can’t blind them with brilliance, bluff them with ….. most know the rest.
    Unfortunately, I see you as the last line of defense. All efforts to safe the ship have failed, and now the brave few remain to keep the lights on so the majority of the crew can be saved.
    My God grant you peace and strength! I salute your efforts, but know the metal of your foe and the severity of their anger.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s