Dispatch #1 from the Ecclesiastical Gulag

Springwood Minimum Security Prison the Simpsons

In the Soviet Union, activists often found themselves in jail, wondering what exactly they supposedly did wrong. I present my speculations.

1. Catholics sometimes find their parish priest’s ministry wanting. Or worse.

For instance: He can’t speak their language. He never sits in the confessional. He preaches about his favorite tv shows. He never takes their phone calls. He treats them like annoying step-children.

Or maybe he concelebrates with Protestant ministers. Or treats the Blessed Sacrament with callous disregard. Or belongs to the Women’s Ordination Conference.

Who knows. My point is: Under such circumstances, complaints from the people will inevitably surface.

“Dear Bishop: Father spends more time in Florida than he does here. Sincerely, Joe Catholic.”

Or “We recorded his homilies for the past month. Here are the recordings, and the transcripts. You will note that he mentions Tiger King 37 times, and Jesus Christ only twice.”

Or “Here’s a picture from my granddaughter’s baptism, with Father dressed as Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Upon receipt of complaints such as these, the Vicar for Clergy might confront Father with the evidence. ‘You need to change your modus operandi, brother. The Catholic people deserve honest, humble shepherding.”

According to the Code of Canon Law, multiple such You-Need-to-Improve conversations have to happen. Only afterwards, a bishop might issue a “Decree of Removal.”

In my case, no one complained to the diocese in the first place.

2. So maybe my removal-suspension-lockout has nothing to do with parishioner complaints? Maybe it has only to do with this little weblog?

I never mentioned frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com to my parishioners. Truly never mentioned it, for over eleven years. Readership grew solely by “internet buzz.”

Then Bishop Barry Knestout ordered me to remove the blog from the universe. (I obeyed. Then, in a calmer moment, I asked for clarification.) The vanishing of the blog led some of my parishioners to ask me, “Father, what happened? We loved reading that.”

pope francis head rub

The rationale for my punishment, therefore, seems to have nothing to do with problems in the parishes. The issue appears to be: the bishop’s idea that I have committed an ecclesiastical crime, on my weblog.

3. If I did, I certainly did it inadvertently. When the bishop expressed displeasure with this vehicle of communication you are now reading, I repeatedly asked for clarification and guidance. Bishop asked me to remove an open letter I wrote to the pope in September 2018. I obeyed. Then, in a calmer moment, I asked for His Excellency’s rationale.

Asking the pope to consider resigning. Is that an ecclesiastical crime? I wrote that original post in a state of distress, to be sure. Nonetheless, over twenty months have passed since then. And His Holiness still has not cleared the air about the McCarrick Affair.

As I noted in 2018, a pope’s decision to resign lies solely with him. No one in the earthly part of the Church can judge the pope. Anyone can impeach, but no one can convict. So I put the idea to him as a brother, and begged him to consider it.

I don’t see any offense there.

The idea that I would rebel against the authority of the reigning sovereign pontiff of the holy Catholic Church? Never crossed my mind. Never remotely crossed my mind.

Cool Hand Luke in leg irons

4. Which brings me to the disciplinary “documents” of my case.

As I mentioned above, on November 21 of last year, the bishop surprised me after Mass and proceeded to read a document to me. He refused to give me a copy of the document, even after I signed an affidavit with the understanding that I would receive a copy (apparently a misunderstanding, on my part). I don’t remember everything the document said, but I do remember the word schism.

On February 6 of this year, Father Kevin Segerblom, Episcopal Vicar for this region of the diocese, accompanied by Father Sal Annonuevo, local Vicar Forane, read another document to me. Again, I did not receive a copy of the document.

I had gotten smart by this time. I had witnesses present. And a digital recorder running. So I can report that one sentence of the document in question reads as follows:
As an implicit warning to all the faithful, the Code defines schism as the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Canon 751.

Schism. Apparently, I find myself languishing in suspension and lockout because Bishop Knestout proposes that I have committed the ecclesiastical crime of schism.

At this point, knowledgeable canon lawyers reading this may have begun to snigger. (But I assure you: getting locked out of my house and my church is no laughing matter for me.)

Am I guilty of a crime so exalted and storied as schism? Yes, I know how to spell it, but…

First of all, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, schism must be intentional. “Schismatics properly so called are those who, willfully and intentionally, separate themselves from the unity of the Church.” (Summa theo. II-II q39 a1) “Schism is essentially opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical charity.”

To charge someone with schism, therefore, involves a denunciation of the gravest kind.

I acknowledge that I may have erred in my writings here. I acknowledged as much to the bishop five months ago. I acknowledged it again four months ago. I asked if I had departed from faith or morals. No answer.

aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas

So, after multiple attempts to discuss the blog with the bishop got me nowhere, I wrote in March. I noted that I found offensive His Excellency’s suggestion that I have flirted with schism.

If I have erred in any way, I have done so not from lack of love. Rather, my love for Christ’s Church has sometimes moved me to intense passion. I have expressed that passion on this blog.

This forum, it seems to me, serves the purpose quite appropriately. Joe Catholic doesn’t need to listen to me rant in the church. But he can read what I have to say here, if he so chooses.

The fact is: I have served holy mother Church faithfully and loyally as a priest for seventeen years, as a cleric for nineteen. I scrupulously observe all of the rules. I spend myself fully on my ministry.

A disagreement about the McCarrick Affair, on a weblog, does not remotely qualify as a “schism.”

Contrast such an idea with reality. An obscure parish priest, ministering in two small towns of which no one has ever heard. Publishing a weblog in my spare time, which 85% of my parishioners couldn’t find on the internet if they tried. A heresiarch? Come on.

5. All anyone has to do is ask my parishioners. “Did Father Mark lead you into insurrection against the hierarchical authorities in the Church?” Answer:

If anyone asks you, dear reader, “Did Father Mark call some of the incumbents of the ecclesiastical hierarchy a dishonest mitered mafia, who operate without any professional accountability?”

Well, yes.

And now Bishop Barry Knestout has tried to railroad me right out of the priesthood. By sheer irrational cruelty. (Don’t worry; I am standing my ground.)

Draw your own conclusions from these facts, about whether the term mafia fits.

22 thoughts on “Dispatch #1 from the Ecclesiastical Gulag

  1. You never know how to stay out of trouble Father Mark. You roar like the lion your namesake is symboled.

  2. A brilliant indictment of the “sheer irrational cruelty” of Bishop Barry Knestout.
    Ann White

  3. Father Mark, I am wholeheartedly behind you. Do not back down, nor give up. If there is anything I can do to assist, please do not hesitate to email me. I am praying for you, but also for Bishop Knestout, that he may have a change of heart. There is no rational reason to remove you. Your parishioners, including the ones from St. Andrews who support you, need to band together on this. I’m all in. I hope you all are as well. God Bless.

  4. Remembering the quote in Cool Hand Luke when the Captain said “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

  5. “If I have erred in any way, I have done so not from lack of love. Rather, my love for Christ’s Church has sometimes moved me to intense passion. I have expressed that passion on this blog.” Like I have said before, criticism and love are not mutually exclusive. That is clear, at least to me, from your writings.

  6. Bev Stover,

    I agree there needs to be some organized movement for Fr. Mark. Prayers that someone will come forward to bring it about. I am too soon to be 80 y.o. so I am not the one. May the Bishop have a change of heart. Father
    Mark, thank you for the example that you are of a faithful Shepherd.

  7. I continue to pray for you and I’m praying for the bishops change of heart. I believe you are a gift to our parish and are unjustly ridiculed. God Bless You Father Mark!

  8. It defies common sense why a good priest would be confronted by a Bishop’s mouthpieces, who read from prerpared statements yet never provide him a copy of same. Irrational, diabolical or just plain stupid? Take your choice.
    I continue to believe this McCarrick scandal is too hot for the Bishop to handle so he is intent to bully a priest who only seeks truth. If I am wrong, I plead for God’s mercy. That said, I recommend each of us pray a rosary for Fr. White and the Bishop. The Divine must and will take control in the manner best suited to give honor and praise to the Almighty and save the souls of those concerned which includes all who are aware of the matter.

  9. How many people are interested in a Zoom prayer group for Fr. Mark?

  10. Sue, we are in agreement! My first choice? Diabolical. I pray for God’s protection over Fr. Mark.

  11. I attend Ressurection but am behind you all the way. You are a warrior for truth and Justice which we need more of. We need a cleansing from the top down.
    You are on my daily rosary. God bless you.
    Many Blessings,
    Linda Ray

  12. As I sit here in. The Sun
    Something I wicked this way comes
    Tell your Bishop
    Tell your pope
    Tell the guys who set the. Type
    This does not look on
    Skype
    Unlock. My doors
    I got a.zilluon chores
    Give me my
    Mmmmoney
    From 1942
    It is the only
    Christian thing to do

    Do not treat this priest like An old shoe

    We follow him with
    That fine hymn
    My anchor holds..
    Teresa Biggs

  13. Fr Mark…. I know this is a time of stress and hardship for you but I would urge you to take these type of thoughts off line. It is obvious that the Bishop reacts to any negative commentary. Please don’t fuel this fire. You have so much to offer your parish as well as your Church.
    I have come to believe that putting your thoughts on paper is how you cope with life’s challenges. Please continue writing. We need you to be strong and resilient. Publish only to your Brother or a close friend etc. Let your lawyer be your public voice in this matter.

  14. You have my complete and unwavering support. Your blog has been spiritual nourishment in these challenging times. The Bishop is off base and sadly, he presses on with his hollow argument that you are leading the flock astray. Nothing could be father from the truth. I am one of the million who follow you from hundreds of miles away. Your insights and reflections on the scriptures have reignited my faith and my devotion to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Honest and open discussion of the abuse and cover ups perpetrated by the leaders in the Catholic Church is not schismatic. The actions of the hierarchy have created schisms among the faithful which need to be healed. You are bringing that healing and leading people like me back to the Faith and back to the church. Why can’t the Bishop actually listen to the People and see this?
    What I see from the Bishop is injustice, bearing false witness and arrogant insecurity so threatened by direct questions that he has retaliated with a vehement attack against Father Mark. I challenge every priest, parishioner, and any other person who agrees with Father to directly write to the Bishop in support of Fr. Mark. It is time that the faithful flock is Heard!!!

  15. What a load of bunk. You were told to discontinue your blog by your Bishop. You used the COVID crisis as an excuse to reopen it and, instead of starting a new blog and concentrating on ministering to your parishioners, you open the same blog with the same articles that got you into trouble in the first place. And you want to play innocent? Give me a break. Your sheeple here might be buying, but you were acting like a jerk and the bishop was right to call you disobedient and remove you from active ministry.

  16. I love how Bishop Knestout calculates you as unworthy of occupying the rectory and worship center, yet your sins are not so grievous as to consign you to the prison ministry.

    Tell me, Bishop Knestout, How do you distinguish those held behind bars versus the rest of humanity, in the eyes of God? Or in your eyes?

    Sincerely, John

  17. Sloan who? Why did the Bishop want the blog discontinued? Did it get too close to the Bishops former bosses McCarrick and Weurl? Sloan got last name, or do they need anonymity. Hiding something, the Bishop seems to be hiding something.

  18. Sloan sure does seem to be eager to criticize. Hmmm…
    But I wish Sloan would please tell me how the actions of the Bishop portray, in any way, shape or form, the actions of Jesus? You remember Jesus, the founder of Catholicism?
    Talk about a load of bunk. I don’t understand how anyone can condone what is happening here. All Mark has done is stand by his convictions and is calling for an end to the covering up of the abuse scandal, which, in case Sloan or anyone else has forgotten, goes all the way to the Vatican!

  19. Joseph, you answered your own question when you went bishop slamming. It is being used to undermine the bishop’s authority and that is plain to see by the comments on this and other posts.

    Bev, yes, I remember Jesus, the founder of Catholicism. I remember Jesus rebuking the apostles when they got out of line. That’s what the bishop is doing, but Mark is refusing to take the hint. The Pope should resign? Bunk. Mark should resign and go be the little Church Militant wannabe that seems to be his goal anyway.

  20. Facts, sir or madame…just the facts..
    I would caution readers of this blog to focus on the messages from Fr. White and the truths they contain. One of the subtle yet very effective tactics of the enemy is to confuse the most learned mind to cause unrest. Pray for clarity, focus and cotinuie to pray. God’s will must be paramount….always.

  21. “Draw your own conclusions from these facts, about whether the term mafia fits.”

    Actually the Mafia might be a more honorable group. They tend to look after their own.

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