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.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.