His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet
Prefect, Congregation of Bishops
Palazzo della Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII, 10
00193 Roma, Italia
June 27th, 2020
Father Mark White, pastor in the diocese of Richmond Virginia in the United States, has been suspended from public ministry. His Excellency, Bishop Barry Knestout, issued the decree with subsequent further instructions to vacate the rectory and prohibitions to interact with his parishioners.
With a regret borne of despair, we continue to be informed that Father Mark’s petition for hierarchical recourse has been refused. His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella, Prefect, Congregation for Clergy, noted in his letter to Father Mark’s canonical lawyer, a Mr. Podhajsky, that they had neglected to use the word “procurator” in Father Mark’s original mandate to his representative, and this was partly the basis for the failure of Father Mark’s petition for hierarchical recourse.
As the Church and Christ’s words have stressed, there is no Justice and no hope of Reconciliation without God’s Grace and Love. Bishop Knestout himself, during Divine Mercy Sunday Mass at our parish, declared that the point of Father Mark’s judicial appeal was so we could be reconciled as brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, within a brief span of time, before this appeal was completed, the Bishop circumvented this process and suspended Father Mark and deprived him of the mutual love and respect of his parishioners. With due respect, it does not seem that a reliance on the technicality of naming a procurator reflects Justice and Reconciliation, since it appears deprived of God’s Grace of His Love.
But instead a further dry discussion over the technicality of an abbreviated judicial appeal, I wanted to speak of Father Mark’s joyful public ministry at our two local parishes that he serves—Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and St Joseph’s in Martinsville, Virginia. It is rare, truly rare, to find the Joy in ministry that Father Mark brings. As we are all aware, without God’s Love and Grace, there cannot be true Joy. Without the Holy Spirit moving within us, there can be no true Joy in the fulfillment of God’s promise for us.
Father Mark’s ministry is a rare instance of true Joy in one’s calling. It is a Joy that fills our parishes with Love, and with a vibrancy that is not all that common in many of our parishes today.
It is gift to us that Father truly communicates with his parishioners. Father genuinely listens—with his whole heart, with his full attention and with the wisdom of our Christian Faith. It is a true communication, with each seeking to learn and understand each other, and not a lecture. He has helped me, and others, grow in Faith and Love with his patient communication.
It is a gift to us that Father’s Joy in the Word overflows during the celebration of Mass. Personally, I have transferred from another area parish because God’s Word during his sermons resonates so clearly with me. His Joy in the gift of the Mass is an inspiration and not a mechanistic chore, as it seems at times to a few other priests.
It is a gift to us that Father energizes with the Holy Spirit such a vibrant and nurturing Catholic community. It is a living, dynamic, and growing Faith community, not one that is stagnant and fossilized. With Father’s leadership and example, we celebrate together the many joys of God’s Love for us, and we mourn together the burdens that life may bring. It is a multilingual and multicultural community. It is such a young and dynamic Faith community that, for example, has been inspired by Father to produce more than its share of seminarians for such a small parish.
It is a gift to us that Father is kind and caring shepherd to the flock that God has entrusted him with. He is our shepherd who unfailingly guides us in our Catholic Faith and in its teachings. He is our shepherd that unfailingly manifests God’s Love for each and every one of His children. He is our shepherd who is unfailingly there in our time of personal and community need.
Father Mark is a gift to his flock of God’s Love and Grace. Father Mark is an inspirational priest in his ministry for us in how to live God’s purpose for each and every one of us in our lives. Father Mark’s purpose is in public ministry and his Joy in this ministry is evidence that he has met God’s call for him.
The suspension of Father Mark from the public ministry that God has called him to with such Joy deprives him of the core of his purpose. And Father alone does not suffer in this deprivation. Those of us of his parish who are inspired by God’s Love and Grace though him are also deprived. As a loving and caring Catholic community, we also suffer by his absence and suspension from the public ministry. And, I would humbly suggest, that our Catholic Church as a whole suffers and is deprived when such a gifted minister is shunted aside.
How can Justice and Reconciliation be consistent with God’s Love and Grace without so much as a canon appeal of his situation? Dismissed, based on a technicality? How is suspending Father Mark from his ministry and from the parishioners who love him consistent with God’s Love? How is suspending Father Mark from the Church, who he is so clearly devoted to, and isolating him from his brethren priests consistent with God’s Loving understanding of us?
With deep humility, please at least hear Father Mark’s canonical appeal according to its merits and find a path forward with God’s Love and Grace to resolve this situation.
Yours in Christ,
Anthony G. Patriarco, MD, PhD