His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet
Prefect, Congregation of Bishops
Palazzo della Congregazioni,
Piazza Pio XII, 10
00193 Roma, Italia
July 2, 2020
I write today re Fr. Mark White, who was suspended from his ministry by Bishop Barry Knestout, Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, USA.
I am confident that mine is not the first letter you have received about this grievous matter. Many other letters of support have been sent to you from loving and deeply upset parishioners, who have been blessed with having Fr. White as their priest. People came to Mass not out of a sense of duty, but to hear him preach, and to receive the spiritual nourishment he provided. He inspired us all with a desire to better serve God and to seek a deeper spiritual commitment.
I insert the following from a previous letter by Ms. B. Harmon, dated June 23, 2020 (with her permission) as a brief refresher of the subject matter: “…Fr. White re-opened his web blog during the COVID-19 shutdown to communicate with his parishioners sheltering at home. Fr. White had closed his blog at the bishop’s request in November, 2019. The bishop has asked Fr. White to terminate his blog (its primary purpose to house his homilies, 12 years of content), because he also used it as a forum to express personal commentary and information about newly uncovered scandals related to the sex-abuse issue beginning with the announcement of allegations against Theodore McCarrick in June 2018 (McCarrick had ordained Fr. Mark White in 2003).”
Fr. Mark’s writing about such problems are not a “first.” In Jude, vs. 3, 4 we read: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
It has been known for years that sexual perversion and sexual abuse have become rampant in the Catholic Church. Yet rarely was anything admitted or done about it, other than payoffs. (In addition to that scandal, we have learned of the gross misuse of funds by some members of the hierarchy, including those who lived in mansions, enjoyed lives of luxury and self-indulgence, all of which in no way reflected the life lived by our Savior Jesus Christ while on earth.)
Fr. White filed an appeal to the Bishop’s actions. The Bishop, during the interim time, moved swiftly to remove Fr. White from his priestly duties, disregarding the Canon laws that protect a priest while his appeal is being heard. These actions are a matter of record, which I will not bore you with repeating. I assure you, however, that parishioners are very aware of the bishop’s actions and reacting accordingly.
I also write with the knowledge that the Vatican has responded to Fr. White’s appeal to the effect that because the lawyer’s submission omitted one word, “procurator,” at the beginning, this nullified the entire case. That information was received by Fr. White and his lawyer in a time frame that appeared designed to stop additional efforts. This reeks of deliberate efforts to stop this appeal immediately.
Is this what our Church has come to? Is this seen as fair treatment for a priest who has given his life to the work of the Church? Known sexual abusers are “over-looked” while a faithful priest is treated in this manner. What is right about that? What is holy about that? How does this glorify God?
It is Bishop Knestout’s contention that Fr. White’s blog and actions caused discord among the faithful.
I disagree. (Please bear in mind that not everyone read the blogs…it was each individual’s choice to do so.) It is my belief that the actions of the bishop have done far more to damage the faith and the image of the Catholic Church than anything Fr. White ever said or wrote.
Fr. White has attempted to reconcile with the bishop, including offering an apology on the blog if anything he may have written had seemed inappropriate or offensive to others. (It should also be noted that readers were able to post their own responses regarding the blog.) Fr. White offered to have others review future blogs prior to their posting. He also offered proposals for ways to resolve the conflict which were rebuffed, without response from the bishop. Nothing was acceptable to the bishop…only the complete shutdown of the blog and other forms of communication.
Fr. White was to cease “…disseminating his opinion by means of any social media: in print, by audio, or video, or any digital means….” This decree from the bishop is in direct opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media.” As you know, every pope for the last sixty years has endorsed this Declaration.
I believe it time for the bishop to practice the forgiveness that the Church teaches. Christ, while on earth, repeatedly chastised the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, for not practicing what they preached. The twenty-third chapter of Matthew addresses this in great detail.
Forgiveness is at the heart of our faith. This is what we are taught, what we preach, what we tell the world we believe. Jesus, as he hung dying on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:24) Simon Peter denied Jesus three times; yet Christ loved him and received him back as his own. He did not “punish” him or seek revenge against him. We are required to practice forgiveness. It is not optional. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12) And, again, in Luke 6:37: “…forgive and you will be forgiven… For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
The bishop has not demonstrated, in my opinion, a willingness to practice forgiveness for what he perceives to be Fr. White’s transgressions. Yet, the best example of Christian love he could give to this skeptical, doubting world, would be to reconcile with Fr. Mark White. Instead, what the world sees is a bishop willing to hurt or destroy a beloved and faithful priest who dared to tell the truth about the sexual scandal. They also see a man [bishop] determined to do whatever he can to circumvent justice and force a good priest into submission. This should not be so. Do not think the world is not watching…it is. News of this deplorable situation has spread far and wide.
Because of Bishop Knestout’s prior position as Secretary to McCarrick, he has been viewed with skepticism since his arrival as bishop. It is not my place to judge him….that is only for God. I do know from what I hear and read that what appears to be a crusade on his part to stop, by any means, additional information about McCarrick, the sexual abuse, and/or questions about why the McCarrick Report has not been released by the Vatican, do not serve him well. More and more, many see this as the driving force behind his actions against Fr. White.
My prayer and my hope is that Fr. Mark White will receive a fair and just adjudication of his appeal, and that a positive outcome—for the bishop, Fr. White, and his parishioners—will be forthcoming with the return of Fr. White to his two parishes. Parish priest or bishop…both are priests of the same God.
In closing, I share this verse from I Corinthians 9:16:
“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
This is the priest that I know Fr. Mark White to be. He can be nothing less and be true to his calling from God as a priest. Would that all were like him.
Respectfully yours in Christ,
Judy L. Rogers
Parishioner, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Rocky Mount, VA
Scripture references: The Holy Bible, RSV, Second Catholic Edition, Ignatius Press
cc: His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio, 3339 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 USA
His Excellency Archbishop William Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore, 320 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201 USA
Fr. Mark D. White, Pastor (suspended), Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount (24151); St. Joseph, Martinsville, VA (24112) USA