Dispatch #9: Walter Winchell + the Gas-lit Gulag

Walter Winchell
the real-life Walter Winchell

Thank you, dear reader, for praying that my muse would accompany me with inspiration as I try to write a full account of the past two years. Among other things, the book will include a ‘McCarrick Report’–a full synthesis of the facts the public now possesses.

Over the course of the past ten days, I have emptied the contents of multiple pens onto multiple pads of paper, leaving me with a large ream of scrawl-covered pages, drafts of the first three chapters. I think you will find it interesting reading, once the good Lord sends a publisher.

All this writing has provoked two little reflections I would like to share right now.

Roth Plot Against AmericaI. Walter Winchell had a news radio show during the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. The late novelist Philip Roth incorporated the real-life Walter Winchell into a novel, and transformed Winchell into a fictional character.

Roth’s The Plot Against America tells the story of a Jewish-American family at the time of the 1940 presidential election. Roth changes the outcome of that election. Instead of Franklin Roosevelt winning a third term in office, the celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh gets elected president.

I wrote about the novel late in 2018 and early in 2019. Since then, producer David Simon caught Philip Roth before his death and asked for the author’s blessing to turn the novel into a mini-series. You can get the six episodes for a reasonable price on Google Play.

I have seen three of them so far. Simon made some narrative changes that I find regrettable, but he nonetheless manages to do the novel justice.

In the show, the family reads the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper. Your unworthy servant will have an op-ed published in that paper this Sunday 🙂 More on that later.

In the novel, Walter Winchell broadcasts a regular Sunday-evening radio show with political commentary. All the Jews in Newark listen to the show religiously, to understand what is happening in the country.

Lindbergh runs for president on a peace-with-Hitler platform. The war in Europe is not our war! The Jews, with their particular point-of-view, might desire war. But it’s not in the best interest of Americans.

Winchell points out: Is he saying we American Jews are not, in fact, Americans?

Plot Against America GOP Lindbergh marquee
from the The Plot Against America mini-series

In the novel, Winchell risks his life by confronting Lindbergh’s propaganda with ruthless logic. The character ultimately gets assassinated. Winchell’s death proves the accuracy of his warnings about the latent violence hidden in Lindbergh’s rhetoric.

…The propaganda that has animated my Winchell-like zeal is: our Catholic hierarchy’s endless empty promises about “transparency” in cases of criminal sexual abuse by clergymen. The vulnerable marginalized class among us: the victim-survivors. Their own courage moves them to seek an honest reckoning, then they get re-abused by the defensive stonewalling of the bishops and their minions.

Someday soon, you will read all about it in my upcoming book. In the meantime, let’s focus on this: You unworthy Walter Winchell here has not gotten assassinated with an actual bullet (at least not yet), but…

II. Some people use the trendy term “gaslighting” frequently; some people have no idea what the term means; often it’s the same people.

So let’s clarify. Gaslighting involves: Attempting to deceive your victim into feeling guilty for wrongdoing that never actually happened. Generally speaking, the gaslighter can convince the victim of falsehoods because the gaslighter remains sober (or at least claims to), while the victim is drunk. That leaves the victim vulnerable to gaslighting, since his or her own memory can’t correct the disinformation.

But we can use the term in other contexts. Like where the authority of the gaslighter comes not from sobriety during the victim’s drunkenness, but rather from a relationship established by a pious promise of obedience in the Church.

Now, why do gaslighters do it? According to experts, the gaslighter intends to make a victim feel dependent. Gaslighters tend to have an irrational contempt for their victims.

Bishop Barry Knestout portraitAs I have gone back over all the events in detail, I see that Bishop Knestout has gas-lit me for two years. The record shows multiple attempts to make me feel guilty for wrongdoing that never happened.

It began in early September, 2018. The bishop ordered me to remove a post here. I complied. Then I asked the bishop to write me with his reason for the order.

He wrote back, accusing me of two things.

1. Refusing to work constructively with his secretary to schedule a meeting with him, after I requested a meeting. In fact, I never requested a meeting.

2. Breaking communion with the Church by demanding that the pope resign.

But I had never demanded that the pope resign. I had begged him to resign.

In November of last year, Bishop Knestout appeared unannounced at the parish in Rocky Mount. He told me that I had refused repeated requests to come to Richmond to meet with him. In fact, I was still waiting for an answer to an e-mail I had written, asking what he wanted to meet with me about.

When the bishop came to Rocky Mount that day (Nov. 21, 2019), he ordered me to remove my blog from circulation completely. I immediately complied. Three weeks later, I wrote to him, explaining the situation as I saw it and asking him to reconsider. I proposed a compromise.

The bishop never referred to the proposal I made. He and I met in his office two months later. At the meeting, we had no discussion of any specific content of this blog. The bishop compared my writing to “a meal with something in the middle of it that sours it all.”

He insisted that I was “inordinately attached” to writing, and it was “negatively affecting” me. Therefore, “in terms of social media, it should just stop.”

He went on to say, about the criminal sex-abuse crisis, “I know some things are frustrating, that haven’t been resolved. But in your writing the frustration seems to continue and never kind of gets resolved there.”

When the corona led to the cessation of all public Masses, I wrote to Bishop Knestout again. I notified him of my intention to resume communication through the internet, since we no longer had any other way to communicate with people. I asked him kindly to remove his threats to remove me from office.

He never answered. Instead, a week later, he wrote to the parishioners. He accused me of breaking communion with the Church.

He accused me again of refusing to meet with him, even though I had driven to Richmond to meet with him five weeks earlier. He mis-cited a blog post title. He cited the title as “Pope Francis a Heretic.” The actual title read: “Pope Francis a Heretic?”

During Easter week, Bishop Knestout wrote to me. “You have published scurrilous attacks, denigrating the authority of the Church, including the Holy Father and the college of bishops. You have disturbed the peace and good order of the Church, setting aside the notion that everyone is entitled to have their good names left unblemished… It appears your blog is more vital to you than your two parishes.”

On April 18, Bishop Knestout came unannounced to Rocky Mount again, to celebrate the livestream parish Mass. (At that point, no one was allowed in church at all.)

During the Mass, the bishop spoke about me from the pulpit, with his back to me. He told the on-line audience that he and I had an “old wound” between us, and the “canonical process” would sort it out.

It was the first time I ever heard about an “old wound” between us. I have not heard a single word about it since.

At the Mass, Bishop Knestout acknowledged that, according to Church law, I remained the pastor of the parishes until we heard back from the Vatican. Two weeks later, before we heard anything, he suspended my priestly faculties and had me locked out of the parish church and my house.

We heard from the Vatican in June. They dismissed my appeal on a technicality and told me to go to my new assignment. I asked the bishop to restore my faculties, so I could do an assignment. He told me I could not have my faculties back as long as I continued writing here.

A newspaper reporter asked the diocese about my situation. The press office told him that I had refused my assignment.

…According to Medical News Today, gaslighting causes the victim to begin to doubt his or her sanity, causing feelings of confusion and powerlessness. The long-term effects of gaslighting include trauma, anxiety, and depression.

I appreciate your prayers for me. Those prayers have, in fact, worked a miracle. At least right now, I basically feel fine.

7 thoughts on “Dispatch #9: Walter Winchell + the Gas-lit Gulag

  1. Yesterday’s reading from Matthew 23 is an apt description of much of today’s hierarchy, from Bishops Knestout to Dolan and everywhere in between.

  2. The term “gaslight” comes from a British play, adapted into a 1944 American movie, “Gaslight.” I remember seeing it in Wash.,D.C. sometime in the ‘70’s. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for it, and in it also was one of my favorite actresses, Angela Lansbury.
    Ann White

  3. Interesting that Bishop Knestout readily mentioned… “it appears your blog is more vital to you than your two parishes.” This writing mentioned McCarick’s name only once, criminal sexual abuse was only mentioned twice, the parishes were mentioned twice… and “I” was mentioned a whopping 36 times! Makes one wonder if Bishop Knestout wasn’t right.

  4. Re use of the word “I” – Terry, since Fr. Mark is writing about the events that have impacted him and his life over the past months, it is only logical that he would use the word “I” … and you actually took the time to count the “I”s! Interesting.
    I am aware of your “comments” over the past months (I am guessing it is the same person named Terry who is posting now). The pattern of “comments” is completely familiar.
    I have a question: why do you hate Fr. Mark White so much?
    What is it about this priest that seems to terrify you to the point of having to seek every opportunity to “tear him down.”
    It is one thing to disagree with Fr. Mark’s decisions. (Although those are between him and God, lest we forget that point.) It is another to attack him at every turn. There are people who love Fr. Mark dearly but do not agree with his decisions. None of them feel the need to try to embarrass him or bring him down in some way. They voice their opinions and concerns (and reasons) with respect and caring. Fr. Mark has on more than one occasion offered a reply to someone’s question or concern.
    So I cannot help but wonder why you feel such a need to attack him? Could it possibly be because you know in your heart he is right?

  5. Hang in there, Father Mark. I learned of your situation several months ago, possibly a year. I appreciate that you published this brief summary. I look forward to reading your book. Will continue to keep you in my prayers.

  6. Hang in there Father White, God loves you for speaking the truth, and the truth ultimately will come our, it always does. 😊

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