“Anglican Watch” Interview

Anglican Watch

Mr. Eric Bonetti writes a blog called “Anglican Watch.” He kindly interviewed me for his blog, and we agreed I would publish the interview here, also. His questions are in bold, and my answers follow.

  • My understanding is that the Vatican has essentially taken a pass on your complaint. Where does this leave you? How do you spend your days? And what are your next steps?

Yes, it appears that the Vatican will let Bishop Knestout’s decisions stand. This leaves me suspended from public ministry indefinitely, for no good reason. I continue to celebrate Mass and the Divine Office, with the good Lord and the denizens of heaven for company.

Since it appears that this strange situation will likely stretch on, I have been busy lately trying to set up a long-term place to live. Once I get that settled, I will return to writing daily, which seems to be the ministry that divine Providence is giving me at this point.

  • The public has read your story with interest. From your perspective, what is the biggest issue in your dispute with the church?

I think there are two inseparable issues involved in my case. One, honest accountability regarding sex-abuse cover-ups. Two, freedom of speech regarding Topic 1.

  • Is the larger issue perhaps with power, and how it is used in the church, versus the still appalling issues with sexual abuse?

I think that sex abuse by clergy, especially bishops, and episcopal abuse of power are two sides of the same evil coin. According to my limited understanding of it, clergy sex-abuse does damage, above all, by abusing the sublime power of the sacerdotal office. The abuse wounds the victim’s most-important relationship—with God. The wound comes not solely, or even primarily, through the physical violation of the body, but by the manipulation—and crushing distortion—of the victim’s interior religion. Clerical abuse of power—even when no sex is involved—does the same damage, in the same deep region of the soul.

  • How do you respond to those who say you should have just stayed quiet and let things sort themselves out?

I have lived through enough cycles of the recurring Catholic sex-abuse scandal to know that the problem will never “sort itself out.” Rule by self-interested Mafiosi never ends on its own. People who want a better kind of society have to take risks, make powerful enemies, and seek the truth no matter what it costs. The Catholic Church, considered as a human society, is a community ruled by self-interested Mafiosi, at this point in time.

  • How do you respond to those who say that your comments are blasphemous, brash, or disrespectful? Or perhaps not “easygoing?”

I have tried to maintain equanimity and humility. I have failed in that at times, and I have begged pardon of my readership when I did. But the anger many of us Catholics feel towards our hierarchy springs from a just and honest assessment of the well-known facts.

We owe our prelates respect and the benefit of the doubt—until they forfeit the right to it. If the Vatican McCarrick report shows anything, it’s that too many people gave the benefit of the doubt to a man who manifestly did not deserve it, just because he was a bishop and then a Cardinal—with vast damage ensuing as the result of that misplaced trust and deference.

  • Setting aside for a moment the issue of sexual misconduct in the church, how prevalent is non-sexual abuse, like abuse of power?

Forgive me for putting it this way, but it is not an overstatement: Abuse of power is really the only thing holding the Catholic Church together right now. The facts now on the table have left conscientious people with no choice but to dissociate themselves from the institution, at least to some extent. Everyone who is “all-in” for Catholicism at this point in history has a compromised conscience, at least partially so. Intellectual or spiritual laziness, or fear of having to face difficult spiritual realities alone, currently binds Catholics together with hierarchy–not honest religion or real Christian communion. We believe it’s the real Church; we believe in the grace conferred by the sacraments. But honest people, considering the Catholic Church as a human institution, see an unrepentant international organized crime syndicate.

  • What about sexual abuse? How common is it in the church? Has the church gotten better in dealing with it? Better in preventing it?

When sexual abuse occurs, evil triumphs; when a victim speaks out about it, good triumphs. Our hierarchy continues to fail at grasping this fundamental and obvious distinction. They think that clerical sexual abuse becomes an evil WHEN the victim speaks openly about it.

You don’t know how prevalent clerical sexual abuse is until 20-40 years later. We know now that clerical sexual abuse was alarmingly prevalent thirty years ago. We will likely know the same thing about now, in 20-40 years.

To my mind, though, that’s not really the issue. Right here and now what we can control is: How do I react, when someone confides in me about being sexually abused? How do I carry myself, and talk, and listen–so as to make such a confidence possible? How do I respond in a Christian manner? If I have any kind of authority over the situation, what ought I to do with that authority, to redress the grave injustice? As an institution, we seem to be light years away from having solid answers to these questions.

  • Some say that unbridled clericalism is one of the root causes of the problems facing the Catholic Church. Is this accurate? Do you think this is an issue for other faith traditions?

I think “clericalism” makes sense as a term, if defined precisely. In the Church, a deacon, priest, or bishop, has the role of representing Christ as the giver of saving grace. As such, the clergyman deserves commensurate reverence from the Christian, who humbly knows that he or she needs the grace. But ordination does NOT give personal holiness to the ordained. The ordained person remains a sinful human being like everyone else, needs grace like everyone else, and is as capable of committing a crime as anyone else is. A criminal clergyman deserves the same prosecution and punishment as any other criminal.

I think confusion about this distinction between the religious leader as a representative of something, and the religious leader as a fellow human being, runs through all organized religion as a constant danger.

  • How did you discern the path to priesthood?

I converted to Catholicism in college, after I fell in love with Christ crucified, living on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. The Lord called me into the Church and to the priesthood at the same time.

  • Situations like this can lead to growth for those involved. How has this experience shaped your faith? Would you do anything differently?

I have some regrets: in November 2019, I published an intemperate post that I should have waited 24 hours to edit and then publish. In 2000-2003, when I was a seminarian under Theodore McCarrick, and during the Boston Globe Spotlight scandal, I did not study the issues well at all, did not understand them. I wish I had thought the whole thing through better, back then.

All that said, I feel closer to God now than I ever have, more loved by Him than ever. I am in the situation I am in because it is His will for me, for the sake of some good too mysterious for me to comprehend at the moment.

  • What advice do you have for those who are ousted from the church, or perhaps quietly pushed aside, for criticizing the church and its conduct?

My advice would be: Double-check all your facts, think through all your conclusions as carefully as possible, pray, and keep fighting. We are living through a period of Christian history when the institutions are deeply compromised. Living peacefully in them is no sign of virtue, in itself. Quite the contrary.

  • In the best of all possible worlds, what would you like to see as an outcome?

If I could go back tomorrow to the life of pastoring the two parishes here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville, I would be very happy. I have loved doing that more than anything I have ever done.

  • Many faith traditions are seeing precipitous declines in membership in recent years. Is the church in decline? And what do you say to those who believe that organized faith is in trouble?

I think the coronavirus crisis has quickly brought organized Christianity in the Western world to the brink of mortal peril. We cannot imagine that “normal” parish life will return. The money will gradually run out and the institutions will fail. I think our hope lies in understanding that this age is like the Apostolic Age, as far as the life of the Church is concerned.

  • Do you have any further thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

I appreciate your kind interest and the excellent questions 🙂

7 thoughts on ““Anglican Watch” Interview

  1. Dear Fr. Mark,

    First, thank you for sharing the above interview. You know how much I, and so very many others, pray for your return to the parishes in Martinsville and Rocky Mount. Your honesty in answering his questions was refreshing, and exactly what I would expect from you. Your belief in God’s plan for you and your willingness to suffer the consequences of following God’s leading set the example for all of us. It is more important than ever that we trust God’s plan. Waiting is sometimes difficult. (On a personal note, among my scattered writings I found a reminder recently. It came about at a time when I struggled with some decisions to be made, and God’s answer to me was, “Your plan is not My plan.”)

    On an aside, in my efforts to gather information, I (again) spent hours on the computer yesterday checking out possible leads to priests punished by their bishops for speaking out against the actions of the hierarchy who seem determined to undermine the Catholic church, its teachings, our beliefs, etc.

    I found a survey on Complicit Clergy about whether people 1) trust their bishop and 2) how they see their bishop’s orthodoxy. (In the interest of transparency, I need to note that the survey was done in 2019 and the results I printed were dated June 18, 2019.) I printed all 118 pages and the more I read the more the more I realized just how prevalent this moral breakdown in the leadership of the church has become. The survey included the numerical ratings of the bishops as well as the comments of the people answering the survey. The word “mafia” appeared in more than one comment. Our own Bishop Knestout did not fare well. Bishops in general did not fare well with a few exceptions. The average rating in TRUST was 1.8 (scale was 1-5). The average rating in ORTHODOXY was 2.6 (scale 1-5). I hope to share more info about this on JFFM Facebook.
    (One was the lowest rating…five was the highest.)

    May God’s mercy be upon us and our nation, and may His protection and guidance be over you always.


  2. A very wonderful and honest interview Father Mark. I pray daily God will keep on holding you in the palm of His Hand.and give you the strength to follow whatever plan He has for you.

    Peace and Love,

    Ann Gunter

  3. Isn’t what the Bishop did to you , in suspending your priestly ministry, “ indefinitely” , an abuse of power ?

  4. Thank you, the questions were well-phrased and well-answered.
    Recently, in my reading, several phrases were referring to the hierarchy within the Church (or any religion) but struck me especially to describe leadership in Richmond:
    “disguising the ego behind the screen of religion”
    Strain out the gnat and swallow the camel. Matt 23:24
    “trapped inside the small self and daring to think they can speak for the Great Self”

  5. Just wanted to say thank you for your bravery, Fr. Mark. I’ve never met you but came across and have been following your story lately, am sad you’re having to pay such a high price for sake of truthfulness and the welfare of souls. It is heartbreaking. But you are in good company, including that of St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. I wish there were more like you, and hope your example will inspire courage in others.

    I’ve been saying for awhile it may be time for an underground Church of faithful priests in the US. If I lived in your area, I’d be asking to go to your private Masses. May God bless and protect you.

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