Update on My Canonical Case

canon law codex canonici

I have received a notice from Bishop Knestout. He intends formally to charge me with two canonical “delicts,” that is, Church crimes. He tells me that he intends to pursue an “extrajudicial penal process.” (Not sure what that means.) He intends to “resolve my situation” by “invoking II Special Faculty.” (Don’t know what that means, either.)

The charges are: 1. disobedience 2. incitement.

According to the canon, disobedience = “not complying with the legitimate precepts or prohibitions of the Apostolic See or the ordinary [ie. bishop].”

St Francis of Assisi Rocky Mount
St. Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount, Virginia

Precept. I believe that, in November 2019, Bishop Knestout signed a ‘precept’ concerning this blog. On the 21st of that month, the bishop surprised me after daily Mass and read at least part of that precept to me.

The situation that day was far from calm; I did not catch every word of what the bishop was reading to me. I didn’t worry about that, though, because I assumed that I would receive a written copy.

When bishop finished reading, however, he informed me that I would not receive a copy of the document. I was dumbfounded.

I am assuming that the Bishop intends to accuse me of disobeying this particular precept of November 2019, in this “penal process” now begun. I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity to hold the document in my own hands and read it with my own eyes, before I am put on trial for disobeying it. I hope that I will have some time to consider its contents carefully.

None of us are in the dark, though–at least I don’t believe we are–about the basic thrust of this mysterious document. The precept compels me, under pain of losing the office of pastor in Martinsville/Rocky Mount, to remove this blog from circulation entirely and to withdraw completely from publishing anything.

In March of last year (2020), my canon lawyer wrote to Bishop Knestout, pointing out that I needed more information from him in order to understand his problems with this blog and to make adjustments to satisfy him. We never received any response to my lawyer’s letter.

sacredheartcathedralrichmond

Then last summer my lawyer argued that the precept in question appears not to be in harmony with the teaching of the popes, when it comes to priests using the internet to communicate.

My lawyer made this distinction:

On the one hand, we acknowledge the prerogative the bishop has to guide me in what I would publish here. I have, in fact, repeatedly sought such guidance. On the other hand, the bishop’s demand that I cease entirely to communicate over the internet violates my basic freedom as a human being, and it contradicts the law and the teaching of the Church.

This past March, I wrote to Bishop Knestout. I re-iterated my offer to work with him–or with someone delegated by him, or with anyone approved by him–to try to solve the problems that this blog has caused in our relationship. I remain willing, as I have been all along, to correct any errors I have published here. I expressed my desire to serve the diocese in some priestly ministry that might be helpful.

St Peters

Bishop Knestout responded by urging me to seek laicization. Then he informed me that he himself had petitioned the Holy See to expel me from the clergy.

Apparently that petition was returned to Bishop Knestout at some point this summer, without any action taken on it in Rome. Perhaps because I have never been given due process and the opportunity to defend myself. Indeed, I have never been clear on what exactly the bishop believes I have done wrong, other than continuing to keep this weblog in existence.

To return to the charges that have now, at long last, been made a little more clear… The second one is brand new. I don’t have any record of the bishop ever accusing me of incitement, until last week.

According to the canon, the crime of incitement = “publicly stirring up hostilities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary [bishop] on account of some act of ecclesiastical power or ministry, or inciting subjects to disobey.”

I have no awareness whatsoever of ever having done this.

I have freely shared my own point-of-view, on topics that cause a lot of thoughts and emotions. But I believe that I have always left it to you, dear reader, to determine how you react to what I write.

For my part, I bear no ill will towards Pope Francis or Bishop Knestout. To the contrary, I pray for both of them with love every time I celebrate Holy Mass. I have at times been angry with both of them, but that anger cooled long ago.

It seems to me that expressing yourself in a proper forum about highly debatable matters of Church governance ≠ incitement to hatred or disobedience.

I do not think that I myself have wrongly disobeyed; I know for certain that I have never urged anyone to disobey the Church’s law or any particular ordinance of Bishop Knestout.

Two weeks from today my canon lawyer and I will meet with the bishop and Judicial Vicar to initiate this “extrajudicial process.” I pray for humility and honesty. Apparently the bishop will present evidence to support his charges; may I have a mind open to see the whole matter as clearly as possible.

If I have in fact done wrong in the ways that the bishop contends, I pledge myself to do whatever I can to repair the damage.

Today we keep the anniversary of St. Therese of Lisieux’s holy death. On the day of the meeting in Richmond, we will remember Therese’s spiritual mother, St. Theresa of Avila. Let’s pray to these two Doctors of the Church. May a miracle of peace and mutual understanding occur.

17 thoughts on “Update on My Canonical Case

  1. Not looking good. Was restarting the blog really worth it? A year and a half later and you are still on the outs and looking very much like you won’t be back as a priest at all.

  2. Peace be with you. Gods plan for you will prevail and even tho none of us understand why this is happening, he has a plan.

  3. Incredible ! Bishop will “penalize” you “extrajudicially” Without due process? Where is his sense of Catholic justice? I am so sorry for you and will pray for you and for your Canon Lawyer. I believe that you have the right to speak to us as you do. Never have I read anything that would stir up trouble. You have the right to free speech. It is all so disgusting !

  4. Thank you for the update. You were on my mind and in my thoughts when i went to Adoration for a while this evening, and I said a special prayer for you.
    I have thought a lot recently about how your life, my life, the lives of so many others – both priests and lay people- have changed over these past months. Selfishly, I acknowledge, I wish I could turn back the clock to the days before all of this began, but I cannot. I miss the joy that life held then, as I am sure we all do.
    In addition to the loss of your presence as our priest, the impact of Covid 19 has impacted in some way all of our lives these many months.
    I have always accepted that you did what you felt you had to do. I also recall that you have acknowledged that perhaps you could have handled some things differently. Could that have made a difference regarding the situation with the bishop? Only God knows the answer.
    (In addition to your personal situation, we have watched as so many of our priests are now being suspended/punished for speaking the truth. For the fact is that the Catholic church is under attack from evil within its own hierarchy. And the priests who refuse to be silenced have paid, and continue to pay, a tremendous price.)
    I believe that God, in His love for us, in his sorrow for us when we falter, can and does use all circumstances for our spiritual growth, in ways that are not of our understanding. Sometimes these “growing pains” are not pleasant. It is our trust in God that carries us through to whatever final outcome God chooses for us.
    It is my prayer that this issue between you and the Bishop can be reconciled and that you will be allowed to resume your service to God as a priest. Your words above very clearly indicate your desire and willingness to be at peace with the bishop.
    I know that I will be praying without ceasing for you two weeks from today, as I am sure many others will also.
    The rest is in God’s hands.
    May God grant you courage and strength, and may your love for Him and your faithfulness as a priest comfort and sustain you always, especially during this time of trial.
    Judy R.

  5. The bishop is acting as a tyrant, exercising power in the absence of clear light on his authority. The bishop is God in his diocese, but God respects our rights and dignities. The bishop, like so many of his brothers, appears to hold the powers of his office in higher regard than truth, justice, charity, or the dignity of his flock. May God forgive me if I am wrong in saying so, and if Bishop Knestout excommunicates me for it, he’ll receive no less money from me in his coffers because there is no amount lower than zero.

  6. You are an instrument of peace, Father Mark. and it is your faithful trust in God’s mercy that will feed and strengthen our Catholic Church. Where truth can no longer be manipulated, hidden, or gagged, it takes the courage of a parish priest and victim, to save the church. I trust in your lead.

  7. Praying for you to get through this. May God have mercy on those who are trying to cover up the evil that has been done before, and the evil that is being done now. We all need to pray a little harder because the Church that Jesus founded is being run by men who are not doing God’s will. God Bless you, Father Mark.

  8. It is difficult to know what to say when faced with such relentless and perverse obstinance by those in authority. Even when his application to remove you from the priesthood is turned down by the Vatican (if that is understood correctly), the bishop persists in his unjust pursuit. We miss your presence in the shared Joy of Mass. I am unclear on this “extrajudicial process.” Does the bishop himself, or one of hand-picked clergy, make the decision? Both the judge, jury and prosecution.

  9. Father White, you are not alone, and have all our support, prayers and hopes that you ll go back serving the Lord as you promised 🙏 long time ago.
    *Keep up in writing, we need you Blogging!

  10. His Excellency is following proper procedure and the evidence on this blog and various social media outlets is insurmountable in my opinion. Prayers for each and every one of you to come home to God and His Church.

    For those who are not clear on the process …https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib7-cann1717-1731_en.html

    For further reference:

    Extrajudicial Decree [Stage 3]
    Where the Diocesan Bishop is satisfied there is just cause (can1342) and the universal law permits him to do so (can 1718§1,3º), he may proceed by way of decree rather than penal trial. If the Diocesan Bishop chooses to proceed in this way, he shall:
    (i) Notify the accused of the detail of the case presented against him, together with the
    supporting evidence.
    (ii) Provide the accused with a reasonable period in which to prepare his defence to the
    allegations.
    (iii) Advise the accused of the privilege against self-incrimination.
    (iv) Advise the accused of his right to canonical representation and in the event that the accused does not appoint one, appoint one ex officio.
    (v) Fully consider the material and submissions relied upon by the accused and the fact that the material presented against him has not been challenged by appropriate
    questioning or other process.
    (vi) Issue a decree detailing his judgment, the reasons for it and the evidence upon
    which he relied, and the penalties imposed or declared.
    (vii) The accused shall be informed of his right to, and the manner of seeking,
    administrative recourse, with particular reference to the established time limits.

    In all other respects, the form of the decree issued by the Diocesan Bishop shall comply with the provisions of the Code (cann 48-58 and can 1342).

  11. Wow, so they actually call it an “extrajudicial penal process!” You’d think they’d at least have a euphemism.

    I think justice requires the bishop to be more specific concerning the disobedience and the incitement. But on the flip side, we supporters of yours can perhaps convince the bishop of his error by going through the exercise of laying out specifically what it is that he is doing that is so sinful.

    As I see it, it’s something like this: the big injustice here is that His Excellency, by asking for your silence, is asking you to participate in the sin of denying victims and survivors of clerical sexual assault every possible opportunity for as much restorative justice as humanly possible. This sin has a commissive and omissive component. If you ceased the criticism of Bishop Knestout, you’d be committing injustice by joining the phalanx of silence and stiff-arms that clergy are being asked to put up against alleged victims who have the right to seek what bishops knew about their perpetrators, not just in Richmond, but throughout the Church. And if you ceased your liaison efforts with victims/survivors, you’d be failing to do what justice requires in this awful situation–namely, actively seeking out others who may have been abused by known predators, but whose lives are in such disarray as a result of their trauma that hotlines, lawyers, and the like are a bridge too far for them.

  12. This is now on my (well-visited) Facebook Timeline (see link below). I’m meeting with the interim diocesan director of Victims of Abuse next week, where I will give her a copy of this Letter To The Editor. Then Fr. Michael Boehling. Then, either the Washington Post or Richmond TD.

    Please let me know if you cannot access this, and I’ll copy and paste a copy to you:

    God God Be With You,

    Dave Hillgrove 804.647.6369

    Sent jubilantly from Dave’s iPhone

    >

  13. The only “Church crime” you’ve committed is not shutting up.

    You have caught the highest of the hierarchy…in flagrante delicto…covering up, ignoring, and denying decades of sexual predation of children, mostly boys.

    You are the postmodern St. Peter Damian, admonishing bishops for their spiritual incest.

    This Cardinal and Doctor of the Church should, like you, be our exemplar in a laity-led reform of Holy Mother Church. The burden falls to us now to clean up this extra-ordinary mess.

    Btw, I believe the Holy See wasn’t worried about your right to due process. I think they probably…assisted…His Excellency with the procedural arcana to ostensibly seal your clerical fate. The devil is in the details after all.

    May the Holy Spirit, Mother Mary, and St. Peter Damian be with you and your canon lawyer as co-counsel in that kangaroo court.

    Larry Forbish

  14. If the Bishop was genuinely concerned about the victims of clergy abuse as he claims he is as he goes around the Diocese celebrating Masses of hope and healing, he would realize that he is in the perfect position to start that hope and healing process by working out the problem between himself and Father Mark. Instead, on the one hand, he promotes healing for the victims, while on the other hand punishing, and attempting to laicize the one person who has been an outspoken voice for the victims from the very beginning of this sordid mess. The hypocrisy is patently obvious. You don’t heal wounds by constantly picking at them.

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