As I mentioned two weeks ago, my canon lawyer and I notified the bishop that I intended to obey the prohibition, while we wait for the Vatican to act on the case. I told the temporary administrator of the parishes: I will maintain my normal routine of half-week residence in both towns, but I have no intention of interfering with your work.
The following day, the administrator handed me a no-trespass order for the church properties, including the two residences. Then he had the locks re-keyed.
I can only regard this as an act of violence against my person. It has taken me a couple weeks to recover from the shock. And I still have to contend with the danger of further thuggish bullying of this kind.
That said, the administrator’s attempt to lock me out of the properties has basically failed.
As things stand today, I continue my normal routine of half-week residence in the two rectories. Church law clearly accords me the right to do so, while we wait for the final disposition of my appeals of the bishop’s decrees 1. removing me as pastor, and 2. suspending my ministry.
I miss everyone in the parishes a lot. All of us have had a difficult spring. Once-in-a-lifetime difficult. I know it will comfort me just to see the faces of the people I have missed for so long.
I will stand at the entrance to the parish property prior to all the Masses this weekend, to say hello. I will make a habit of doing this every weekend.
Also, we will have an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination with a drive-thru party, at St. Joseph’s in Martinsville tomorrow afternoon, 4:00-6:00pm.
Look forward to seeing you, if you decide to make the trip to church this weekend. Or before Mass sometime soon. I very much appreciate your love and prayers. Count on mine for you.
Since then, the teenagers have had growth spurts and gotten taller. The babies have fleshed-out and gotten beefier. Men have grown beards, shaved them, and grown them again. Some young people have graduated from school via Zoom.
We decided on April 19 that we would weep together for joy when we could finally have public Mass again. Like the Israelites, who had languished in Babylonian captivity, finally returning to Jerusalem.
After all, this Christianity thing: it really does require our coming together. For the Holy Sacrifice. Our souls get frayed at the edges without the Mass. We lose our peace, our anchor, our air.
This Sunday the long-awaited moment will come.
It will be awkward. With screening questions at the door, spacing in the pew, sanitizing like mad. The tears of joy will get the mandatory mask all wet. The normal rhythms of Sunday Mass will not sound. It will feel like religion in a doctor’s office.
But we will have Mass again. The captives will return to Zion, with Alleluias.
St. Charles Borromeo founded this particular Roman congregation in 1564, at the behest of Pope Pius IV. Originally, this “department” of the Vatican served to interpret the decrees of the Council of Trent.
A later prefect of the Congregation supported Michelangelo Caravaggio financially. Cardinal del Monte originally owned “The Musicians.” The painting now resides at the Met, in New York City. (Currently in storage, unfortunately.)
The late John Card. Wright, one-time bishop of Pittsburgh, Pa., also served as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Holding that post made Cardinal Wright the highest-ranking American in Rome, at the time of Pope St. John Paul II’s election to the papacy. Who served Wright as priest secretary? Father Donald Wuerl.
Who sits on the Congregation now? Hard to say.
We parish priests dutifully publish the names of the members of our pastoral and finance councils. But the Holy Father in Rome does not see fit to make available to the general public the full roster of the members of the tribunal that will consider my appeal.
Beniamino Card. Stella currently serves as prefect. The ‘star,’ so to speak 🙂 Stella means star in Italian.
Archbishop Joel Mercier serves as secretary. Father Andrea Ripa, under-secretary. Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong, of Mexico, also appears to be a member of the Congregation.
According to googled news articles, in 2014, Pope Francis appointed Rainer Card. Woelki of Berlin, Giuseppe Card. Betori of Florence, and Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania.
They joined the nineteen members already serving, which include: Marc Card. Ouellet, Sean Card. O’Malley. And Donald Card. Wuerl.
Googled news reports mention a total of 22 members. But it doesn’t seem possible to know for sure, without inside knowledge. No one ever said our Church was a “transparent” organization. (Or if they did say that, they lied.)
We have discussed Donald Card. Wuerl here before. In 2011, he helped me fulfill my dream of serving in a diocese more priest-strapped than my hometown. He and the late Francis Xavier DiLorenzo made it possible for me to transfer to Richmond. For that I am grateful.
From 1988 to 2006, Wuerl served as bishop of Pittsburg, Pa. In August of 2018, many Pennsylvania Catholics found themselves scandalized by revelations about him in the famous Grand-Jury Report.
Not a Pennsylvanian myself, I don’t know much about that. I do, however, know:
But things actually got worse from there. Wuerl remained as “Administrator” of the Archdiocese for eight months. During that time, the Vatican convicted and defrocked Theodore McCarrick, without disclosing any information about the case.
Wuerl had known about one of McCarrick’s victims, Mr. Robert Ciolek, since the fall of 2004. Ciolek wanted to understand why Wuerl covered-up for McCarrick all those years. Ciolek tried to have a conversation with Wuerl, to no avail. So Ciolek went to the Washington Post. Here’s a quote from the report:
Ciolek shared his story with The Post with regret, he said, because he had first asked repeatedly to meet with Wuerl and was ultimately rebuffed, after being given a list of proposed restrictions by the D.C. archdiocese’s chancellor and general counsel. Among them, he said: If he met with Wuerl, he could not take notes, record, or ask questions.
Ciolek went on to say:
It’s belittling to me as a victim of abuse to have him as a priest and leader of the church to overlook, ignore, or lie about what he knows I shared. It’s just beyond disrespectful in terms of what he signals to me… It’s as if I don’t exist. It belittles the significance of the events themselves.
When allegations came to light last year  of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct involving children and seminarians by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who succeeded Mr. McCarrick as leader of the Washington archdiocese, expressed shock and denied prior knowledge.
Now it turns out Wuerl was presented in 2004 with an account of Mr. McCarrick’s alleged misconduct, which he relayed to the Vatican. Then: nothing.
In the ongoing tsunami of revelations about the Catholic Church’s willful blindness, conspiracy of silence and moral bankruptcy on clergy sex abuse, this particular revelation encapsulates characteristics that continue to dog the church: callousness directed at victims; an insistence on denial and hairsplitting; and the hierarchy’s preference for treating allegations as internal matters, as if the world’s 1.2 billion lay Catholics were an irrelevance.
In response to the revelation that Wuerl was fully aware of, and handled, an allegation from a former priest about Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct more than 14 years ago, the Washington archdiocese issued a statement suggesting that his previous flat denials were merely “imprecise.”
In fact, the cardinal’s comments last summer  were unequivocal. In response to a broad question about “long-standing rumors or innuendos” posed by a reporter, he said, “I had not heard them” before or during his tenure in Washington. That was untrue.
As it happens, Wuerl, then-bishop of Pittsburgh, not only was presented with allegations of Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct by a former priest named Robert Ciolek. To his credit, he also swiftly brought that information to the Vatican’s attention in a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in Washington.
Yet Mr. McCarrick remained as archbishop of Washington for nearly two more years and suffered no discipline until last year.
Understandably, Ciolek is outraged that Wuerl, having known of his allegations for years, denied knowledge of them last year.
On my ordination anniversary last spring (May 24), I wrote about the disenchantment many of us felt about all this. The office of Archbishop of Washington seems mired in perpetual dishonesty. Here’s a quote:
Donald Wuerl knew fifteen years ago that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and young priests. This past Tuesday, Wilton Gregory, the newly arrived successor in Washington, praised Donald Wuerl as “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”
But let’s imagine a true Christian gentleman, reading the sworn testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims, in the fall of 2004. Wouldn’t a true Christian gentleman, in Donald Wuerl’s place, think to himself: I need to see justice done here. I have a duty to this poor soul. May God help me to do right by him.
Instead, Wuerl obsequiously sent the whole thing to Rome and washed his hands of it. In the Vatican, they masterminded the McCarrick cover-up. And Wuerl has hidden behind the supposed virtue of filial obedience to the pope ever since.
As I have mentioned before, over the course of five months, I repeatedly asked Bishop Barry Knestout to identify which posts here he disliked. He would not do so.
But then Bishop K wrote to the parishioners of the parishes. He identified some objectionable posts. Prior to the Decree of Removal itself, I never received a single document about my “case,” other than that letter to my parishioners.
In his letter to the parishioners, Bishop Knestout identifies the post I just quoted as one of the five I have written that have damaged ecclesiastical communion.
Seems to me, therefore, that the integrity of the judicial process would demand: Donald Wuerl should not sit in judgment of this case, whenever the Congregation considers it. He has a personal interest in the evidence at hand. He cannot remain impartial. An honest judge would recuse himself, under these circumstances.
If they need a substitute, I nominate Robert Ciolek.
In the Soviet Union, activists often found themselves in jail, wondering what exactly they supposedly did wrong. I present my speculations.
1. Catholics sometimes find their parish priest’s ministry wanting. Or worse.
For instance: He can’t speak their language. He never sits in the confessional. He preaches about his favorite tv shows. He never takes their phone calls. He treats them like annoying step-children.
Or maybe he concelebrates with Protestant ministers. Or treats the Blessed Sacrament with callous disregard. Or belongs to the Women’s Ordination Conference.
Who knows. My point is: Under such circumstances, complaints from the people will inevitably surface.
“Dear Bishop: Father spends more time in Florida than he does here. Sincerely, Joe Catholic.”
Or “We recorded his homilies for the past month. Here are the recordings, and the transcripts. You will note that he mentions Tiger King 37 times, and Jesus Christ only twice.”
Or “Here’s a picture from my granddaughter’s baptism, with Father dressed as Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Upon receipt of complaints such as these, the Vicar for Clergy might confront Father with the evidence. ‘You need to change your modus operandi, brother. The Catholic people deserve honest, humble shepherding.”
According to the Code of Canon Law, multiple such You-Need-to-Improve conversations have to happen. Only afterwards, a bishop might issue a “Decree of Removal.”
In my case, no one complained to the diocese in the first place.
2. So maybe my removal-suspension-lockout has nothing to do with parishioner complaints? Maybe it has only to do with this little weblog?
I never mentioned frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com to my parishioners. Truly never mentioned it, for over eleven years. Readership grew solely by “internet buzz.”
The rationale for my punishment, therefore, seems to have nothing to do with problems in the parishes. The issue appears to be: the bishop’s idea that I have committed an ecclesiastical crime, on my weblog.
3. If I did, I certainly did it inadvertently. When the bishop expressed displeasure with this vehicle of communication you are now reading, I repeatedly asked for clarification and guidance. Bishop asked me to remove an open letter I wrote to the pope in September 2018. I obeyed. Then, in a calmer moment, I asked for His Excellency’s rationale.
Asking the pope to consider resigning. Is that an ecclesiastical crime? I wrote that original post in a state of distress, to be sure. Nonetheless, over twenty months have passed since then. And His Holiness still has not cleared the air about the McCarrick Affair.
As I noted in 2018, a pope’s decision to resign lies solely with him. No one in the earthly part of the Church can judge the pope. Anyone can impeach, but no one can convict. So I put the idea to him as a brother, and begged him to consider it.
I don’t see any offense there.
The idea that I would rebel against the authority of the reigning sovereign pontiff of the holy Catholic Church? Never crossed my mind. Never remotely crossed my mind.
4. Which brings me to the disciplinary “documents” of my case.
On February 6 of this year, Father Kevin Segerblom, Episcopal Vicar for this region of the diocese, accompanied by Father Sal Annonuevo, local Vicar Forane, read another document to me. Again, I did not receive a copy of the document.
I had gotten smart by this time. I had witnesses present. And a digital recorder running. So I can report that one sentence of the document in question reads as follows: As an implicit warning to all the faithful, the Code defines schism as the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Canon 751.
Schism. Apparently, I find myself languishing in suspension and lockout because Bishop Knestout proposes that I have committed the ecclesiastical crime of schism.
At this point, knowledgeable canon lawyers reading this may have begun to snigger. (But I assure you: getting locked out of my house and my church is no laughing matter for me.)
Am I guilty of a crime so exalted and storied as schism? Yes, I know how to spell it, but…
First of all, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, schism must be intentional. “Schismatics properly so called are those who, willfully and intentionally, separate themselves from the unity of the Church.” (Summa theo. II-II q39 a1) “Schism is essentially opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical charity.”
To charge someone with schism, therefore, involves a denunciation of the gravest kind.
So, after multiple attempts to discuss the blog with the bishop got me nowhere, I wrote in March. I noted that I found offensive His Excellency’s suggestion that I have flirted with schism.
If I have erred in any way, I have done so not from lack of love. Rather, my love for Christ’s Church has sometimes moved me to intense passion. I have expressed that passion on this blog.
This forum, it seems to me, serves the purpose quite appropriately. Joe Catholic doesn’t need to listen to me rant in the church. But he can read what I have to say here, if he so chooses.
The fact is: I have served holy mother Church faithfully and loyally as a priest for seventeen years, as a cleric for nineteen. I scrupulously observe all of the rules. I spend myself fully on my ministry.
A disagreement about the McCarrick Affair, on a weblog, does not remotely qualify as a “schism.”
Contrast such an idea with reality. An obscure parish priest, ministering in two small towns of which no one has ever heard. Publishing a weblog in my spare time, which 85% of my parishioners couldn’t find on the internet if they tried. A heresiarch? Come on.
5. All anyone has to do is ask my parishioners. “Did Father Mark lead you into insurrection against the hierarchical authorities in the Church?” Answer:
If anyone asks you, dear reader, “Did Father Mark call some of the incumbents of the ecclesiastical hierarchy a dishonest mitered mafia, who operate without any professional accountability?”
And now Bishop Barry Knestout has tried to railroad me right out of the priesthood. By sheer irrational cruelty. (Don’t worry; I am standing my ground.)
Draw your own conclusions from these facts, about whether the term mafia fits.
In Mexico they always celebrate Mothers’ Day on May 10, no matter what day of the week it is. Aquí en los estados unidos, celebramos las madres el según domingo de mayo, no importa la fecha del mes.
Pues, guess what? This year, lo mismo, el dia! May 10 falls on the second Sunday.
La Virgencita nos cuida a todos nosotros, como nuestra madre celestial. She loves Spanish-speaking people, Vietnamese-speaking people, Tagalog, English, everything—she loves us all the same. She mothers us all with her tender loving care.
Santa Maria les enseña a las madres como madre, and she gives all mothers the super-human strength and patience that mothers need.
I haven’t seen my own dear mother for two months now, because of the cuarentena, menos por facebook videochat. Thank God for facebook videochat. Luchamos cada dia para amar bien, y cuidar a nuestros queridos, por esto desafio unico, desafio una vez en la vida.
Even though the virus makes it challenging, let’s make this the most-loving Mothers’ Day ever. Feliz Dia de las Madres, madres queridas. May the good Lord shower His graces upon you.
I have fallen way behind on my personal correspondence. If you have corresponded with me personally lately, dear reader, please forgive my silence. I will answer as soon as I can.
I remain the lawful pastor of my two parishes, even while unjustly prohibited from exercising the sacred ministry. I continue to have the clear duty and right of residence in the parishes. I will provide a full canon- and civil-law digest of the situation, as soon as I have the leisure to do so.
But I have had to make provisions for the possibility that I will come home from buying milk, and my key to my own front door won’t work anymore. That has left me behind: on my writing projects, e-mails, phone and social-media messages, etc.
No te preocupes, dear reader. The Lord provides. Generous people abound. I will have a roof over my head, come what may. And we will be able to continue our conversation.
I persevere in the solid hope that, after a brief span of time–and with the help of my worthy canonist–we will return to the normal, peaceful parish life that we have shared happily and fruitfully.
Dearly beloved of Rocky Mount and Martinsville: please share that hope with me. And share it with all our troubled and suffering brothers and sisters of St. Francis and St. Joseph.
I disagree with the reasons that Bishop Knestout has given for doing this. I think he has misjudged the situation. I’m not a perfect pastor. But I have done nothing to deserve this; our parishes have done nothing to deserve this. I will dispute his action by the appeal process within the Church.
The virus has us all under a great strain. Our normal, peaceful life seems far away. Let’s cling to the Lord Jesus. He came into the world as light, to dispel the darkness. He came to save the sinful world. He will lead us to better days, one little step at a time.
No estoy de acuerdo con las razones que el obispo ha dada por hacer esto. Pienso que el ha equivocadose sobre la situación. No soy párroco perfecto, pero no he hecho nada para merecer esto; nuestras parroquias no han hecho nada para merecerlo. Voy a discutir la decisión del obispo por el proceso canonical de la Iglesia.
El virus nos ha pesado mucho. Andamos bajo una gran tensión. Nuestra vida normal y pacifica parece muy lejos. Quedamos pegado al Señor Jesús. El vino al mundo par ser la luz, para disipar la oscuridad. El vino para salvar al mundo pecaminoso. El va a guiarnos a días mejores, paso a paso.
I promised respect and obedience to my bishop when I became a priest. I have honored that promise for seventeen years, and I will continue to honor it. With all my heart I want to do God’s will. After all: What good does it do for anyone to want to do anything else?
A bishop does not have the legal right to silence a priest altogether, or to constrict a priest’s freedom in an unnatural way. A bishop has the duty to insist on clarifications and corrections, if and when a priest departs from truth and orthodoxy in his preaching or publications.
I acknowledge the bishop’s role there. I have asked many times for the clarifications and corrections that the bishop would have me make. Never got a specific response, or any kind of written response at all. In the meetings we had, he gave me only vague generalizations about what I had done wrong. I pointed out that we seem to have significant misunderstandings between us, and I asked for his specific objections. No response.
The Church has explicit rules about a bishop removing a parish pastor against the pastor’s will. So far we have followed none of those rules.
In his letter to me yesterday, the bishop ordered me to move. But he did not provide the address of the domicile to which I was to move. This tells me that he understands, like I do: we have many more legal rivers to cross here.
Bishop proposes that I become a prison chaplain at-large for the diocese. If that proves to be God’s will for me, I will embrace it with all the devotion I have. I would hold it a great privilege to serve in that way.
In the third act of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the protagonist loses his mind almost completely. But he retains his exquisite sense of justice.
Lear speaks to the storm clouds and winds, and he pardons them for buffeting him. Then his friends hide him in a little room in a barn. Lear proceeds to set up an imaginary courtroom. He arraigns his back-stabbing daughters for their crimes. He speaks with pure justice–to a wooden stool and a farm dog.
…I took a walk in the woods the other day. Like many of us, I found myself in a Lear-like frame of mind. I came upon an adversary. Coronavirus Holy Week, 2020, personified.
Looked like this…
I began my accusations:
How dare you? Prohibit the annual Holy-Week gathering of us priests, for the renewal of our ordination promises?
I went on:
What gives you the right to keep the faithful people at home, with no one’s foot to wash in front of the altar at church, on Holy Thursday night?
Wait. We will have no Easter fire?! No procession with candles? What maim’d rites!
Then I grew most-grave, for the final accusation:
Iniquitous monster, Coronavirus Holy Week 2020, you will thwart the catechumens and candidates from receiving the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil?
He offered no defense. Did not even deny the charges. So I began to stone the offender. But then I recognized the cold fact that I was stoning a rock. Let’s face it: we all must resign ourselves to the mystery of Providence.
Lear put it like this, to the storm that rained down upon him:
Let fall your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave.
Palm Sunday arrives in six days. It reminds me: ten years ago, I wrote a little meditation, imagining something:
What if the Church possessed only one ceremony, which occurred just once a year? Namely, the lighting of the Easter candle. What if lighting the Easter candle was the entire Sacred Liturgy of the Church?
Would we persevere in faith, hoping for heaven? With just that one support?
In my little essay, I opined that we would.
I merely hypothesized, of course. I meant only to emphasize the stunning beauty and significance of the lighting of the candle. We believe He rose from the dead. We light the candle to proclaim that faith. The Light of Christ conquers all darkness.
Now we have to live with something which oddly and painfully resembles my purely theoretical consideration of a decade ago. We will have to celebrate Holy Week without coming together.
It’s like running a football play as complicated as this:
with only one player. Tossing the ball to yourself in the backfield, twice, then blocking for yourself downfield.
But guess what? We will. We will keep Christ’s Passover, even under the current circumstances.
I will bless palms. A couple co-workers and I will stand outside church at the normal Mass times and hand a palm to anyone who drives by and wants one.
And we will celebrate the ceremonies of Holy Week and try to “livestream” it all. By “we,” I mean: me, the seminarians (if they return from Richmond), our organist/pianist, and a reader or two.
Church will remain open on Holy Thursday night (April 9th) for visits to the Blessed Sacrament. And open on Good Friday night, too, for visits to the Holy Cross. And open Holy Saturday night. For visits to the lit Easter candle.
And the church doors will remain unlocked Easter Sunday morning, also, for visits to the Blessed Sacrament, with the Easter candle lit. Click HERE to read the whole local schedule.
[Advisory. All these best-laid plans of mice and men remain subject to change, should more-restrictive orders be given by the authorities.]
We will persevere in faith, my dear ones. His light shines.
Such is the wonder of His love: He gathers to the feast those who are far apart, and brings together, in unity of faith, those who may be physically separated from each other. –from an Easter letter by St. Athanasius, sixteen centuries ago.