Gulag Dispatch #6: What Does ‘Justice for Father Mark’ Mean?

On March 19, Bishop Barry Knestout wrote to the parishioners of Rocky Mount and Martinsville. The bishop indicted your unworthy servant for the crime of “working against the unity of the Church,” “pushing the faithful to animosity against the Apostolic See and the bishop,” and “injuring the good name of the Holy Father.”

The bishop accused me of “inflammatory and contemptuous comments” about the pope and the hierarchy of the Church. No matter what my intent, the bishop wrote, I have acted in an inappropriate and unbecoming manner for any pastor or priest.

Mr. Mike Lewis called Bishop Knestout’s letter “very transparent.”

On the other hand, my canon lawyer, Michael Podhajsky, promptly wrote to the bishop, pointing out some shortcomings in his letter’s ‘transparency.’

Michael pointed out:

  1. The very blog posts which the bishop’s letter cites as divisive were clearly written with love for the Church and desire to build up the Body of Christ.
  2. The bishop asserted that I had led Catholics away from unity of faith, without actually consulting any Catholics about whether that had, in fact, happened.
  3. The bishop wrote that I refused to meet with him, when I had in fact met with him twice. I had asked for specific information about his problems with my blog, and he had never offered any such information–until the publication of this letter to the parishioners.
  4. Bishop cited headlines and quotes from the blog, without providing any context, or engaging the arguments laid out in the posts.

Michael made some other points, too. But for now, I would like to focus on this paragraph of His Excellency’s letter to the parishioners:

Lest one believe that the wrongs in the Church have not been addressed in our diocese, I note that I have met personally with victims of clergy sexual abuse, held listening sessions throughout our diocese, celebrated Masses of Atonement, addressed this topic in a pastoral letter, published the names of clergy against whom there were substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, increased our staffing in the Office of Safe Environment and the hired a full-time Victims Assistance Coordinator, and, most recently, established an Independent Reconciliation Program.

mccarrickA lot to consider. But let’s focus on: the pastoral letter. In that pastoral letter, Bishop Knestout wrote:

I support and promise my full co-operation with any independent, lay-managed, authoritative investigation into the scandal of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.

He wrote that sentence in September 2018. At that time, a number of American bishops had proposed that lay men and women, outside the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ought to investigate the McCarrick scandal.

The hierarchy, however, never put such an investigation into motion. Instead, the Vatican promised “to study all relevant documentation” and “make known the conclusions.” This promise, made in October 2018, gave rise to the ever-elusive dreamchild: the McCarrick Report.

I spelled out my concept of a McCarrick Report, as best I could, back on May 1. Longtime readers here know: my desire to understand the facts about McCarrick’s career has motivated the blogging that has gotten me into trouble.

One of our heroes, Nathan Doe, a victim of McCarrick’s, encouraged us last month to wait patiently for the Vatican’s report. Well over a year ago, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, one-time priest secretary for McCarrick, published documents pertaining to the McCarrick cover-up. Speaking with a journalist this past Thursday evening, Msgr. Figueiredo also urged patience:

Monsignor notes “a priest does not have the obligation to remain silent.” “Priests are legally obliged to speak out about abuse.”

Monsignor says, of the Vatican’s McCarrick Report: “It will come out. It’s at a good stage at the moment. I think it’s going to show exactly what happened.”

For now, however: I do not want to brag, but I think it’s fair to say this. The closest thing the world has to a ‘McCarrick Report,’ available to the general public, is the collection of links available on my post of May 1.

Should a bishop persecute a priest for sharing this kind of research with the public? Justice for Father Mark means: No. Persecuting a priest for seeking the truth does not serve the best interest of the holy Catholic Church that we all love.

Two questions remain.

  1. Will the Vatican ever actually produce a comprehensive report which discloses fully the McCarrick cover-up?
  2. Will everyone involved in the McCarrick cover-up acknowledge their role, face honestly the extent to which they have betrayed the public trust, and resign from positions of leadership in the Church?

We shall see. God’s will be done. Happy Independence Day, dear reader.