Update: “Remonstratio Placed Out of Time”

canon law codex canonici

On June 17, my canon lawyer received a letter from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome. The letter said two things.

1. My lawyer never had standing to speak on my behalf.

2. I should go to my new assignment, since the time limit to appeal the bishop’s decision had passed.

This surprised both my lawyer and me. Bishop Knestout had corresponded with my lawyer, taking for granted that my lawyer spoke for me, throughout April and into May.

(In March, we had presented to the bishop a notarized document in which I authorized my lawyer to write and speak on my behalf.)

We had followed all the proper procedures. My lawyer petitioned for justice; when the bishop rejected the petition, we went to Rome, asking for redress. We did everything well within the legal time limits. (The full timeline is available here.)

That same day, June 17, when the letter came from Rome, I also received a letter from Bishop Knestout. It informed me that I could not, in fact, take up my new assignment, as the Congregation said I should do, until this weblog ceased to exist.

st-peters-sunriseThis stipulation left me in limbo. I can hardly conceive that Bishop Knestout has a right to order me simply to shut up. I long ago conceded that he has every right to supervise, edit, purloin, moderate, even perhaps suppress, statements of mine regarding Catholic faith and morals. My friends and I repeatedly proposed compromise solutions.

In his letter to me of June 17, however, the bishop expressed his position in writing for the first time: You will not criticize your betters. Period.

When I tried to reason with the bishop about the impossibility of this situation, he rebuked me harshly. So I wrote to the Congregation for the Clergy myself, begging them to decide the case that my lawyer had presented to them. Then my lawyer petitioned the bishop again, waited for a response that never came, then petitioned the Vatican again.

I never received any reply from the Congregation. A few days ago, my lawyer received an answer to his petition.

The Congregation insists that my letter to them “cannot be considered an initial request for a favorable decree, but must be treated as a remonstratio placed out of time.” [remonstratio = appeal]

This defies reality. The written record clearly shows how we filed everything with punctilious promptness, beginning on Easter Monday, when the bishop originally published his decree removing me as pastor.

Cardinal Stella goes on, in his recent letter:

The fatalia legis in this case is no mere ‘technicality,’ but exists in law to prevent the decisions of ecclesiastical authority from remaining permanently in question. [fatalia legis = time limits for filing appeals]

Two interesting things to note about this sentence.

1. This is the first time that the word ‘technicality’ has appeared in the legal correspondence in this case. Cardinal Stella put the word in quotes, as if quoting someone. But neither my lawyer nor I used the word in our letters in June and August. We made constructive legal arguments, having to do with the situation as it now stands. It seems that the Cardinal himself recognizes that the word ‘technicality’ would naturally come to mind.

2. 100% agree that: The decisions of ecclesiastical authority should indeed not remain open permanently to question. We must have time limits for appeals.

We acted well within those time limits. We promptly raised questions about the justice of the bishop’s actions against me. Those questions remain unaddressed.

My lawyer and I did our part, to offer everything the court needed to investigate the situation, establish the facts, and apply the law. No one ever said this is an easy case; it involves difficult questions about free speech in the Church. We never asked for anything other than the due process of law, and a decision based on the reality of the situation.

Neither Bishop Knestout, nor the Congregation for the Clergy, have done their part. They have not faced the facts of the matter. They have said, over and over again, for months, simply this: “Shut up, and go away.”

That’s not how you solve anything. Bishop Knestout’s decisions regarding my ministry as a priest will remain in question. The Congregation’s rejection of the case on the flimsiest technicality means that the bishop’s decisions will remain in question indefinitely.

My lawyer and I did everything we could to inform the court and contribute to a just resolution. We tried.

PS. This is not the absolute end of the road. We have the right to appeal to a court called the Apostolic Signatura, and we will do so. My lawyer says that the Signatura could remand the case to the Congregation for the Clergy, insisting that we get a hearing. Say a prayer.

PPS. From the beginning, I have always felt that time is on our side. In spite of this painful development, I still do. I miss being the pastor, to be sure. But I have a roof over my head, prayers and Masses to say, a book to finish and try to get published… In other words, I’m ok. God is good. One day at a time.


Guest Post: Anthony Patriarco

His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet

Prefect, Congregation of Bishops

st-peters-sunrisePalazzo della Congregazioni

Piazza Pio XII, 10

00193 Roma, Italia


June 27th, 2020


Your Eminence,


Father Mark White, pastor in the diocese of Richmond Virginia in the United States, has been suspended from public ministry. His Excellency, Bishop Barry Knestout, issued the decree with subsequent further instructions to vacate the rectory and prohibitions to interact with his parishioners.

With a regret borne of despair, we continue to be informed that Father Mark’s petition for hierarchical recourse has been refused. His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella, Prefect, Congregation for Clergy, noted in his letter to Father Mark’s canonical lawyer, a Mr. Podhajsky, that they had neglected to use the word “procurator” in Father Mark’s original mandate to his representative, and this was partly the basis for the failure of Father Mark’s petition for hierarchical recourse.

As the Church and Christ’s words have stressed, there is no Justice and no hope of Reconciliation without God’s Grace and Love. Bishop Knestout himself, during Divine Mercy Sunday Mass at our parish, declared that the point of Father Mark’s judicial appeal was so we could be reconciled as brothers and sisters in Christ.

However, within a brief span of time, before this appeal was completed, the Bishop circumvented this process and suspended Father Mark and deprived him of the mutual love and respect of his parishioners. With due respect, it does not seem that a reliance on the technicality of naming a procurator reflects Justice and Reconciliation, since it appears deprived of God’s Grace of His Love.

St. Joseph’s, Martinsville

But instead a further dry discussion over the technicality of an abbreviated judicial appeal, I wanted to speak of Father Mark’s joyful public ministry at our two local parishes that he serves—Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and St Joseph’s in Martinsville, Virginia. It is rare, truly rare, to find the Joy in ministry that Father Mark brings. As we are all aware, without God’s Love and Grace, there cannot be true Joy. Without the Holy Spirit moving within us, there can be no true Joy in the fulfillment of God’s promise for us.

Father Mark’s ministry is a rare instance of true Joy in one’s calling. It is a Joy that fills our parishes with Love, and with a vibrancy that is not all that common in many of our parishes today.

It is gift to us that Father truly communicates with his parishioners. Father genuinely listens—with his whole heart, with his full attention and with the wisdom of our Christian Faith. It is a true communication, with each seeking to learn and understand each other, and not a lecture. He has helped me, and others, grow in Faith and Love with his patient communication.

It is a gift to us that Father’s Joy in the Word overflows during the celebration of Mass. Personally, I have transferred from another area parish because God’s Word during his sermons resonates so clearly with me. His Joy in the gift of the Mass is an inspiration and not a mechanistic chore, as it seems at times to a few other priests.

It is a gift to us that Father energizes with the Holy Spirit such a vibrant and nurturing Catholic community. It is a living, dynamic, and growing Faith community, not one that is stagnant and fossilized. With Father’s leadership and example, we celebrate together the many joys of God’s Love for us, and we mourn together the burdens that life may bring. It is a multilingual and multicultural community. It is such a young and dynamic Faith community that, for example, has been inspired by Father to produce more than its share of seminarians for such a small parish.

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

It is a gift to us that Father is kind and caring shepherd to the flock that God has entrusted him with. He is our shepherd who unfailingly guides us in our Catholic Faith and in its teachings. He is our shepherd that unfailingly manifests God’s Love for each and every one of His children. He is our shepherd who is unfailingly there in our time of personal and community need.

Father Mark is a gift to his flock of God’s Love and Grace. Father Mark is an inspirational priest in his ministry for us in how to live God’s purpose for each and every one of us in our lives.  Father Mark’s purpose is in public ministry and his Joy in this ministry is evidence that he has met God’s call for him.

The suspension of Father Mark from the public ministry that God has called him to with such Joy deprives him of the core of his purpose. And Father alone does not suffer in this deprivation. Those of us of his parish who are inspired by God’s Love and Grace though him are also deprived. As a loving and caring Catholic community, we also suffer by his absence and suspension from the public ministry. And, I would humbly suggest, that our Catholic Church as a whole suffers and is deprived when such a gifted minister is shunted aside.

How can Justice and Reconciliation be consistent with God’s Love and Grace without so much as a canon appeal of his situation? Dismissed, based on a technicality?  How is suspending Father Mark from his ministry and from the parishioners who love him consistent with God’s Love? How is suspending Father Mark from the Church, who he is so clearly devoted to, and isolating him from his brethren priests consistent with God’s Loving understanding of us?

With deep humility, please at least hear Father Mark’s canonical appeal according to its merits and find a path forward with God’s Love and Grace to resolve this situation.


Yours in Christ,

Anthony G. Patriarco, MD, PhD

When Will the Scandal End? (Settlements Edition)

Huck and Jim

During the long summer afternoons of 2002, I sat and read to a blind, dying Cardinal. In the upstairs sitting room of a lovely upper-northwest Washington home, donated to the Archdiocese decades ago. A house for the retired Archbishop.

It was my final summer as a seminarian. I read Huckleberry Finn to James Card. Hickey, pausing when he would drift off. Picking back up again when he awoke, smiling meekly.

It nauseates me to imagine Theodore McCarrick sitting in that very same room now, which he probably is. But we can hope and pray: maybe he’s sitting at the desk in the alcove of that room. Sitting and writing his full confession. Repenting of all the ways in which he betrayed, manipulated, and harmed the faithful Catholics who believed in him. And making a full, clean breast of it.

I, for one, will hope for the day when McCarrick publishes such a confession. I will hope for that day until he goes to his grave. Because then we might actually be able to begin to learn to trust bishops again.

But this is not why I thought of my afternoons with dear, departed Cardinal Hickey. I thought of them because: I was there that summer at the request of a priest–the priest who usually lived with Card. Hickey, in those days.

The priest-secretary wanted to travel some that summer, go to World Youth Day in Toronto, etc. So he asked for a seminarian to cover for him, to help the Cardinal say his Mass and his breviary, help him entertain the occasional guests that came to visit, and keep him company.

The priest who asked for this help: then-Monsignor Barry Knestout. The seminarian who got the assignment: Me.

I have been wondering: Why did Bishop Knestout, now our father in God here in Richmond–why did he feel the need to censor this little weblog, and then play authoritarian mind games with me about it?

As you, dear reader, know, I have been trying to write my way through a faith-shattering blow: learning that the prelate who ordained me belonged in jail that day. I don’t believe that I have done anyone any harm with my tortured writings. After all, you can feel free to read other weblogs instead, if you find this one bothersome. Yet Bishop Knestout felt the need to try to manipulate me into feeling guilty about doing this. Why?

Could be that he got bad advice, or acted without fully informing himself. His letter to me showed that he may not have read carefully the very blog post that he censored.

But the question remains: Why fuss at me at all? When I’m harming no one?

I’m sure you recall that, on June 20, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington issued a public statement. The pope had suspended the ministry of Theodore McCarrick, because of a credible allegation that he sexually abused a minor.

But the statement also said something else, something so ridiculously opaque that its opacity itself counts as a crushing insult to the intelligence of the Catholic faithful. The Archdiocese of Newark NJ, and the Diocese of Metuchen NJ, had “earlier paid settlements because of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with adults.”

The late Richard Sipe had published excerpts from the settlement documents in 2010. In August, the dioceses involved offered limited information, to a reporter. But we still know precious little about these settlements.

Now, customarily, at the gift procession at Holy Mass, someone carries a basket containing the monetary offerings up the aisle. The priest receives the basket and sets it at the foot of the altar.

collection basketWe can only assume that the money paid in the McCarrick settlements came into the hands of the bishops in that way.

Which means that everyone involved in arranging the McCarrick settlements participated in a kind of sacrilege. In order to protect the reputation of the Archbishop of Washington (who was an acknowledged sexual predator), other bishops (in his previous sees) paid out money that the faithful had offered to God.

Let’s focus on the first settlement, apparently paid in 2005. At that time, McCarrick still reigned in Washington. (Donald Wuerl succeeded him in 2006.)

Who all was involved in arriving at that settlement? Who knew about the negotiations?

McCarrick himself. And the then-Archbishop of Newark, John Myers. And the victim, Mr. Robert Ciolek. Also: lawyers. Their secretaries, assistants, etc. Archbishop Myers’ confidential assistants and secretaries. And McCarrick’s confidential assistants and secretaries.

Then-Monsignor Knestout served as McCarrick’s appointment secretary from 2003-2004.

On July 30 of this year, Bishop Knestout wrote us Catholics of Richmond a letter. Some people in our parishes found the letter odd, since it meticulously answered a question which no one had asked, so far as we knew. And the letter simultaneously missed the chance to offer us the kind of fatherly love we needed, while we reeled from the gut-punch of the revelations about McCarrick.

The answer Bishop Knestout so meticulously gave: No, I never, ever received any allegations against McCarrick.

Some of my people asked me that weekend, when Bishop Knestout’s letter was published: Can this possibly be true? They asked me earnestly, knowing that I know more than the average bear about the inner-workings of the Archdiocese of Washington in the early 2000’s. So they asked me, ‘Father, can we possibly believe this?’

Yes, I replied. I believe it myself. I believe to this day that McCarrick had ceased to prey on his sexual victims by the time he arrived in Washington, at age 70.

But, in his letter of July 30, Bishop Knestout did not address another matter:

Did he know about the settlements?

We can believe that those involved in negotiating those settlements–the sitting bishops in the New Jersey dioceses, the lawyers, even McCarrick himself–we can believe that they probably thought they acted in the best interest of the Church. To prevent a shattering scandal.

But they would have been grievously wrong in thinking that way. They operated with a strange set of blinders on. They confused Jesus Christ’s Church with another kind of organization, namely the Mafia.

When will the Scandal be over? That seems a long, long way off.

But getting there certainly includes: the public repentance of everyone involved in negotiating those New Jersey settlements. Everyone who knew, and kept it secret. Everyone who didn’t blow the whistle. When a real God-fearing priest would have blown the whistle, loudly, to high heaven, no matter the consequences to his own career.

(The floor is yours, here, Excellency, if you think it good to answer. If you knew absolutely nothing, then I, for one, will truly be glad to know it. But then please go after the ones that did know, in Washington and in the Vatican. Instead of promising “to cooperate with any investigation into the McCarrick Scandal,” how about leading one?)

An Exchange Between Bishop and Priest in the Church we Live in Now

[in reverse chronological order]



Today I received your letter dated September 12th. It disturbs me in a number of ways. We seem to have a couple serious misunderstandings.

First, you write, “As you requested, I would certainly like to meet with you.” In fact, I never requested a meeting with you. When Mike called me, I tried to do him the courtesy of keeping him out of the middle of an interchange between you and me. But I never requested a meeting with you; I do not want to drive to Richmond for such a meeting.

Second, you write that, in my open letter, I “demanded” that the Holy Father resign. That is not true. I begged him to resign. I explicitly acknowledged that he alone has a right to make such a decision. You could easily check what I wrote on my weblog–except you censored the post. I never demanded anything. I humbly begged. “Beg” was my exact word.

So when you write that I failed in courtesy to you, disrespected you, and damaged my ecclesial communion with you, by “demanding” the resignation of your immediate ecclesiastical superior, I am left at a loss. Did I  disrespect you, or Pope Francis, by begging? Did I act with anything less than courtesy towards you, or Pope Francis, by begging? Did I damage ecclesial communion by begging?

You asked me to apologize to Pope Francis. For what? For loving him enough to point out that we have reached a dangerous impasse? If the full truth about McCarrick does not come out, then how will any of us who have been touched by his ministry recover? But, at the same time, how can any of us have confidence that the Holy Father will see to the full disclosure of all the facts? He has had ample time and opportunity to disclose them. But he studiously has refused to do so.

You write that I have done you wrong by “addressing issues that directly affect” you. Have you yourself suffered reprisals from the Holy See because of what I, one of your priests, has written? If so, I am sorry. But you can hardly identify me as the villain in that scenario.

You ask me to “withhold judgment until such time that more clarity of the facts has occurred.” When will that be? I have carefully and patiently used my own little weblog to collect facts about this case. I have done so for the good of my own soul, and the good of the souls entrusted to my care. All of us are deeply scandalized, and we yearn for a public reckoning with the truth. How else can we move forward with trust, and in communion with each other? My weblog actually has a fairly extensive collection of facts, as we know them. It has a far more extensive collection of the facts than any public disclosure from the episcopal level of the Church.

For this work on my part, do you thank me? No. You mischaracterize what I have written. You call me discourteous and disrespectful. And you accuse me of damaging ecclesial communion with you.

Excellency, I cannot regard this as fatherly solicitude on your part. I see only an attempt to browbeat me into silence. That attempt is now one of the sordid facts of the McCarrick case. You write that you look forward to our “frank and open discussion.” Me, too. I believe that such a discussion should now be a matter of public record, so I will post all our correspondence on my blog.

Yours in Christ, Mark


Knestout Letter Sept 12


On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 2:12 PM, Mark White <moreheheard@gmail.com> wrote:


Thank you for writing back to me so promptly. And I appreciate your mentioning having reasons for censoring my weblog. I did not hear a reason that I could understand during the phone call that I had with Mike on Friday.

For me to make the trip to Richmond this week would pose something of a hardship on the parishes here, and would be difficult for me to manage. As I mentioned to Mike on the phone, I was peacefully minding my own business when he called me. This is not an encounter that I requested.

If you have an opportunity to write back expressing your reasons for censoring my weblog, I would be grateful. Understanding your reason(s) would certainly make this business easier for me.

As things stand, Mike’s phone call strikes me as just the kind of heavy-handed silencing of honest communication that got us into this huge mess in the first place. I very much wish, and pray, that the Holy Father would do what I begged him to do. I think it would give us a chance for a fresh start. As it is, the Church looks to outsiders like an institution stuck in a recurring nightmare.

Also, Mike referred to anonymous “complaints” about the letter. This misses a fundamental point. A weblog is a forum for communication and debate. I do not censor comments that people submit. To the contrary, I rejoice when others express themselves in disagreement with me. Anyone who complained to you has the perfect freedom to comment on any of my posts. That seems to me like a far more constructive way of dealing with disagreements, preferable to censorship by order of ecclesiastical authority.

For these reasons, I did not appreciate Mike’s phone call. But, as you know, I nonetheless did what you asked me to do.

Yours, Mark

On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 10:58 AM, Bishop Knestout <bishop@richmonddiocese.org> wrote:

Dear Fr. White,


Thank you for the e-mail and your response to my request, extended through Fr. Boehling, that the blog post in question be removed.


I very much want to meet with you in person to discuss this issue and my reasons for the request. After a conversation together, I would be happy to follow up with a communication in writing, if that is helpful.


I am able to meet with you at one of the following times this week: at 2 pm on Tuesday, September 11th, or at 10 am on Wednesday, September 12th, or anytime between 11 am and 5 pm on Thursday, September 13th. If none of these work, I am sure that another mutually convenient time can be arranged.


I ask that you work with Anne Edwards at 804-622-5251 to finalize a time, since she assists in managing my calendar.


Thanks again for your kind attention to this matter, and for your generous service in this Church of Richmond.


Sincerely in Christ,

Bishop Knestout


From: Mark White <moreheheard@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2018 7:20 AM
To: Bishop Knestout <bishop@richmonddiocese.org>
Cc: Michael Boehling <mboehling@richmonddiocese.org>
Subject: Re: blog post


PS. If you have any further directives for me, Excellency, I would appreciate it if you would communicate them to me directly, rather than through an intermediary, and in writing.


On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 2:16 PM, Mark White <moreheheard@gmail.com> wrote:

Your Excellency,



Mike Boehling called me to tell me you were asking me to remove one of my blog posts. I have done as you asked.



Love, Mark White