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.

The Cult of Secrecy

On November 21, 2019, Bishop Barry Knestout appeared unexpectedly at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Virginia. He insisted on meeting privately with me. (The bishop had the Vicar General with him.) The bishop then ordered me to turn off my cellphone.

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

The bishop then read a document aloud to me, a “decree” he had written about my blog. As he read, I struggled to take it all in. The circumstances had jarred my nerves. I did not panic about missing some of what he read, however, because I assumed I would be able to read the document later at my leisure.

After reading the document aloud, the bishop rose to leave the premises. He informed me, to my great surprise, that I would not receive a printed copy. He said something about how I might be able to read it, but I didn’t catch what he said. All I remember is that under no circumstances whatsoever would I be allowed to make a copy.

It has been over a year and a-half since that visit. I have never laid eyes on the document the bishop read.

On May 5, 2020, Bishop Knestout suspended my priestly faculties. He forbade me celebrating the sacraments publicly.

In his letter to me that day, the bishop threatened me with an “interdict” if I published his correspondence to me. I’m not sure what that threat even means, to be honest. Nonetheless, he threatened it. If you publish my letters, you will be punished severely.

confessional

A penitent sinner going to confession has a right to expect secrecy from the priest.

Most sins are private. Only rarely in my priestly life has anyone confessed a sin to me that was also a crime. Under those circumstances, when the situation called for it, I told the penitent before absolution that he or she must do something to restore public justice–including submitting to the criminal justice system, in one case I remember.

Because a crime not only damages the soul of the sinner, it also disturbs public justice. A crime is not a private thing. That’s why “The People” or “The Country” or “The State of…” or “The United States” prosecutes crimes in court. Sins may be private, but crimes affect everyone.

Also not a private matter: the question of who will serve as the pastor of a parish, or whether a not a priest can celebrate the sacraments publicly.

Why would Bishop Knestout imagine that his removing me from office or suspending my faculties is a private matter? I was the pastor of two busy, medium-sized parishes. I celebrated the sacraments with people dozens of times a week. His removing me from office and suspending my faculties affected the lives of hundreds of people.

I bring all this up because Mr. Kieran Tapsell has written a helpful, concise analysis of the Vatican’s recent revision of the Code of Canon Law. Tapsell participated in the the Australian Royal Commission report on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which made recommendations about revising canon law.

canon law codex canoniciAs Americans we tend to take for granted that legal proceedings–especially criminal prosecutions–are public. It’s hard for Americans even to grasp how inherently secretive the Church’s canonical process actually is.

In our country, and countries like ours, trials take place in open court. Many take place in front of cameras. Reporters tell the public what happened. The general public has the right to read the final decisions, with attendant documents.

We take all this for granted because we think of court business as something that pertains to us, the body politic. We think that it pertains to us because it does.

The Australian Royal Commission recommended to the Vatican that canonical cases involving child sexual abuse be published, for the general public to read, with the identity of the victim(s) omitted.

mccarrickI made a similar plea early in 2019, regarding the McCarrick canonical case. I argued: the criminal ecclesiastical prosecution of a Cardinal Archbishop is not a private matter. The crimes involved affected the lives of thousands of Catholics.

When the pope defrocked McCarrick, the Vatican published less than one full paragraph of information about the case. To this day, we do not know on what evidence McCarrick was convicted and dismissed from the clerical state.

And the Vatican has rejected the Australian Royal Commission recommendation about child-sex abuse cases in general. The revised Code of Canon Law does not make any provision for giving the public any information about ecclesiastical criminal cases.

Tapsell laments:

The Vatican spokesman said, “Today the atmosphere is different, [when it comes to actually punishing criminal priests.]”

But it remains to be seen whether the Church’s courts actually agree with the spokesman’s claim. As the Church has not adopted the Royal Commission’s recommendation as to the publication of canonical court decisions, we will probably never know–until the next time the Church is required to hand over its records by another civil inquiry, or the United Nations.

The maintenance of secrecy over the Church’s disciplinary actions will not restore its reputation.

My friend Mark Vath has written an open letter to law enforcement officers in Louisiana. The occasion for Mark’s letter is this:

In December of last year, lawyers questioned a serial pedophile priest in a court deposition. The judge then ordered the deposition sealed, in deference to the bankruptcy proceedings of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Since law-enforcement agents have the right to look at the sealed deposition of Father Lawrence Hecker, Mark urges them to do so. Assess whether a felony cover-up has occurred. Make the information public.

Mark asks:

How can the public make an objective, logical, and rational decision as to the level of corruption involved, if the documents and testimonies remain sealed and locked away from public view?

Mark will speak, along with Richard Windmann, here in Virginia next month. They will speak in Martinsville on Sunday, July 25th and in Richmond on Monday, July 26th.

More details to follow, and don’t forget Chris O’Leary’s talks in Martinsville and Roanoke this coming Sunday and Monday 🙂

You’re Welcome, Your Holiness

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

In 2015, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”

The following year, the pope published a book, The Name of God is Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, 2016, the pope dispatched “Missionaries of Mercy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Vatican Secretary of State received a letter from then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick referred to his dealings with the Holy See over the course of the previous decade. The Vatican had attempted to get McCarrick to disappear quietly from the public stage. McCarrick had not co-operated with the cover-up scheme.

But in his March 8, 2016, letter to Cardinal Parolin, McCarrick offered to “retire to a holy place and pray for the salvation of my soul, instead of wandering around the world.”

Cardinal Parolin mentioned McCarrick’s letter to Pope Francis.

The pope already knew that McCarrick stood accused of abusing his authority to force seminarians into his bed. Archbishop Viganò, as well as Cardinal Becciu, had alerted the pope to McCarrick’s predations. The Vatican file contained testimony about McCarrick forcing a seminarian to put on a sailor suit and get into bed with him.

Pope Francis told Cardinal Parolin not to accept McCarrick’s March, 2016, offer to disappear.

“Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful,” the pope said.

[All of this is documented on pages 429-430 of the Vatican McCarrick Report.]

In September of 2018, I published an open letter to Pope Francis. (Before McCarrick was laicized through a secret procedure.)

I wrote:

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Pope Francis Annuarium pontificum

Last week, the Holy Father published a decree revising the Code of Canon law.

In his letter announcing the change, the Holy Father wrote.

In the past, great damage was done by a failure to appreciate the close relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse — where circumstances and justice so require — to disciplinary sanctions.

This manner of thinking — as we have learned from experience — risks leading to tolerating immoral conduct, for which mere exhortations or suggestions are insufficient remedies. This situation often brings with it the danger that over time such conduct may become entrenched, making correction more difficult and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful.

For this reason, it becomes necessary for bishops and superiors to inflict penalties. Negligence on the part of a bishop in resorting to the penal system is a sign that he has failed to carry out his duties honestly and faithfully.

You’re welcome, Your Holiness. For the idea.

Allow me to point out, however, that you accuse yourself with your own words.

You were McCarrick’s bishop, his priestly father in God. From 2013 onward, only one man on earth had authority over Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

You.

You were negligent. You failed to carry out your duties honestly and faithfully, just like Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II failed to do, before you.

canon law codex canonici

Another person who deserves a big apology from the mitered mafia: Father Lauro Sedlmayer.

McCarrick abused his authority over Father Sedlmayer during the 1990’s, to obtain sexual gratification from the young, naive, foreign-born priest.

Sedlmayer tried to denounce McCarrick for his crimes. In response, the Diocese of Metuchen NJ and the Archdiocese of Newark proceeded to sue him in court.

On May 17, 2013, two months after Francis became our pope, the then-Bishop of Metuchen Paul Bootkoski wrote to Father Sedlmayer. The bishop insisted that Father had “violated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rights.”

According to Bootkoski, Sedlmayer had “calumniated” McCarrick, because Sedlmayer publicly referred to McCarrick as a “predator.”

Bootkoski went on to stipulate in his letter: Sedlmayer could not continue in ministry as a priest unless he underwent intense supervision, therapy, and “spiritual direction.”

Meanwhile:

The Vatican knew perfectly well that calling McCarrick a “predator” did not involve calumny, or a violation of McCarrick’s rights. When Father Sedlmayer blanketed a parish parking lot with fliers calling McCarrick a predator, he spoke the truth, with justice.

The Vatican had more than enough evidence in hand to vindicate Father Sedlmayer in his accusations against McCarrick.

What did they do?

In the Vatican.

While a bishop mercilessly persecuted a priest who spoke the truth about Theodore McCarrick, the truth that they knew full well?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

In 2016, Bishop Bootkoski reached the normal retirement age, and the pope accepted his resignation, without any reference whatsoever to McCarrick, or to Father Sedlmayer’s decades of suffering at the hands of prelates who abused their authority.

Kinda makes you wonder:

Would they be doing anything at all at the Vatican, about McCarrick, now? Except that circumstances outside their control forced them to do something?

Last week’s revision to the Code of Canon Law changes canon 1395.3, which defines a crime, namely: A clergyman forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts by force or threat. The revised law adds the phrase “or by abuse of his authority.”

The pope first introduced that phrase into the rules in May of 2019.

I pointed out then:

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today [May 13, 2019]. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.

Fort Lee, Marriage Law

We have a Fort Lee down here in Virginny, too, you know. I pass the exit for it every time I have to drive from Martinsville to Richmond for a meeting. Never encountered a single backup…

Last month, our humble cluster of parishes discussed the famous questions about Holy Matrimony posed by the Apostolic See in preparation for the Synod on the Family, which begins in the fall.

I said at the time that the one question that really interested me was:

Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

If I might, I would like to spell out what I think about this. Indulge me as you will. Continue reading “Fort Lee, Marriage Law”

Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together


Boy am I out-of-it. Did you know that they made a movie about Dr. King’s speech? Apparently, it is really good, won an Oscar, and stars someone named Colin Firth, who I don’t think is even black.

But I am not completely out of it. I do know that last week Whoopi Goldberg opined on the subject of Governor Cuomo of New York receiving Holy Communion.

But look. This is a golden opportunity for a metaphysical analysis of a moral choice.

For obvious reasons, I will approach it here from the point-of-view of the person giving out Holy Communion.

Crucial point #1: Whenever moral evil of any kind presents itself, perhaps the first question a person should ask himself is, “Whose conscience is this going to be on?”

Aha! We have found the Original Metaphysical Principle for morals: I am morally responsible only for those acts or omissions which are imputable to me.

(In my limited experience with helping people exercise moral discernment, the clarification of who is morally responsible resolves the matter 95% of the time.)

Let’s apply this to the matter at hand. If I am giving out Holy Communion, there are various ways I could do evil. Interiorly, I could doubt the Real Presence or fail to adore the Lord in the sacrament. I could let my mind wander. If I weren’t a priest, I could absurdly think of what I am doing as “my” ministry, rather than as a simple act of charity to help Father in the interest of time or convenience. I could vainly focus on myself instead of trying to disappear behind Christ.

Exteriorly, I could imprudently misjudge my physical or psychological capacity to perform this ministry. I could be negligent in my handling of the vessels. Probably the gravest evil I could do—short of intentionally desecrating the sacrament—would be to act out of human respect in giving out communion. It pretty much goes without saying that the duty of a minister of Holy Communion is to minister the sacrament to those who approach to receive it, no matter who they are, what they look like, how they smell, how they are dressed, etc.

Continue reading “Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together”

Red Rocks + Sunday Homily

Voice of the Caps
Voice of the Caps
Cannot tell you what a comfort it is to turn on the radio and listen to the eager Canadian voice of Steve Kolbe.

The Caps are tearing it up, people!

God made them male and female.

…A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh…

What God has joined together, no human being must separate.

(Mark 10:6-8, 12)

In his teaching, our Holy Father Pope Benedict insists on certain ideas over and over again. One of them is: Religion is not purely private.

Continue reading “Red Rocks + Sunday Homily”