Petition & Letter

The Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse set up a “Help Father White” on-line petition. They will forward all the signatures to Cardinal Stella at the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.

I received a copy of this letter from the author, with permission to publish it here. I was humbled by it.

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.

 

Articles and Flyer

 

My Letter to the Vatican

[I wrote Bishop Knestout, asking him to revoke his decisions about my ministry. He answered promptly in the negative. I have taken recourse by writing to the Apostolic See, as follows.]

st-peters-sunrise

June 23, 2020

His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella, Prefect, Congregation for Clergy

 

Dear Cardinal Stella,

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I hope that this letter finds Your Eminence well. My advocate, Mr. Michael Podhajsky, J.C.L. received Your Eminence’s correspondence, which you had written in response to my petition for hierarchical recourse. I appreciate your letter. That said, I write to you for two reasons, pertaining to the principles of truth and justice upon which we base our Gospel mission.

First, I do not think that justice has been served in this case. Your Eminence correctly noted in your letter to Mr. Podhajsky that we had neglected to use the word “procurator” in my original mandate to him. (We have since rectified this.) This was an oversight on our part, for which we apologize.

In that same mandate, however, I did “fully authorize” Mr. Podhajsky to “speak, negotiate, and correspond on my behalf in all canonical and legal matters as permitted under Church Law.” So, while the word “procurator” did not appear in the original mandate, I nonetheless gave Mr. Podhajsky the essential powers of a procurator, in plenty of time to take recourse within the preemptory deadlines.

Therefore, it seems to me that justice has not yet been served in regard to the matter of my hierarchical recourse. The fact is that I confront a manifest denial of justice to my person by my own bishop. I would hope that the salvation of souls, which is the ultimate purpose of the law (c. 1752), would suggest that my petition should be considered according to its merits, rather than left unheard, solely because of a minor technicality. Please remember the insistent widow in Luke 18.

As Mr. Podhajsky explained in his letter to you of April 23, 2020, my bishop decreed my removal as pastor without an appropriate cause, and without having followed the procedures outlined in the canons.

Secondly, I am sorry to have to alert you to this fact:  your letter to Mr. Podhajsky has not resolved the matter. I would kindly draw Your Eminence’s attention to the last sentence of your letter, in which you directed that I report to my new assignment “in obedience to [my] Ordinary.” Unfortunately, I cannot do this, given my present situation and circumstance.

On May 6, shortly after Mr. Podhajsky first wrote to you, my Ordinary suspended my priestly faculties, again without any appropriate or just cause. Therefore, your letter arrived in a situation more complicated than you understood. My Ordinary wrote to me on the same day that Mr. Podhajsky received your letter, and Bishop Knestout indicated that he will not restore my priestly faculties unless and until I remove my weblog from the internet.

Bishop Barry Knestout portraitI had previously written to, and met with, the bishop, to try to foster mutual understanding about the content of my weblog to which he objects. Instead of participating in such a dialogue, Bishop Knestout issued a “vetitum” forbidding me to communicate in any way, using any social media. I received this document in writing on June 17 (enclosed). I have petitioned the bishop to revoke this vetitum, to no avail.

As your Eminence knows, everyone enjoys the natural right to communicate with his or her fellow human beings, to engage in public discourse and debate. Only the cruellest tyrannies try to supress this right by unjust compulsion.

In your letter to Mr. Podhajsky, Your Eminence made no indication regarding this aspect of the situation. I can only assume that is because you had never examined the merits of the case that Mr. Podhajsky laid before you. Had you done so, you would have seen that my assertion of my right to communicate was, in fact, the precipitating factor behind the events that motivated my petition for hierarchical recourse. Also, as you will note from the letter I received from my ordinary on June 19 (enclosed), he appears to prefer that your Congregation settle this matter, rather than he himself.

Please forgive my presumption on your time and attention. But I must insist that your Congregation consider the merits of this case in full. This is a question of a fundamental human right, as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines it.

My Ordinary’s attempt to unilaterally extinguish my right to communicate now constitutes a serious scandal among the people of this region. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Bishop Knestout himself, and the provincial Archbishop, William Lori, of Baltimore, have received correspondence from many quarters on this matter. This correspondence, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, will verify the danger of scandal that exists here, should my case not receive a fair hearing on the merits.

I thank Your Eminence for your attention to this letter. I look forward to the favor of a response.

 

Respectfully yours,

Reverend Mark D. White