Our cases are quite different. We have different personalities. I can’t say that I agree with everything my friend says. And he certainly doesn’t agree with everything I say or don’t say.
Be all that as it may, I found this part of his interview yesterday with John Henry Westen to be quite moving (starting at 15:15):
Father Altman and I have this much in common: We have suffered severe penalties without due process. What exactly did he do or say that required a suspension of his priestly ministry? What did I do or say? The authorities over us have never specified with any precision these “offenses,” for which we have been so severely punished.
That is not fair.
The Church is a mysterious web of relationships. By the grace and power of God, we parish priests form relationships with our people, and those relationships run very deep.
Under circumstances like this, any unilateral and arbitrary exercise of bureaucratic authority will inevitably wound peoples’ souls. Those wounds may never heal in this lifetime.
Parishioners in Rocky Mount and Martinsville speak of the parishes being “cursed” by what the bishop and his henchmen did here last spring. Now another parish in Wisconsin will have to live under a similar curse.
As I mentioned, I do not agree with everything that my friend Father Altman says. If I had been his parishioner, I would have disagreed with him on certain points, just like many of my parishioners have disagreed with me, over the years.
The Catholic Church has to be a place where people can disagree with each other and still receive the sacraments together, kneeling next to each other in peace and mutual love. Our minds simply do not comprehend the mystery that we share at the altar. So anyone who would propose to “police” the boundary lines has to tread lightly.
Also: there has to be room for us priests to be our individual selves.
When we priests have criticisms of managerial decisions made by our superiors in the chain-of-command, we have a right to voice those criticisms. Criticizing management decisions does not involve breaking communion with Holy Mother Church. The bishops ≠ Christ’s Church.
I don’t know the bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin. But it seems to me that he has made a power play that will wound a lot of people, without any real benefit coming from it.
A year and a half ago, I begged Bishop Knestout to leave me in peace. Just let me do my thing. If my blog posts are the work of a whack-job with a crazy ax to grind, so be it. You can show your strength as a leader by tolerating them. Ignoring them. In the end, the world ignores the work of whack-jobs.
He did not take my advice.
Whack-jobs vent their misguided spleens, and, in the end, the world takes no note of them. But when someone without power criticizes authority, and then authority turns around and punishes the critic arbitrarily, with a merciless power-play… That actually proves the criticism to have been valid in the first place.
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.
This 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.
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.
Happy Labor-Day weekend. We say goodbye to summer and try to get back to normal—or at least as normal as we can, with these masks, and everything that goes with them.
Over two months ago, I let you know that I had written to the Vatican. I wrote to insist on a proper resolution of our case. When they had previously tried to dismiss the whole thing on a flimsy technicality, it took less than two months for them to do it. So I take no news as good news this time. I hope the rule of law will prevail in the end. Then we can get back to normal.
If Bishop Knestout has a problem with my blog, or with me personally, I remain ready to work that out with him–in a way that does not confuse, or harm, anyone else.
A large group of us traveled to Richmond and to Washington, over the course of the past two months, to try to have a dialogue and get a good resolution to our situation. We did not get any immediate results. But we know from Scripture that the Lord rewards the persistent.
Now Father Carlos Lerma has arrived. Many of us in Martinsville remember Father Carlos’ first Mass as a priest, at St. Joseph’s in June of 2012. I had the privilege of helping him celebrate that Mass. I love Father Carlos as a brother priest and as a friend. I will not interfere with his work, and I wish him well.
Over the course of the past couple weeks I have written a rough draft of a book about everything we have been through. Writing is hard work, of course. But it has helped me a lot, to think it all through and put it down on paper.
I am working on getting it all edited, and finding a publisher. I am pretty sure that people all over the country will want to read about our case.
In the meantime, though, it occurred to me that it might help you to read through the draft chapters, just as it helped me to write them. I will break the whole thing up into shorter passages and publish them on my blog over the course of the next few weeks. I will be glad to hear your thoughts about what you read.
The Lord has sorely tried our faith through this ordeal, but it is nothing compared to what He went through for us in His bitter Passion, and it’s nothing compared to the suffering that many of our brothers and sisters have had to endure because of the pandemic.
We put all our faith in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. We know He has a plan. I love you and look forward to seeing you.
[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.]
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.
I 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.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, [Spanish]
I hope this finds you well, enjoying a happy Fathers’ Day. I have missed seeing you regularly these past months. The virus has separated us, and continues to separate us.
As you know, Bishop Knestout issued a decree removing me as pastor of our parishes and then suspended my priestly ministry completely. With the help of a Church lawyer, I lodged appeals against both of these unjust decisions.
The Vatican has responded to the first appeal. Beniamino Cardinal Stella wrote to my lawyer. [see below] The Cardinal noted that my lawyer’s first submission in the case omitted one word, a word I myself had never heard before: “procurator.” According to the Cardinal, that omission of one word has nullified our entire case. I think it’s safe to say: someone invented the term “technicality” for situations just like this.
Bishop Knestout wrote to urge me to resign as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph. And the bishop insists that I cannot minister as a priest, in any capacity, if I continue to communicate via social media, or if I criticize the hierarchy in any way.
I respect the bishop. I have offered proposals for ways to resolve our conflict. But I am not ready to give up fighting for a reasonable outcome to this case. I don’t think I should resign as pastor here. I’m far from perfect, of course. But I think we do well together, you and I. And I can hardly submit to the bishop’s silencing order. No society can survive without respect for the fundamental human right to communicate. I have asked the bishop to reconsider his actions. If he chooses not to do so, I will re-submit all of my arguments to the Vatican, insisting that my case be judged on the merits, rather than a technicality.
It pains me to have reached this point. The hierarchy has acted with contempt towards us. This sadly proves true the criticisms I made in my blog. No one laments this sad fact more than I do. I love the Church with all my heart.
Let’s keep in touch, through the “Justice for Father Mark” facebook group, or my blog. We find ourselves in a pitched spiritual battle together. Our faith is being sorely tried. Let’s keep loving and supporting each other, and hoping for better days.
Love, Father Mark
[I append the correspondence involved, except for Bishop Knestout’s letters to me. A couple months ago, he asked that I not publish his letters, and I honor that request.]
[More on my appeals tomorrow.]
The above letter to parishioners, read aloud in Spanish:
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.