[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.
To his Excellency Archbishop Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, his Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio of the United States, and to anyone whom it may concern,
I am a 22-year-old parishioner at Saint Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Virginia, who was joyfully brought into full communion with the Catholic Church when I was 14 years old, on Easter Vigil in 2012. Father Mark White was the primary pastor of my church and my primary spiritual father in the majority of my formative years as a new Catholic.
In light of the recent suspension of Father Mark White from public ministry and Bishop Barry Knestout’s attempt to lock Father Mark White out of his residence (despite Can. 1333 §3.2 explicitly stating that prohibition from public ministry “never” affects the right of residence), I am deeply concerned about the abuse of power and disregard of Canon law that Bishop Barry Knestout has exhibited.
I want to express this concern to those who have authority over Bishop Knestout.
Since the Diocese announced Fr. Mark’s “effective-immediately” relocation to prison ministry during the week following Easter–which under Canon Law cannot be carried out until the case is finished being heard in Rome–Father Mark White’s public response has been nothing but gracious and respectful to both the institution of the Church, as well as to Bishop Barry Knestout himself.
There has been, however, an escalation in the passionate feelings of parishioners and the surrounding community towards Bishop Barry Knestout. This passion has been in direct response to the perceived insensitivity towards the feelings of the communities in Rocky Mount and Martinsville, and the literal disregard of canon law that Bishop Barry Knestout has demonstrated in the past few weeks.
First, let me explain the hurt I have felt because of the actions of church leaders regarding the church abuse scandal. I am a teacher, and I will use an analogy to explain my uneasiness.
When a student cheats on their work twice, I am more likely to check their work going forward. If I asked the student if I could see their work and the student started freaking out, refusing to let me see, I would become even more suspicious.
This is an analogy for what, in my personal experience, many of the average church laypeople are seeing from the outside. Did that kid, the church, cheat on their test? I do not know because they did not let me see their paper. However, one thing is for sure, I really do not trust that kid because–Guess what? He cheated twice already. Twice.
Faithful Catholics, and the world, are not predisposed to trust the bishops’ handling of the abuse scandal. Pretending that any amount of reparation money distributed, or Virtus programs installed, makes up for the loss of that trust is a delusion. It is a delusion not because those programs are bad, but because they do not deal with the core of why we have a trust issue with our church leadership.
To imply that parishioners, such as myself, are discontented solely by the writings of Father Mark White is offensive. Many faithful Catholics know how to read. Claiming the writings of Father Mark White have caused more division and feelings of discontent/disunity than the actions of church leaders themselves is arrogant and dismissive of the very real hurt that many faithful Catholics have experienced.
In high school, someone once asked me “why would you want to go to a church that protects a bunch of child abusers?” As a 16-year-old new catholic, it hurt to be asked that. Especially because at the time I did not have an answer, and I felt ashamed that I could not defend the church that I love so much. I resolved to become a close follower of church news regarding the crisis.
Is it bad that more people have become educated about the scandal as a result of Father Mark White’s writings?
I would say, historically speaking, wanting to limit the access of knowledge to the masses is the desire of a draconian dictator or a communist leader, not a well-intentioned, humble shepherd. Soviet Russia existed under a “complete blockade on information” when it came to what books were available to citizens. This blockade was enacted through “arbitrary” vague laws that were often enforced “in secret and anonymously,” as V.D. Stelmakh puts it in Reading in the Context of Censorship in the Soviet Union.
The communist People’s Republic of China often uses algorithms to censor their citizens’ internet access.
Why? Because these regimes have feared criticism. Feared the power of knowledge. Feared the truth.
As a convert to the Catholic faith, the reason why I am never afraid to research the philosophies and doctrines of my protestant brothers and sisters, or other religions, is that I am not afraid of what I will find. My only concern is where the truth will lead me. Censorship leads many to ask a logical question: what truth are you afraid of? If Father Mark White’s blog writings were the foolish ramblings of a lunatic, they would be no more threatening to the Catholic church than the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement would be to the United States Government.
The discord and distrust already existed. And it was going to be there, at least in my heart, whether Father Mark wrote or not. It was there as a result of the way church leaders responded to the sexual abuse crisis in 2002, and then again with Theodore McCarrick.
I first learned of the fallout with once-esteemed Theodore McCarrick when one of my non-catholic friends asked me if I had heard what was going on. On the inside, all I could think was “this again?” It gave me painful flashbacks to high school, when people would ask me why I went to a child-abuser church. It hurt.
Still, even in that hurt, I knew I still wanted to be Catholic. I chose Catholicism for myself. I went on an (at times painful) journey that pursued Christ’s truth, and it led me here. To this Church. My life has continually led me to this Church.
As I read more about what was going on with McCarrick, however, I am ashamed to admit that I felt some degree of embarrassment for being Catholic. I was embarrassed by this Church, Christ’s Church, that has healed me in so many ways I can never repay it. For that I am sorry. I let my Church down. I did not want people to ask me about it anymore, because I did not have a good answer. To some degree I wanted others to forget I was Catholic.
When I read Father Mark’s blog posts, firstly, the post entitled “Open Letter to Theodore McCarrick,” I felt like there was someone else who felt the same things as me. That someone else felt this pain. That it was okay to feel those things too.
Later, I read one of the posts that Bishop Barry Knestout claims is disunifying, “Pope Francis a Heretic?” The ending paragraph of that post really stuck with me. “We march on, loving the Church, loving the papacy, and loving the episcopal office, too. But not lying to ourselves. Not drinking the Kool-Aid about how the current incumbents actually know what they are doing. They do not.”
When I read that paragraph, I felt like I was not crazy for wanting to be Catholic still. I felt much more unified to the Catholic Church, reading these critical yet loving posts on Father Mark White’s blog, than I ever did reading any of the sanitized statements released by higher church authority.
When my non-catholic friends asked me about the scandal, I felt like I had something I could show them that did not make me feel embarrassed, and even made me feel proud of being Catholic. I had several friends make comments to me like “wow, he is that angry and hurt, and he still loves that Church.”
To see someone questioning the church, not because they hate it, but because they love it, is powerful. Criticism and love are not mutually exclusive.
Next, I would like to address some comments made during the Bishop’s Homily at Saint Francis of Assisi Church on April 18th, 2020. During his homily, Bishop Knestout spoke about communion and a communal life, meaning that “we who believe are together and have things in common.” He also said that we can “argue a policy is better one way or another” implying his recent correspondence with Father Mark is no different than arguing about how the church should organize their parish council.
Dismissing the response of church leaders as a superficial disagreement on church procedures or policy is insensitive to the hurt and distrust people feel, and not in the best taste. To claim that a Priest has to speak solely of what will placate or not upset his parishioners to achieve this “unity” or “communion” is not the Catholic way, or the way of Christ.
The Catholic church has a strong, often culturally unwelcome stance on many divisive topics such as abortion. The Priest is not doing a disservice to the public or his parish by speaking the truth of these issues, even if some of his parishioners get mad and leave. Instead, I would argue he would be doing a disservice to those he pastors if he were not speaking the truth. The Lord says “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
Someone could argue that the sex abuse crisis is not about what “is a sin or is not a sin” in the same way teaching about abortion is. I would agree. However, this discussion, at its core, is about truth. When the Lord was teaching about the Eucharist many of his disciples gathered there said: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Did the Lord shy away from the teaching because he was afraid people would leave? No. He said “Does this shock you?” and continued to hold his own, even when many left him as a result of that truth (John 6:60-61).
The Lord is not afraid of someone seeking the truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, so why should he be afraid of it? (John 14: 6).
It is not necessarily wrong or “destructive” for a Priest to speak on topics that some may feel discontent about. Actually, there is precedence that taking a strong, possibly divisive stance is, historically, the Catholic way, as well as the way of Christ himself. The difference is, in this matter, questioning the actions of church leaders may hit too close to home for Bishop Knestout and other church leaders.
The second point I would like to address from Bishop Knestout’s homily is the part about apostolic succession. Yes, Bishop Knestout is indeed the Bishop, the pastor of the Diocese of Richmond, as well as the successor of the apostles as Bishop. However, being an apostolic successor does not make the Bishop immune to corruption. Being an apostle did not make the apostles immune to corruption.
Take Peter, the first Pope of our church. Peter, who denied Jesus three times (Matt. 26: 69-75).
Also, the most glaring example of all, Judas Iscariot. Judas, one of twelve men Jesus Christ himself personally chose to walk with him during his public ministry. Judas, whose actions directly put into motion the events that led to the arrest and crucifixion of our Lord (Matthew 26: 48-50).
Jesus himself picked Judas out as an apostle and Judas was not immune. Being an apostolic successor does not make the human man immune from corruption.
In fact, according to an article about the history of Papal saints, about only 30% of all the Popes in church history have become saints. Being an apostolic successor does not grant one automatic holiness.
A modern example of this potential corruption is Theodore McCarrick himself. Theodore McCarrick was a bishop. He too claimed apostolic succession and made decisions for a diocese under the guise of pastoral care.
It is not Bishop Knestout’s fault necessarily that the general layperson may not be predisposed to trust him. However, preaching on apostolic succession and implying someone who does not fully trust his decision-making is wrong–well, that could be interpreted as arrogant and insensitive to the pain experienced by those he shepherds.
As a newly converted Catholic, I was intrigued by Fr. Mark’s love and reverence for the Eucharist so much, it directly led to the development of my personal devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Father is the kind of priest who was not afraid of seeking justice for every single child of God (from every single cultural background) from the moment of their conception until their natural death, even if it meant criticism from others.
The example Father has given that no one should be afraid to speak the truth, even when they faced criticism, comforted me in times I found myself and my Catholic faith questioned. Father’s example helped me resolve that I should not be afraid to be unapologetically Catholic and steadfast in my beliefs of justice, even if the world hates me because of it. That I should not be afraid of the truth.
Fr. Mark shepherds the young adults and children by being part of our lives. He has had an active presence in our youth group, guided us on youth group pilgrimages up and down the east coast, and was intentional about spending time with every single religious-ed class. He humbled himself enough to make himself part of our lives.