Canonical Warfare

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 29, 2020   

Bishop's campaign to silence his priest

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Parishioner: "Father Mark is probably the most reverent and the most dedicated priest I think I've ever met."

The bishop of Richmond, Virginia is using canonical and psychological warfare to sideline his outspoken priest, Fr. Mark White.

Bishop Barry Knestout, who rose to prominence as personal secretary to Theodore McCarrick and vicar general for cover-up Cdl. Donald Wuerl, took exception to White's blog calling out the hierarchy's mishandling of the ongoing sex abuse crisis.

White: "Being a silenced priest is a painful thing to be. I wouldn't wish it on anybody."

Knestout is trying to remove White as pastor of two parishes, St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount and St. Joseph in Martinsville. 

White is resisting with the help of a canon lawyer.

Knestout: "Father White is going to bring his case and I'll bring mine."

The lawsuit suspends Knestout's order that White be removed as pastor of both parishes.

Knestout: "Father White is the pastor here, canonically."

But Knestout is pushing White to abandon his pastoral duties and relocate to another town more than two hours away.

Knestout: "Father White retains his title of pastor. And I've asked him to take a new assignment and a new place of residence."

White's lawyer has reminded Knestout, however, that a pastor has "rights and duties" that include an "obligation of residency in a rectory near the church."

White's parishioners are backing him, showing support, for example, from the parking lot of St. Joseph Parish in Martinsville and speaking up for him on air.

"He deserves justice. He deserves not to be mistreated," said one supporter.

White's supporters say this isn't just a battle between White and Knestout, but a fight for the future of the priesthood.

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