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A bishop in the "Old Dominion" is rejecting dialogue with and trying to defrock a faithful priest for speaking truth.
Richmond's bishop, Barry Knestout, suspended Fr. Mark White in 2020 for openly and honestly discussing sex abuse and cover-up in the Church.
And now, refusing to converse with Fr. White, Knestout is petitioning Rome to forcibly laicize the priest — without substantial cause.
Father Mark White:
I'm facing possibly being expelled from the clerical state, which is a stunning thing for me to experience. The priesthood is my life, and celebration of the Holy Mass is my life. And I never thought that I'd have to go a whole year to celebrate Mass by myself, which is basically what I've had to do because I've been suspended for no good reason.
Father White was ordained by disgraced homosexual pederast Theodore McCarrick. But as revelations of the ex-cardinal's predation surfaced in 2018, Fr. White began blogging about sex abuse and cover-up within the hierarchy.
His candor piqued Knestout, who's made it clear he wishes to cancel Fr. White. The priest does remain respectful and obedient to the suspension, but also to truth.
Fr. Mark White:
Broad strokes like demonizations of the hierarchy, that's not really going to get us anywhere in the long run. ... The answer, I would say, is systematically seeking the truth and demanding the truth. ... Just because you're a bishop, you can't fudge things and rest on your prerogatives as the authority. You've got to answer questions like everybody else does.
Knestout's attempt to ostracize Fr. White and even make him question his own sanity are failing.
Fr. Mark White: "But thank God there are enough good people out there who care about me. So that hasn't worked. The bishop hasn't succeeded in making me feel like it's just me out here on an island. I know that's not true."
One of those supporters is Judy Rogers, a parishioner at St. Francis parish in Rocky Mount, where Fr. White was pastor. Rogers' attempts to defend Fr. White to Knestout have fallen on deaf ears.
So, through apostolic nuncio Abp. Christophe Pierre, she wrote to Pope Francis detailing the events that led to White's current predicament.
Judy Rogers: "It worried me very much that someone like Theodore McCarrick should be overlooked or allowed to continue and yet a good priest like Fr. Mark, they're so quick to try to get rid of him for speaking the truth."
Rogers sent a copy of that letter to head of the Congregation for the Clergy Cdl. Beniamino Stella, as well as the head of the Congregation of Bishops and Knestout's metropolitan in Baltimore.
Her correspondence is in the transcript for this report.
While Knestout converses with Protestants on the 700 Club, claiming to be about dialogue, it seems he'll do everything in his power to silence priests who speak truth.
His Holiness the Pope
Most Holy Father:
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. I pray that this communication finds your Holiness doing well.
I write to you today to share my deep concerns regarding the continued suspension of a faithful priest, Fr. Mark White, by Bp. Barry Knestout, diocese of Richmond, Virginia, USA.
I believe it is not only my right to share these concerns (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19), but more important even, my duty as a Christian, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law, Part I, Title I, Can. 212.3.
Article 19: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media." (According to my research, every pope for the last 60 years has endorsed this declaration, thanks be to God.)
Code of Canon Law, part I: The Christian Faithful, Title 1: The Obligations and Rights of All the Christian Faithful, in particular Can. 212.3: "According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."
Bishop Knestout and Fr. White are two servants of God with valuable talents to serve the Church, who are now in a situation where, in my opinion, neither of them, due to the current tensions and discord, can completely and totally express and demonstrate their faith and love of the Church they both serve. This situation is felt throughout the parishes — indeed, I believe throughout the diocese of Richmond — and is of grave concern to many.
Therefore, exercising my right and my duty, I respectfully request:
1. That the suspension of Fr. Mark White be lifted and his priestly faculties fully restored.
2. That Bp. Barry Knestout be removed as bishop of the diocese of Richmond that his talents in serving the Lord may be better utilized elsewhere.
The background and circumstances that culminated in my requests:
Father Mark White: served two parishes (St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Rocky Mount, Virginia, USA, and St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Martinsville, Virginia, USA). He divided his time equally between them but was always available for an urgent need in either parish at any time. His fluency in Spanish was a blessing, as both parishes included members of the Hispanic community. The parishes flourished under his pastoral care. He was respected, loved and, very importantly, trusted, by the parishioners.
Bishop Barry Knestout: appointed as bishop of diocese of Richmond (Virginia, USA) on Dec. 5, 2017, and installed as bishop of diocese of Richmond on Jan. 12, 2018.
His arrival was viewed with deep skepticism by many due to his having served as priest-secretary to the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick (now laicized) and the allegations against him. In the bishop's "Letter to the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese — 7/30/18" in which he addressed the resignation of Theodore E. McCarrick, Bp. Knestout wrote, "Throughout the time that I was in Washington, I can tell you that I was not approached by anyone with any allegations or evidence of sexual harassment or abuse involving the cardinal." Unfortunately for the bishop, the question in the minds of the people was, "But what did you know?" That has not changed.
Father White's Blog and the Sexual Abuse Scandal: Fr. White, in his personal blog, openly addressed the problems of sexual misconduct among the clergy, including those in the hierarchy of the Church, and especially the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick. He asked why the "McCarrick Report" was not forthcoming. Father White addressed the hurt and pain of the many victims, not just those of McCarrick, but of others also. He was a "voice" for those who felt their voices were not truly being heard. Some parishioners read the blog; many were not even aware of it at that time.
Bishop Knestout was aware of it, as evidenced by the materials he compiled. The bishop did not agree with Fr. White's writings, nor with the use of his personal blog to express his deep concerns.
The View as Parishioner: While we struggled with the COVID situation that robbed us of attending Mass for many months (beginning March 16, 2020), at the same time we watched our trusted priest fight for justice for himself and for others. Father White was well-known and highly respected throughout the community. This became a very open matter both in and beyond the community, a not-unusual occurrence in this day of social media communication.
I found actions by Bp. Knestout deeply troubling — not only for parishioners and for Fr. White, but for the Catholic Church. These included:
1. March 20, 2020: Parishioners received via email a letter dated March 19, 2020 from Bp. Knestout in which he outlined his grievances against Fr. White.
2. March 22, 2020: The bishop had his letter published in a local newspaper, the Martinsville Bulletin! Words cannot express the depth of my shock, and the embarrassment I experienced on behalf of my Church when I saw what he had done.
Note: The bishop's letter provided titles of blog posts and quotes from them without providing context, which I felt was misleading. The posts had a line of argument; sometimes the subject matter was complex. Father White offered a respectful reply in a subsequent issue of the newspaper.
3. April 13, 2020 (Easter Monday): Again via email, Bp. Knestout notified Fr. White and his parishioners of Fr. White's removal as pastor of the two parishes, and "has received a new assignment and will be leaving the area within the week." I understand Fr. White first learned of this via a phone call from a parishioner, whereupon he checked his emails and found the news. I feel the bishop should have called Fr. White and spoken with him personally about his decision.
Note: The new assignment was to be a "chaplain to various prisons, state and federal, within the diocesan bounds." It did not seem logical to me to reassign a priest whose parishes had thrived under his care. In the opinion of many, this constituted an effort by the bishop to remove Fr. White from the continuing support of his parishioners.
Father White chose to hire a canon lawyer and file an appeal, as was his right. According to the norms of law, he remained our pastor until the legal procedure had run its full course.
4. April 18, 2020: The bishop arrived unannounced to concelebrate the Mass (livestreamed). The bishop, in my opinion, used his prepared homily to present his case against Fr. Mark White in an effort to turn the hearts of the parishioners against their priest. He left after Mass without speaking to Fr. White.
Bishop Knestout included in his homily a reference to "an old wound that was never really dealt with and was never expressed — never talked about, and it keeps coming out in bad ways later and it needs to be addressed." Father White later stated that he was surprised by the bishop's words, this was the first time he had heard the bishop express this, and that he held no grudge against the bishop.
Father Mark White, in accordance with canon law, continued to serve as priest in both parishes pending a decision from Rome. However, Bp. Knestout chose to suspend him on May 6, 2020, while Fr. White awaited final word on his appeals.
I believe that Bp. Knestout disregarded canon laws during Fr. White's appeal.
I find it ironic that the bishop could not wait for the process to "take its course" in view of his comment in regard to McCarrick, again from his "Letter to the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese — 7/30/18" in which he wrote: "In consideration of the Holy Father's decision, there is a canonical process in place and we must allow the process and any potential civil procedure to take its course." In my opinion, he did not "allow the process" in his dealings with Fr. White.
Fr. White and his canon lawyer continued the appeal process. Father White vacated both residences prior to the arrival of a replacement priest in August. He remains suspended.
Christ on the Cross forgave those who crucified Him. Stephen, as he was being stoned, asked God not to "hold this sin against them," showing forgiveness for those taking his life.
My question in letters to Bp. Knestout has always been, "What about forgiveness? Why cannot Fr. Mark receive your forgiveness and be allowed to return to us as our priest?"
Father White's personal blog was a source of irritation to the bishop. Over the course of this matter, on more than one occasion, Fr. White offered an apology if anything he wrote offended anyone in any way. Father White offered to subject his personal blog to review by other priests before publishing. He sought reconciliation with Bp. Knestout — all to no avail.
As I wrote to Bp. Knestout:
Does this mean then that if I am offended and someone asks my forgiveness, it is okay for me to refuse? Am I allowed to put my anger/annoyance/pride above forgiveness? I do not believe that is what our Church teaches. I do not believe that is what Christ taught. Preaching forgiveness, without the example of forgiveness, falls on deaf ears.
I understand the concept of "obedience" in the hierarchy of the Church. Sadly, power can be used to coerce obedience. An outside confidential survey found that many priests in this diocese are afraid of Bp. Knestout. I do not find that hard to believe, in view of his treatment of Fr. White, and of Fr. Joseph Metzger of another parish. As one respondent wrote, "We have seen what Barry can do."
I had a dear friend who converted to the Catholic faith over 20 years ago, who faithfully served and supported the Church, but who finally, as a result of other actions by Bp. Knestout, said, "Enough is enough." That friend returned to the Protestant faith.
There are many who, because of the actions of this bishop, no longer attend Mass in person, choosing instead to participate in a televised Mass, even now when attendance is allowed again. Parishioners today are not blind to the problems in the Catholic Church.
Theodore McCarrick was allowed to continue to serve for years, even in the face of all that was known about him and his sexual misconduct, before justice was finally served. Yet, a faithful priest who served the Church well, was faithful to his vows as a priest, but who spoke out about the sexual scandal in the Church, was suspended from his priestly faculties.
Increasingly, priests who dare to speak out against sin, including the issues of sexual abuse and homosexual behavior (which the Catholic Church teaches is a sin) among the clergy, including members of the hierarchy, are chastised, reprimanded and even suspended. This raises the question, "Why? Why would a bishop or archbishop, any member of the Church's hierarchy, want to silence priests who speak out against sin? Why?"
Holy Father, I believe that the only hope for justice for Fr. Mark White is with you.
I most humbly intercede with you, therefore:
For the sake of the Catholic Church and its witness to the world,
For the sake of recognizing a true priest's desire to help victims of abuse heal,
For the sake of the reconciliation and forgiveness the Church teaches,
Please restore Fr. Mark White as priest to these parishes, that he may continue his good work for the usual term of service.
While parishioners continue to pray for Bp. Knestout, many believe it would benefit all, including the bishop, if he were transferred to another diocese, one not so close to the D.C. area and its unavoidable tainted association with the McCarrick scandal.
In view of Bp. Knestout's treatment of and anger at Fr. Mark White, I find it difficult to have any expectations that the bishop would treat Fr. White in a fair and charitable fashion in the future, as much as one might wish that were possible.
I pray that Bp. Knestout may find joy and peace in his service to God and the Church.
I continue to pray for the Holy Catholic Church, for all those who serve the Church, that everything said and done may be to the glory of God.
Judy L. Rogers
Parishioner, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
cc: His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect, Congregation of Bishops
His Excellency Archbishop William Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore
His Eminence Beniamino Card. Stella
Prefect, Congregation for the Clergy
c/o The Apostolic Nunciature
3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Greetings in the name of Christ. I hope this letter finds you well.
I write today to share my very deep concerns regarding the unjust treatment afforded to Fr. Mark White by Bp. Barry Knestout, diocese of Richmond, Virginia, USA.
Father White is currently suspended from his priestly faculties as a result of a failure to resolve a dispute with Bp. Knestout over Fr. White's personal blog. Bishop Knestout has now asked the Vatican to remove Fr. White from the priesthood completely.
I believe that Bp. Knestout has treated Fr. White in a blatantly unfair manner, and chose to ignore canon laws in the process. In addition, the bishop appears to believe that Fr. White has no right, now or in the past, to see the "evidence" against him.
Father White has been an excellent priest, faithful to his vows, beloved by his parishioners and respected by the entire community. To me, this action by the bishop is unwarranted and vindictive, an effort to both silence and punish a priest who spoke the truth.
Many parishioners have lost faith in the bishop and his role as a "spiritual father." The removal of Fr. White from the priesthood would severely damage even further whatever amount of respect may remain for the bishop, as well as accelerate the departure from the Church of disillusioned parishioners.
I enclose a copy of my letter to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in which I have presented my concerns.
Judy L. Rogers