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Now that the statute of limitations on sex abuse cases has been extended in many states, more victims of clerical sex abuse are coming forward, which has forced over 20 dioceses and religious orders to file for bankruptcy protection. Richmond bishop Barry Knestout boasted at a regional gathering of priests that by settling out of court and getting victims to accept monetary settlements on the condition they give up the right to sue, he will "save the diocese millions of dollars." Bishops fear sex abuse trials for their bad publicity and the payouts which often far exceed those stemming from out-of-court settlements.
Knestout and other bishops know that prelates like Cdl. Timothy Dolan were rewarded for hiding money from abuse victims. When Dolan was archbishop of Milwaukee in 2007, he requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to shield the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation. Having grown up in the archdiocese of Washington where Abp. Wilton Gregory will reach retirement age in 2022, Knestout may be hoping that his reward for preventing Richmond from filing for bankruptcy protection will result in his appointment as Gregory's successor.
In order for Knestout to receive the prize of the Archdiocese of Washington, which may come with a "red hat," he must also prove himself effective like Cdls. Blase Cupich and Timothy Dolan in covering up the true extent of homosexual predation in the Church. Unlike Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, whose reward for coming up with a sound plan in 1985 to curb sex abuse in the Church was to be let go from his post at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., his successors, Cupich and Dolan, were both eventually rewarded handsomely for burying abuse reports and keeping them out of the public's eye.
There is only one obstacle in Knestout's path to ecclesiastical glory: Fr. Mark White. Both White and Knesthout grew up in Washington, D.C. before coming to Richmond. While Knestout served as ex-cardinal McCarrick's personal secretary, Fr. White was ordained by McCarrick. What many Catholics have a hard time understanding is how heterosexually-oriented priests really do not like working for gay prelates like McCarrick who often "give them the creeps." On the other hand, homosexually-oriented priests relish working for gay prelates who often reward them by making them chancellors, vicar-generals, seminary rectors, auxiliary bishops and bishops.
When Fr. White transferred to the diocese of Richmond, where he would not have to work for ex-cardinal McCarrick or Cdl. Donald Wuerl — neither of whom he respected — little did he realize that he would later be working for Bp. Knestout, who was McCarrick's secretary and Wuerl's vicar-general. What eventually happened to Fr. White in Virginia is very similar — with less tragic consequences — to what happened with Fr. Mark Goring in Houston.
Father Goring is a member of the Companions of the Cross, an Ottawa, Ontario-based Society of Apostolic Life founded in 2003, which identifies itself as eucharistic, charismatic, Marian, and magisterial. His order operates a Catholic charismatic center in the diocese of Galveston-Houston, where Goring served as its director. In January of 2019, after addressing the abuse crisis in one of his popular daily YouTube podcasts in which he was critical of Cdls. Wuerl and Cupich for their handling of the abuse crisis, he was told by one of his "legitimate authorities" to "cease and desist." Even though he complied with the order, he later was forced to return to Canada. While Goring continues to make YouTube podcasts, it is clear he now appears "gun-shy," especially in addressing topics that expose corruption within the hierarchy of the Church.
Similar in content to Father Goring’s pre-January 2019 YouTube podcasts, Father Mark White created a popular blog in which he was critical of Church leaders, including Pope Francis, who have engaged in, covered-up, or underreported clerical sex abuse. In a letter dated March 19, 2020, Knestout informed White's parishioners, "For more than a year, in fact since the fall of 2018, in my judgment Fr. Mark White has worked against the unity of the Church, promoted disrespect for the Holy Father, the Church hierarchy, his bishop, and has demonstrated a will adverse to obedience to the bishop of his diocese, which he took an oath to uphold at his ordination." When Bp. Knestout ordered him to leave his two parishes to work in prison ministry, he refused by citing his rights as a pastor under the Code of Canon Law to appeal the transfer. While he was awaiting a response to his appeal from Rome, Bp. Knestout suspended him from all priestly duties even though canonically he remains a pastor "on the books."
When a letter was sent on May 2, 2020 to all the pastors of the Richmond diocese asking for their confidential perspective on the conflict between Bp. Knestout and Fr. White that has been reported by the local media, not one priest voiced support for Bp. Knestout. Many of the priests who responded feared reprisals from Bp. Knestout if their identities were revealed as one wrote, "More priests would report injustice, except we have seen what Barry can do and get away with!"
One priest commented, "Fr. White is correct in seeking the help of the Rota as his rights have indeed been violated. This is an example of heavy-handed power in that none of the requisite actions that would justify removal have occurred."
Another priest who attributed Knestout's appointment to Richmond as the result of his friendship with prelates like McCarrick and Wuerl, wrote, "Has Francis covered up abuse? I'm afraid he has. Did Wuerl know of it? Obviously, yes. If Bp. Knestout was Wuerl's vicar general, did he know of it? The answer, again, is obviously 'yes.'"
When one priest received word of White's suspension, he wrote, "Barry might have really done himself in now. He has lost all respect from his priests. We know he's a liar, as he said in his homily he would follow the required canonical process. He ... trampled on one of the sheep he is to shepherd! A very sad day."
Instead of reminding White what it means to be a priest, one pastor wrote that someone needs to remind Knestout of his own promises at his episcopal ordination when he was instructed, "The title of bishop is not one of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule ... As a father and a brother, love all those whom God places in your care. Love the priests and deacons who share with you the ministry of Christ."
After word got out that Knestout sent locksmiths to lock White out of his churches and residences, one pastor wrote, "We need to be reminded that the bishop evicted our brother priest with no accusations of misconduct whatsoever. Thinking that we are not under the same threat is naive."
Another Richmond priest who reported that Knestout increased his salary to $75,000 said he believed the bishop is looking forward to one day returning to Washington with the title of cardinal archbishop. As long as Richmond Catholics continue to support him through their contributions and do not demonstrate against his abuse of power as was done in the case of Buffalo bishop Richard Malone, Knestout may one day very well find himself living a very comfortable life in the penthouse of a building owned by the "Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington," whose property taxes in 2013 were $67,484.78, and whose value in 2016 was $42,917,680.00.
Similar to the current conflict in the diocese of Richmond, the late bishop Joseph Adamec of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese suspended Fr. John Nesbella and silenced priests like Msgr. Philip Saylor and Fr. James Foster for exposing abuse cover-ups by members of the hierarchy. The way Adamec treated his clergy resulted in Nesbella, Foster and many others leaving the priesthood. His maltreatment of heterosexually oriented clergy had a major negative impact on vocations which led in time to the closure and clustering of countless churches. After being admonished by a Pennsylvania Grand Jury "for covering up a massive sex abuse scandal," the disgraced Adamec used the money he accumulated over the years to build himself a retirement mansion in which he died a very lonely death.
In the days going forward from Father White's tragic suspension, priests and priestly aspirants of the diocese of Richmond face bleak prospects if Bp. Knestout's silencing of priests who stand against corruption should become precedent in the diocese through these events, as it already has in so many dioceses across the United States. An observer to this case must question the true nature of unity which Bishop Knestout has accused Father White of violating. Are not the sins of cover-up and abuse those which tear asunder the Body of Christ, and has not the priest been called to be healing balm to such festering wounds? One can only wonder if the sacred promise of obedience has not been exploited as a tool to absolve the transgressions of the powerful. Has obedience become an institution where ungodly values are allowed to perpetuate, or does it remain a counsel of the Lord who is Truth Himself? A stark admonition appears to resound over this case: Submission to cover-up is not obedience. Whereas obedience is a virtue, submission to cover-up is a vice.
Gene Thomas Gomulka is a retired Navy Captain/Chaplain who served on active duty at Marine Corps and Navy commands for over 24 years. Father (Monsignor) Gomulka and Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle had their ecclesiastical endorsements revoked as a result of their support for sexual abuse victims and their confrontations with Church leaders who covered-up and underreported abuse.
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