NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - A priest in the archdiocese of New York is pushing back against alleged mistreatment at the hands of Cdl. Timothy Dolan. Father Robert Repenning, a diocesan priest since 2001, spoke with Church Militant about purported discrimination he's endured at the hands of the cardinal-archbishop for his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of his time serving in Iraq.
"I don't know who is my accuser, so to speak. I don't even know what crime I've committed, so to speak," Repenning told Church Militant in an exclusive interview. "I liken it to living in a Kafka novel. And there's one Kafka novel, The Trial — it's like my situation is perfectly described in it in terms of not knowing what offense did I do."
Repenning, former pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Poughkeepsie, was told in a letter from Cdl. Dolan dated April 20, 2016, obtained by Church Militant, that "people who love you in the parish ... are very concerned about your health, which might be the consequences of the PTS you had previously told me you suffered from."
Dolan went on to suggest that the priest go on sick leave and receive help at St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania, a psychiatric treatment center for Catholic clergy.
"You are certainly free not to go," Dolan clarified. "I can hardly coerce you. But, I must be honest: I could not reassign you until I have professional assurances that you are well."
After several months of back and forth with the archdiocese, Repenning ultimately refused, citing the diagnosis of his doctors, who say Repenning is doing fine.
"My physicians at Castle Point all say that this 'concern' was misplaced and that the medical records show that concern is unwarranted," Repenning explained in an op-ed published Monday. "Why would I agree to go to a place for pedophiles, alcoholics and drug abusers among the clergy? Obedience plays no part here."
According to Repenning, no priest who has entered such a facility has ever returned to a parish assignment.
The injustice, the priest notes, is the uneven way justice is doled out in the archdiocese. "I look at some of the things that the archdiocese is a part of, spread across front pages of newspapers: dealing with finances, financial mishandlings, sexual misconduct, teachings of the Church that are kind of just tossed by the wayside," he observed, "and I'm thinking, and yet, Robert Repenning, parish priest, a priest who, if you read the paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, time and time again, whenever my name appears, the comments that are sent to the paper — overwhelmingly positive."
"It doesn't make sense, when up is down and down is up," he remarked. "That's a clear sign — one of my professors in the seminary used to say that the devil is at work, that God is not being allowed into the equation."
Repenning was removed from the parish on July 1. In a letter dated August 31, 2016, Dolan charged Repenning with ignoring "letters of complaint ... from parishioners (many of whom had fled the parish) thanking me for removing you, observing that you are a troubled man who needs help."
Repenning and the cardinal seemed to reach something of a detente in December, after friendlier correspondence indicating the priest's attempts to address his health and Dolan's willingness to reassign him to a new parish.
"Once we have assessment of your progress, we can discuss your next appointment, which I hope can occur in the next few months," Dolan said in a letter dated December 30, 2016.
The detente was short-lived, however, after Dolan assigned Fr. Anthony Mizzi-Gili, temporary administrator at Holy Trinity during Repenning's leave, as pastor — without ever informing Repenning.
"It is with much joy that I appoint you Pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Poughkeepsie," writes Dolan to Fr. Mizzi-Gili in a letter dated January 20, 2017. "This assignment becomes effective at noon on January 22, 2017 for [the] usual term of six years."
In his recent op-ed, Repenning lamented:
So, since July 1, I have been alienated from my parishioners, my faith and the very ministry that has touched many, many lives these past 16 years of my priesthood. For my loyalty to the Archdiocese, I have not been contacted by Cardinal Dolan since before Christmas. I have yet to be notified personally that I am not being returned to Holy Trinity! I have not been informed personally that my "sick leave" is being renewed for six additional months.
Repenning also noted that a petition with more than 1,000 signatures pleading with Cdl. Dolan to allow the priest to remain at his parish went "ignored."
"I've been shunned by the hierarchy that is supposed to be supported by the clergy," Repenning told Church Militant. "Cardinal Dolan can say through spokesmen that he loves me like a father, yet my own father would not treat me this way."
"This is the height of absentee fatherhood!" he continued. "The men that are supposed to be exercising their duties, they don't know what they're doing. They're not exercising their duties in a fatherly manner."
Referring to his parish, he told Church Militant, "Our family was ripped apart, no explanation given, a lot of lies told through the spokespeople. But no one can honestly look the people of Holy Trinity in the face and say the reason."
Although Repenning has looked at legal options, he explained that he has no legal recourse because of the Church's special status that makes it exempt from state interference in dealings with its clergy. The injustice he believes he's suffering at the hands of the archdiocese is why he feels "motivated to bring my story to the public."
"Otherwise, it's another injustice that's being shuffled off," he remarked. "It's another crime against the Church, because what's being done to me is probably being done to other priests, and someone has to make a stand and say, 'This has to stop.'"