Priest Seeks Justice in DC

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by Paul Murano  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 31, 2020   

Censured for speaking on clergy abuse cover-up

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RICHMOND, Va. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A priest sidelined by his bishop for criticizing clergy who were complicit in the sex abuse scandal is continuing his fight for justice.

Father Mark White, a priest for the diocese of Richmond, has been resisting attempts by Richmond's Bp. Barry Knestout to oust him as pastor of two parishes for speaking openly about the Church abuse crisis. On Friday, White travels to Washington, D.C. to ask the papal nuncio to intercede on his behalf.

White will not be silenced. White told Church Militant on Thursday his plan for the following day:

We have 35–40 traveling together tomorrow, that I know of — there may be additional cars in the caravan. We will meet some Washington archdiocese and Arlington diocese people at the nunciature. Not sure about a grand total — we'll see tomorrow. I'm guessing 45 or 50. But it could be more.

"We have not heard anything back from the nunciature as of this morning," he related.

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Bp. Barry Knestout

'Refrain From All Judgments'

In a standoff going back to April, Knestout served White an official letter requiring him to cease writing his blog or risk being ousted from his clerical duties in the diocese. At issue is a blog that White regularly wrote to his parishioners.

The "crime" for which White is being disciplined is communicating to his parishioners important issues within the Church; first and foremost, the culture of cover-up that is rampant in his diocese and elsewhere. But this has not gone over well with his bishop.

Knestout wrote an official letter to White, demanding he immediately leave his assignment as pastor of St. Joseph in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount. The "money quote," as White called it, was found in the heart of the letter:

The restoration of your priestly ministry will be dependent on your taking down your blog, as you were directed by decree, specifically:

Reverend Mark White is to cease from this moment in disseminating his opinions by means of any social media: in print, by audio, or video, or any digital means. ... Any previous posts are to be removed from all social media and the account is to be closed.

In the exercise of his pastoral office, Father White is to refrain from all assertions against, or judgments about, the hierarchy of the Church.

I have written critically, but always with devotion and love for the Church. I pray for better days.

White responded to Church Militant: "The pope says we stand for human rights, honesty and openness. I cannot betray our principles by giving in to this. I have written critically, but always with devotion and love for the Church. I pray for better days."

Appealing Upward

This elicited White's next move, which is to speak with a Vatican representative in Washington.

In June, Church Militant reported that the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy (CFC) refused to hear an appeal by Fr. White. In a response dated June 2, the CFC told White's advocate (who submitted the appeal) that White's petition was not submitted by the proper person and that the deadline has now expired for it to be resubmitted.

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"I have appealed to the Holy See that this stipulation is not legal, canonically or according to the natural law," White then told Church Militant. "I have yet to hear anything back on that appeal."

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Cdl. Beniamino Stella

In the same letter, White pleaded his case to Cdl. Beniamino Stella, prefect to the Congregation of the Clergy in the Vatican. White informed the prefect of his specific situation:

On May 6, shortly after Mr. Podhajsky first wrote to you, my Ordinary suspended my priestly faculties, again without any appropriate or just cause. … Bishop Knestout indicated that he will not restore my priestly faculties unless and until I remove my [blog] 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.

It is not uncommon for priests to maintain a blog to communicate with his parishioners and other interested people. White's blog, active since the summer of 2008, is one that has included a wide variety of religious topics. In 2018, White began expressing his outrage over the role of complicit clergy in the sex abuse crisis enveloping the Church. The title of some of these blog posts include: "Donald Wuerl Shameless Liar," "Pope Francis a Heretic?" and "The Opaque Transparency of the Diocese of Richmond."  

Backed by Catholics

White said Thursday he and a number of faithful Catholics are going to Washington on Friday to express a lack of satisfaction with how things have been handled. "We hope to manifest the widespread dissatisfaction among Catholics with the status quo of free-speech suppression and cover-ups," clarified White. 

I never thought I would wind up an unjustly suspended priest. I'm not perfect, but I clearly don't deserve this.

He sent a letter last Monday to the U.S. apostolic nuncio, Abp. Christophe Pierre, which included 134 signatures of Catholics seeking transparency and justice.

White takes it all with a touch of humor and remains in God's peace. While placing it all in God's hands, he's resigned to whatever His will is:

The best case scenario is the demonstration moves Bishop Knestout to reconsider his unjust actions, and he accepts my repeated requests to be left in peace to shepherd the parishes here and continue to write my blog. My repeated offers of compromise about his supervision of my blog remain on the table. Worst case scenario: nothing changes, and we all get soaked in a thunderstorm. But at least we tried to make our point.

"The situation has presented us with an opportunity to take a stand for something worth taking a stand for," he asserted. "Namely, openness and justice, when it comes to sexual abuse by clergy, especially bishops."

 "I never thought I would wind up an unjustly suspended priest. I'm not perfect, but I clearly don't deserve this," claimed White. "The Lord has a plan, though."

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