Priest-blogger on sex-abuse cover-up resists bishop’s order to leave parishes
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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia, April 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A priest whose bishop removed him from his pastoral duties at two rural parishes ostensibly due to blog entries critical of the Church’s handling of the clergy sex scandal has insisted on remaining at his post until established Church law has run its course.
After Archbishop Viganò published his testimony about Pope-Francis covering-up for sex-abuser McCarrick in August, 2018, Fr. Mark White of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia began using his blog to spotlight the ineffectiveness of the Church in dealing with the sexual abuse scandal, especially regarding the Church’s handling of the McCarrick revelations. He was, at times, critical of Pope Francis, and sometimes used infelicitous language when pointing out the incompetence as well as the cover-up he witnessed in the Church’s hierarchy.
Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout ordered Fr. White to shut down his blog in November 2019, and White obliged.
When the coronavirus pandemic brought an end to public Masses and sacramental life in general last month, Fr. White sought permission from Bishop Knestout to resurrect his blog as a means of staying in touch with parishioners who were now isolated from the sacraments and from each other.
I wrote “to the bishop … with my canonical arguments and asked that, especially considering the imminent need we priests will have to communicate over the internet, he formally remove his threat to remove me if I publish my blog,” White said at the time.
After receiving no response from Knestout, White, in what amounts to defiance of his bishop’s standing order, went ahead and reinstituted his blog, which he used to share his homilies and past musings on current events such as the untimely death of basketball great, Kobe Bryant.
His action ultimately prompted Knestout to inform him on Easter Monday that he was being removed as pastor of both Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Rocky Mount and Saint Joseph’s in Martinsville and reassigned as a prison chaplain, necessitating a move two hours away.
At that point, working in conjunction with his canon lawyer, Fr. White asserted his right to ask his bishop to follow the procedure for removal of a pastor as prescribed in canon law.
A bishop cannot remove a pastor “without following a detailed and non-negotiable process defined by canon law,” according to a 2018 article by Catholic News Agency editors, J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon, both of whom are canon lawyers.
“During this whole process, the bishop can neither remove the pastor nor appoint a replacement,” they wrote.
“I don’t intend to go anywhere until the canonical process has run its full course,” White told the local newspaper, the Martinsville Bulletin, on Easter Monday evening. “As a sitting pastor, I have the right to recourse before being removed.”
Following his appeal to the bishop to follow canonical guidelines, Fr. White and parishioners were surprised when Episcopal Vicar Fr. Kevin Segerblom ––who had been delegated to temporarily oversee the Martinsville and Rocky Mount parishes–– showed up at St. Francis of Assisi parish on Saturday a little while before a live-streamed Mass was about to begin, informing him that he, not White, would be conducting Mass.
Not long before Mass was to begin, Bishop Knestout also showed up to concelebrate with Segerblom.
In the end, all three concelebrated the Mass performed before a smartphone and broadcast via Facebook. The Mass can be viewed here.
“Father White and I are at odds,” Bishop Knestout said during his homily.
“What is this about?” he asked rhetorically.
“Some say it’s about the abuse scandal, and my desire to tamp it down,” said Knestout. “I don’t believe that’s the case.”
“I believe it’s about communion,” he declared, “about a communion that needs to and should be established and exist between any bishop and priests.”
Knestout went on to recount that while he was vicar general in the Archdiocese of Washington where Fr. White was ordained, and later as Bishop of Richmond, the two had a history of friction where “injuries occurred.” As such, he suggested that the ongoing drama might be based in an “old wound that was never really dealt with.”
Bishop Knestout’s message did not sit well with some of Fr. White’s parishioners.
The next day, at St. Joseph’s where he was preparing for a live-stream Sunday Mass, dozens of cars converged in the parking lot ––horns honking and many sporting homemade signs–– as a show of support for Fr. White.
A year-and-a-half-long drama
LifeSiteNews reported on the long and complex drama between Bishop Knestout and Fr. White up and until mid-February in a February 20 article titled, “US bishop orders priest to delete blog criticizing Church’s sex abuse cover-up.”
Since then, tensions have escalated and show no signs of abating in the foreseeable future. In late March, both Bishop Knestout and Fr. White published letters addressing the situation from their own perspectives.
“For months, you may have read his written public communications or his words within the secular media,” began Bishop Knestout’s March 19 letter, sent to the members of Fr. Mark White’s two parishes and also published as an op-ed in the local newspaper. “For months, I have chosen to remain silent in the hopes of remedying the situation internally. But, relying on the Holy Spirit, I feel a pressing need to address my concerns with you as members of this diocese entrusted to my care.”
For more than a year, in fact since the fall of 2018, in my judgment Father 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.
This has occurred on his website through a series of blog posts under the general heading of “the McCarrick case, the PA Grand Jury Report, the February 2019 Vatican Meeting, and the Scandal in general” beginning (according to Father White’s own index) from Nov. 17, 2018 to Oct. 3, 2019.
Numerous efforts urging Father White to refrain from inflammatory comments or “posting” on his blog have resulted in his attempt to publicly ridicule or embarrass his bishop. (See, for example, Sept. 20, 2018 and Nov. 13, 2019 now republished on his website in direct contradiction to my instruction to him of Nov. 21, 2019).
In following Father White’s blog postings, if one only considers headlines, for example —“Pope Francis a Heretic” [May 3, 2019]; or “The Opaque ‘Transparency’ of the Richmond Diocese” [Jan. 31, 2019], or “The College of Lying Cowards” [May 24, 2019] — it is clear Father White is publishing headlines that shock and sensationalize in order to draw attention.
As is evident simply from the dates given in Father White’s own index, my efforts to speak to him or dissuade him from the inflammatory and contemptuous comments have been proven fruitless as seen in a few of the following quotations from the same blog:
Feb. 21, 2019: “I despise everyone in the pope’s Roman meeting. I despise them all.” [bold print in the original];
Feb. 25, 2019 [headline]: “Count the Holy See among the abusers”;
[after McCarrick’s dismissal]: “So, if the reigning pope had any real integrity as an honest judge, he would have recused himself altogether from the McCarrick case” […]”these days dangerous, dishonest Mafiosi run the one, true Church of Jesus Christ” [bold text in the original].
Fr. White sent a letter dated March 23 to members of his two parishes, responding to what Knestout had said a few days earlier.
“I want you to know that I wrote Bishop Knestout six days before his letter to you. In my letter to him, I discussed the state of affairs with my weblog. He received my letter that day, Friday, March 13. He has yet to respond to my letter, or even acknowledge it,” wrote White.
“Second, there is a significant factual inaccuracy in the bishop’s letter to you. He writes that he invited me ‘to meet with him privately,’ yet each time I ‘refused or demurred,’” asserted White. “This is not true.”
Fr. White went on to challenge Bishop Knestout’s recounting of the interactions between the two:
In early September of 2018, the bishop ordered me to remove a post from my blog, and I complied. That led to a written dialogue, which you can read at https://frmarkdwhite.wordpress.com/bishop-knestout-letter-to-parishioners/ . On September 22, 2018, I e-mailed the bishop, suggesting that we meet at the upcoming annual priests’ convocation to discuss his concerns. (I have my e-mail to him in my computer archive.) He never replied. At the convocation, he announced that his appointment time-slots were all filled.
I heard nothing more on the matter for over a year. On November 21, 2019, the bishop came unexpectedly to Rocky Mount. We met in my office there that day. He ordered me to remove my blog from the web entirely. I complied. I asked for specifics about his objections, so that we could discuss the matter in detail. He declined to discuss anything with me.
On December 14, I wrote to the bishop, asking him to reconsider. I proposed a means by which we could resolve the matter. The bishop responded by proposing that we meet in early February of this year. I arranged the meeting with the bishop’s secretary. Then I wrote back, once again expressing my hope that we could discuss the specifics of his concerns with my weblog.
Then, on February 5, 2020, I traveled with two companions to meet with the bishop in his office in Richmond. (I mentioned this second meeting to you at Mass on January 12, and again on February 9.)
Once again, we asked the bishop to identify blog posts he found offensive, so that we could discuss them, and I could make corrections. And once again, the bishop declined to have such a discussion.
The bishop’s letter to you provides titles of posts and quotes from them. He provides no context. All of these posts involve fairly long and complex subject matter, and all of them have a careful line of argument. In his letter to you, the bishop simply ignores the issues at hand.
In my blog, I have tried to engage the facts about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. We can trust God to lead us forward, when we live in the truth. By writing out my point-of-view on my blog, I have opened my mind and heart to you. I will continue to do so. I think that’s the best way, the most truly Catholic and Christian way. I believe open and honest self-expression offers the path to true harmony and unity in our Church.
Bishop Knestout has helped us all with his letter. He has given us an opportunity to reflect on the state of our beloved Church. He has reminded us about Christian obedience: namely, that we must always seek the will of Christ, and follow it with unsparing love and devotion.
It’s been a little over a week since Fr. White received the news from Bishop Knestout that he had been abruptly reassigned. He says he hopes that the bishop will follow canon law in dealing with his appeal to remain as pastors at St. Joseph’s and St. Francis of Assisi.
“But he’s given me no reason to believe that that’s what he’s going to do,” White told Crux recently. “I believe his next move is to not cooperate in the removal of a pastor procedure but to initiate a dismissal procedure based on me not obeying him.”
“And I hope that I will get justice in that process, but part of what I’ve been writing about is the fact that the quest for justice by victims in the Church has been almost impossible to see through in the end,” White continued.
“I want it to be clear that I want to be an obedient priest. All I want to do is do my duty as a priest, I don’t want to be a hero,” he added. “I’m resisting the bishop at this moment to guarantee that we follow the rules properly.”