US bishop orders priest to delete blog criticizing Church’s sex abuse cover-up
MARTINSVILLE, Virginia, February 20, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic priest who joined Archbishop Viganò’s call for Pope Francis’ resignation over the McCarrick scandal has been ordered by his bishop to take down his popular blog and to refrain from commenting on social media.
Fr. Mark White serves as pastor of two rural parishes in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He used 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.
The drama began on November 2, 2019, when Bishop Barry Knestout and Vicar General Michael Boehling showed up unexpectedly as the noon Mass concluded at White’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
Fr. White said that during the twenty-minute meeting, Bishop Knestout “ordered me, in no uncertain terms, to keep silent. To remove my blog from circulation entirely, and to publish nothing further–not even my Sunday homilies.”
In that same meeting, White said Knestout “sternly threatened to remove me as pastor here if I did not silence myself.”
In a subsequent meeting with Bishop Knestout earlier this month, it seemed as if a truce had been reached and that Fr. White’s job no longer hung in the balance. On the following day, however, two priest officials of the Diocese of Richmond appeared at Saint Francis in Rocky Mount. Episcopal Vicar Fr. Kevin Segerblom and Vicar Forane Msgr. Sal Annonuevo read a statement to White confirming that he would be permitted to post his homilies on the parish websites, while continuing to be prohibited from otherwise commenting on his blog or social media.
When Fr. White was asked by the pair to sign off on the statement that had been read to him without being allowed to actually read it first, he refused. He told LifeSite he couldn’t be sure that what he was agreeing to in writing was what he had heard.
The Diocese of Richmond issued a statement regarding Fr. White, claiming that it supports priests in “speaking about the impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”
“Bishop Barry C. Knestout has supported and continues to support the priests of our diocese in speaking about the impact of the sexual abuse crisis with their parishioners to help heal the Body of Christ. All communications should be expressed with charity, further the Gospel message and respect the dignity of all individuals. Bishop Knestout expects all clergy to express themselves in a manner that is respectful through their preaching, teaching, catechesis, and counseling within their parish communities,” the diocese stated.
“For priests who may be struggling themselves with the deep pain of the crisis or who are still trying to come to terms with it and with the pain it has brought survivors, the faithful and them personally, Bishop Knestout’s door is open to provide assistance to help them and to accompany them along the way,” it added.
Fr. White told LifeSiteNews that he “never wanted to become some kind of martyr for free speech in the Church at the expense of Bishop Barry Knestout.”
“I believe in the Church, I believe in the hierarchy, I believe in Apostolic succession,” he continued. “I’m not really a rebel, but by the same token, the unanswered questions and the lack of openness that I’ve been writing about is real, and so this kind of strife is inevitable until we get some kind of honesty.”
Fr. White’s 2018 ‘Open Letter to the Pope’
Fr. White’s blog seems to have first caught Bishop Knestout’s attention in early September 2018 when Fr. White posted an “Open Letter to the Holy Father,” a week after Archbishop Viganò’s testimony had been published.
In his September 1 posting, Fr. White said, “This summer our Church has suffered a public-relations catastrophe,” that “has wounded the hearts of the faithful sons and daughters of the Church.” He begged Pope Francis to “establish a procedure for selecting at random parish priests from around the world, to take the places of the Cardinal electors in the Sistine Chapel. Then vacate the Chair of Peter.”
“You wrote the letter without having the courtesy to consult with me about such a controversial demand,” wrote Bishop Knestout in a September 12 letter to White. “I found this disrespectful and not in keeping with the ecclesial communion that you and all priests in the diocese would ideally share with me as your bishop.”
When Fr. White met with Bishop Knestout recently after having required him to remove his entire blog from public view, the Bishop justified his directive saying that White had employed “implied” curse words, and had included numerous insults in his blog.
Fr. White and two parishioners who were present at the meeting felt the Bishop didn’t fully explain himself, but surmised that the “insults” he might have been referring to included posts such as one where he had essentially called Washington, DC’s Cardinal Wuerl a liar for having claimed he was unaware of McCarrick’s history of predatory behavior.
Evidence proved that Wuerl had indeed lied about his knowledge of sex abuse allegations against McCarrick.
The implied curse words cited by Bishop Knestout are found in a November 8, 2019 post titled “Cowards Ad Limina,” as the first group of U.S. bishops arrived in Rome to meet with Pope Francis. Here’s the portion in question:
We American Catholics want to take a step forward, towards restored confidence in the integrity of our institution. That step involves one thing happening. The See of Peter revealing, in full, everything they knew, and when, about the evil little Irish-American leprechaun.
I ask you, dear reader: How does an American bishop–who ostensibly pretends to care about his faithful people back home–how does he not get off the airplane at Fiumicino and immediately do this:
Kneel at the Apostles’ tombs. Walk into the pope’s parlor. Kiss the Ring of the Fisherman. Then ask, “Where is the g.d. McCarrick Report, Your Holiness?! WTF? You are fricking killing us. What in the actual f?” (Or something to that effect.)
But these feminized cowards in miters will do no such thing. Instead they will tweet things like, “Oh, mother, bring me my aqua vitae! I just got to meet the Successor of Peter! And he has such twinkly eyes! And amazing jowls. So cute! I just love him!”
…I, for one, object to our bishops going to Rome solely to fan-girl the pope. I think we deserve more serious shepherds than this.
The post echoed the frustrations of rank and file Catholics across the nation regarding prelates who don’t seem to share their urgency in dealing with clergy sex abuse in general and the Holy See’s apparent reluctance to make public it’s report on McCarrick.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Bishop Barry Knestout hoping to receive an explanation about his actions regarding Fr. White, including what specific harm he detects in White’s writings and whether his silencing of White was based on his own initiative or compelled by someone at the USCCB or the Vatican.
Deborah Cox, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Richmond, responded, saying that LifeSiteNews’ questions are related to personnel matters and “we simply are unable to comment.”
Fr. White’s presence on the internet began in 2008 when he started posting the texts of his homilies. He set about using that platform to express his opinions about the Church’s fumbling in dealing with clergy sex abuse. This happened after the revelations about then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick emerged in the summer of 2018. This was followed, in rapid succession, by the release of the massive Pennsylvania grand jury report exposing decades of clerical sex abuse and cover up by bishops, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony asserting that senior prelates had covered up McCarrick’s alleged sexual abuse of seminarians and priests.
Fr. White told The Martinsville Bulletin that the weight of all that created the “impetus – a psychological need in order to preserve my own faith to study the whole thing as carefully as I possibly could.”
The stunning revelations hit Fr. White particularly hard because it was the powerful, revered then-Cardinal McCarrick who had ordained him in 2003.
“For those of us who were in the McCarrick orbit, who were seminarians under him, ordained by him, worked with him,” the revelations created “a real crisis of faith,” said White.
“Up in New Jersey it was more widely known by rumor what he had been doing,” recounted White, but when McCarrick came to Washington, DC, “he said to us, ‘You may have heard rumors about me and they are not true.”
“And we believed him,” continued White, “and so the sense of betrayal by the institution is crushing.
“It’s been a dark night of faith for us,” said White of many of the men McCarrick ordained with whom he remains in contact.
Speaking for parish priests in general, White said, “This institution has not been honest with us. And for us to be on the front lines of dealing with [the burgeoning scandal] without any support behind us, without any really honest effort to tell the truth about all this, is really hard.”
In one of his blog postings, White addressed Bishop Knestout: “You asked me to apologize to Pope Francis. For what? For loving him enough to point out that we have reached a dangerous impasse? If the full truth about McCarrick does not come out, then how will any of us who have been touched by his ministry recover?”
“You write that I have done you wrong by ‘addressing issues that directly affect’ you,” wrote Fr. White to Knestout in another blog posting. “Have you yourself suffered reprisals from the Holy See because of what I, one of your priests, has written? If so, I am sorry. But you can hardly identify me as the villain in that scenario.”
Response from the public: Fr. White is a hero
When it became clear last week that Bishop Knestout hadn’t budged and was not interested in compromise of any sort, members of Fr. White’s parishes and other observers were angered.
Siobhan O’Connor, the former executive assistant to Bishop Richard Malone who blew the lid off a long-standing pattern of covering up clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo, said on Facebook:
The Bishop of Richmond should be following Father White’s lead. Instead, he *silenced* him. Outrageous.
The bad priests have gotten so much attention, but there ARE good ones out there. And even brave ones - like Father White.
Michael Hichborn, President of the Lepanto Insitute who also resides in Virginia, said it was a “shame that Bishop Knestout appears to be going back on his words from 2018, when he said, regarding the sex abuse crisis, that the Church 'must confess its sins and express contrition for what it has done and failed to do.”
“In the same meeting, he decried Church leadership, who he said ‘was not listening to the cries of those who have suffered,'” he added.
“Those words ring hollow now that he is actively engaged in silencing a priest who has given hope and a voice to many faithful Catholics trying to wrap their heads around the crisis,” continued Hichborn in a statement to LifeSiteNews.
“For one who made such fanfare about atonement, he is now showing that he is really no different than the rest of the bishops who preferred silence to facing the hard truths," he added.
Joseph Graf, a member of St. Francis of Assisi’s parish council, said that Father White “asked the three essential questions that every bishop, every priest and every Catholic should ask themselves, namely: What do (did) you know? When did you know it? And what did you do about it?”
“In my opinion Fr. Mark did the only thing a person of conscience can do and that is to start sharing what he knew,” Graf told LifeSiteNews in an email. “My claim is that if any bishop had ever acted responsibly when he became aware of this, the abuse would have been limited to sporadic instances. The abuse became pervasive and prolonged because those in authority refused to deal with it.”
Graf noted that as Fr. Mark became more aware, as more details emerged, he became more pointed in his blog. “I can imagine him saying to himself, ‘They must have known,’ and ‘Are they lying?’ In his blog he started asking [the] essential questions and sharing what he knew.”
“The tone of the blog did shift in intensity,” said Graf. “The language became more pointed. I don’t remember any actual accusations being made. But the facts that were presented were plenty accusatory in themselves.”
“I am angered that this has happened,” Richard Long, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi, told The Martinsville Bulletin. “[Father Mark's] blog created healthy dialogue among Catholics and the public. Yes, he wrote about difficult topics. Like the sex abuse scandal in the church.”
“It was meaningful enough to actually keep me in the Church, when I considered leaving the Church, because of the abuse crisis,” continued Long.
“The desire of many bishops to silence people, especially a priest like Father Mark, is part of what led to such an abomination within the Catholic Church,” he said. “Sweeping any of it under the rug will lead to future abuses. Conversation is necessary for healing within the church to occur.”
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