Dear Fellow Parishioners,
We write to you as representatives of a group of parishioners united in support of Father Christopher, our pastor. By now many of us have heard, unhappily, of the allegations made against Fr. Christopher,m our pastor and spiritual leader, by the family members of one of our former parishioners. Regrettably, these allegations resulted in a criminal investigation in Lee County that ended over a year ago with an affidavit by the investigating officer sworn in an attempt to prosecute Father Chris for financial impropriety with that former parishioner. Blessedly, the authorities decided not to prosecute. The Diocese of Venice obtained a copy of the investigation and used it as its sole basis to place Father Christopher on administrative leave and require him to vacate the rectory and parish until the matter is resolved. The Bishop expressly stated in his decree that Father Christopher is to speak to no one connected with the “investigation.” It would be difficult for Father Christopher to speak with anyone connected to the investigation since the Diocese has not conducted any investigation. It merely used the county’s investigation as its own and as a basis to move against our pastor.
Of course, we know that, this is necessary. The Church does have a duty to protect vulnerable persons. We know this because Father Christopher preached on this very point and given us examples of how to do this. Is it not ironic that the Diocese has not spoken with any parishioners of Saint Isabel who know Father Christopher and who know/knew the woman involved? In part, it is also deeply flawed because of the secrecy with which the Diocese acted. Father Christopher was summoned without any indication of what his meeting was to be about. Had Father Christopher not contacted a canon lawyer, he would have been blind-sided even more than he was. Even when Father Christopher insisted on knowing the purpose of the meeting, his request was denied. Unfortunately, this is an unhealthy patter that has repeated itself in numerous instances of which many of us are aware. We have watched this develop for several years and have been pained at the damage it has done not only to individual priests but to our Church, its reputation and our future. We assure you that more information will be disseminated as it becomes available. For now, the following is important.
The Bishop has told Father Christopher through his advocate that he is not permitted to seek or accept the assistance of his friends and parishioners in preparing a response and, if necessary, a defense. The purpose of this letter is to give as much transparency to this situation as possible. Father Christopher denies the allegations emphatically. To be specific, Father Christopher denies that he has manipulated, abused or financially taken advantage of anyone in his capacity as a priest and as our pastor.
We are only interested in what is just and in being faithful Catholics as we have been taught and modeled by Father Chris. We also know that few people have the resources, emotionally and financially, to respond or combat the notoriety that such allegations cause in our contemporary culture. Certainly, a priest, who does not enjoy the support of his bishop is even more handicapped. He is obliged because of his vocational commitment to obedience to his bishop. He is also obliged by his vocational commitment to never cause dissension in the community he serves. Because of these obligation, Father Christopher is particularly vulnerable due to the circumstances in which he finds himself. It is our duty to support him and to assist him in the search for the truth. We want to be respectful of the process. At this point, the process is seriously flawed and has put Father Christopher at a serious disadvantage. For instance, the release to the media was initially clearly skewed and appears to have been deliberately timed in its release to do the most damage to Father Christopher’s reputation. A response is necessary because Father Christopher is not able to at this point.
Please assist us in taking our turn to support our pastor as he has supported us on so many occasions. Additional and actionable information will be provided in a subsequent letter. Please look for and act upon it. Please pray for all concerned – our pastor, our parish, the persons who made these untrue allegations against Father Christ and for our diocese.
Jim Salzman, President
on behalf of St. Isabel’s Men’s Society
Francine Dale, President
on behalf of St. Isabel’s Women’s Guild