Dear People of Justice,
I received a text late last night from a friend who is actively committed to the fight for justice for Fr. Christopher Senk, pastor of St. Isabel Catholic Church in Sanibel. She had attended a presentation where the subject of Princess Diana and her place in the pop culture of our times was discussed. Apparently, there was emphasis not on Diana’s flaws but on her decision to use her celebrity to further causes seeking to improve the lives of thousands of people. Because of her ability to use her notoriety for good, Diana’s premature death was and is still mourned by millions. She is mourned not only by those who are fascinated by royalty but also by those who regret the loss of a person willing to stand up for what is right. Diana suffered from the relentless scrutiny of a rumor-driven press. Constant headlines and countless television “teasers” portrayed her as everything from a loving mother smothered by her royal obligations to an immoral opportunist taking advantage of her circumstances. The tragic end of her young life didn’t end all of the speculation, but it did make way for her to be mourned and celebrated for her personal qualities.
You may, at first, wonder why my friend would relate her reactions to a presentation about Princess Diana to our struggle to restore St. Isabel Parish as a welcoming and enriching part of Catholic life on Sanibel island. I think I know why.
The contrast between good and evil, whenever encountered, forces us to examine its appearance in all aspects of our lives.
The talk of good works and of a person’s determination to use her position in life for the greater good caused my friend to think of Fr. Christopher and his more than 40 years of service to the Church and the multitude of people he has encountered as a spiritual guide. The talk of perseverance despite false accusations reminded her of the past six months when truth has taken a back seat to innuendo. The talk of mourning a lost champion of justice made my friend want more people to be aware of our loss. She had reached a point which many of us have experienced since late October: complete and utter disgust at a bishop’s ruthless decision to display his power for the purpose of destroying a faithful priest that has also collaterally damaged a community of believers.
The overriding point is that everything that has happened since Bishop Frank Dewane placed Fr. Christopher on administrative leave and threw our parish into a sequence of missteps, misunderstandings, and mixed messages pales in comparison to the fact that an innocent man has been denied free access to his possessions, denied his right to speak out to defend himself and, most importantly, denied his right to fulfill his vocation. Furthermore, he has been threatened that the consequences of the bishop’s actions are irrevocable. He has been mercilessly pressured to give up his life’s work, stop fighting for truth, passively give assent to the bishop’s will, and go quietly away, never again sharing his gifts with the Church and Her people.
I believe that the absurdity of such a potential loss is what caused my friend to express her frustration to me late in the night. The thought that someone’s vocation can be ended by an unjust man in an unjust system is unacceptable. There is no evidence that substantiates or justifies the actions taken by the bishop. My friend is right. Everyone who believes in justice should be mourning, not just for the moment but also for the lasting impact of what we have experienced. The situation deserves it. Fr. Christopher deserves it. Nothing less than full exoneration of Fr. Christopher is acceptable. Evil must not triumph.
The striking difference between the Princess Diana phenomenon and the St. Isabel Parish situation is that our ending has not been written yet. There is still time and opportunity to reverse the wrong. There is an obvious answer. Return Fr. Christopher to our parish, restore our community, and let the healing begin. For Fr. Christopher, for the people of St. Isabel, and for Bishop Frank Dewane.