In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed it “necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted. … This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible,’ for the Church’s being and action.”
In the 10 years that he has been bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, Frank Dewane has been accused of bullying priests and laity as well as misuse of funds. The situation is so bad that 10 priests took the most unusual action of contacting the Papal Nuncio criticizing the bishop. Hundreds of letters and petitions have also been prepared by laity over the years seeking relief. What has been the response of the church hierarchy? Nothing. It is hard to be “co-responsible” when those in charge have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and mouths that do not speak.
On the other hand, over the course of his 40 years as a priest, Fr. Christopher Senk has been the subject of one recent complaint of misappropriation of funds by a wealthy and litigious family living over 1000 miles away from their family member. The member was cared for by Fr. Senk and by “co-responsible” parishioners. As a consequence of the charge against Fr. Senk, the civil authorities did an investigation and found the case to be without merit. End of story? No. Fr. Senk has been placed on leave. Bishop Dewane dug himself out from under the pile of complaints about his misdeeds to try to try to embarrass Fr. Senk and to portray himself as a voice of compassion, integrity, and reason. He has failed. Miserably.
Parishioners for Justice has taken Pope Benedict XVI call to be “‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action” to heart by mounting a defense for Fr. Senk. Fr. Senk is forbidden from seeking funds to mount his own defense, banned from activities at the parish he built, and proscribed from making any public statement. It is painful and unpleasant to battle elements of a Church that is beloved and is a source of life for those engaged in this defense. It is mystifying that this situation exists. Yet, Parishioners for Justice must seek a change in mindset, must not accept the designation of “collaborators” with the clergy, must accept the painful mantle of being co-responsible for the Church’s being and action. This is what the Church asks.