Parishioner sentiments on the ill-conceived and groundless campaign being perpetrated by Bishop Dewane against the pastor of St. Isabel church, Father Christopher Senk, are well documented in numerous letters and petitions to the Diocese, letters to local newspapers, and postings on the ‘Parishioners for Justice’ website. In addition, sworn testimony has been provided by many parishioners and others with first-hand knowledge to counter claims of any priestly misconduct.
However, as equally devastating as the Bishop’s vendetta against Father Senk is the destructive impact it is having on our parish. What used to be a place of joy with a deep sense of belonging, generosity and community in Christ has deteriorated to the point where these characteristics are rarely evident. Parishioners used to leave Mass at St. Isabel feeling not only spiritually enriched but joyful and motivated to emulate Christ’s example in their daily lives. Today it has become a place where the historical context of the epistles and gospel appears to take precedence over communicating their impact in helping us lead better lives as contemporary Christians. And a place where the dwindling number of parishioners who have not already migrated to other parishes or Christian churches in reaction to the bishop’s actions are periodically chided, likely Diocesan-driven, for daring to question or not conform to the party line.
Compounding the issue is the reality that parishioner attempts to rebuild that sense of belonging and mutual caring are constantly being met with administration-imposed obstacles. Parish and Diocesan administration seem to have forgotten that we are the church, not the physical buildings and certainly not them. Without the faithful there would be no church. They are there to support us, not rule over or dictate to us. They seem to have conveniently forgotten that construction of the current church buildings, over which they are so rigorously placing more and more controls, would have been impossible if it were not for the incredible generosity of the St. Isabel parish family during Fr. Senk’s tenure.
Church administration, whether it be Diocesan or local, seems dedicated to exerting ever more stringent limits on access to St. Isabel parish facilities and, thus, impede the ability of parishioners to socialize, pray or worship together. A recent example – some parishioners were advised that they could not hold a scheduled communion service on Memorial Day because no staff member was on hand with a church key and alarm code to provide access. It is, at best, patently insulting to all parishioners to believe that there isn’t a single one of our number judged sufficiently dependable to undertake this responsibility.
This travesty of justice has gone on far too long. It’s well past time for Bishop Dewane to accept the overwhelming evidence in Father Senk’s favor and return him to his rightful place as our pastor. It is then, and only then, that those who have left will return, healing will begin, and St. Isabel will re-emerge as the caring, generous, motivated, joyous and Christ-centered parish that it, for so long, had been.