Bishop John Nevins: A Bishop of Compassion
Bishop John Nevins, the founding Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, was a kind and decent man. We had the privilege of knowing him as a dedicated bishop, but also as the delightful, warm man off of the altar. He celebrated the marriage of one of our sons, and over the years we enjoyed dinners together at both our home and his rectory. Bishop Nevins was a compassionate man, and deservedly became a beloved, compassionate bishop who loved and respected his priests. As a result, Bishop Nevins’ priests loved and respected him in return. With all that has happened to destroy the life and reputation of Father Christopher Senk, and devastate the St. Isabel parish community in the last ten months, it makes one wonder how things might have been handled differently by the late Bishop Nevins.
If Bishop Nevins had received letters of concern and accusations from the family of one of Father Christopher’s parishioner’s and friend, Bishop Nevins would have followed Canon Law and called Father Christopher in to discuss the matter. Working together with Father Christopher to find the truth, Bishop Nevins would have discovered that the accusations were false and Father Christopher was innocent of the changes against him. Taking the time to discuss the situation with Father Christopher, Bishop Nevins would have understood the relationship Father Christopher had with the parishioner in question and her clarity of mind. As a shepherd to his priests, Bishop Nevins would have supported Father Christopher and believed in him, instead of believing the accusing family without talking to Father Christopher and trying to understand the truth. If Bishop Nevins had still been our bishop in 2014 when all of this horrible situation began, we would not be facing the inconceivable problem we have today.
Bishop Nevins was loved and respected by the priests of his diocese because he was a genuine bishop. He was a bishop that knew his priests, and a bishop whose priests enjoyed getting to know him. Bishop Nevins knew Father Christopher and would never have accepted the accusations against him without first protecting and believing in his priest while a thorough investigation was discreetly done. Bishop Nevins would never have kept in communication with the accusing family and authorities, while only making a brief and vague phone call to Father Christopher regarding what he would have known to be a serious situation. The priests and people of this diocese who knew Bishop Nevins know that he would never have blindsided Father Christopher with a meritless, dismissed case. The priests and people of this diocese know that Bishop Nevins never would have provided the local media with a press release humiliating Father Christopher and destroying his reputation without talking to Father Christopher or conducting his own investigation first.
Bishop Nevins was in touch with the priests and people of this diocese. He cared for them. Knowing them, he tried to do what was best for them. It was Bishop Nevins who handpicked Father Christopher for St. Isabel Church on Sanibel. Bishop Nevins knew enough about us that he recognized what kind of priest we wanted and needed. Bishop Nevins personally chose Father Christopher because he knew Father Christopher would provide the thought provoking, uplifting, inspirational homilies we desired. It was no accident that Father Christopher came to St. Isabel, it was a “perfect match” created through the efforts of Bishop Nevins. Bishop Nevins would never have sent an immature priest who wanted to return to pre-Vatican II. Bishop Nevins knew us better than that. He would never have sent us an inexperienced novice who lectures us and merely reads us a history lesson. Bishop Nevins respected us more than that.
Bishop Nevins cared for his priests and the people of this diocese. He would never have caused the upset that has demolished the wonderful parish community that Father Christopher nurtured and encouraged us to build. He would never have ignored our cries for help and dismissed our invitations to talk with us in these heartbreaking times. We would never have felt it necessary to withhold our financial contributions just to get Bishop Nevins’ attention.
All of what has happened in the last ten months could have been avoided. All of it; Father Christopher’s pain and suffering, the pain and destruction at St. Isabel Church; all of it would never have happened if our current bishop would have done what common decency and Canon Law dictated. It is truly incredible and dumbfounding to think that one single conversation could have avoided all of this pain and misery. If the bishop had simply had a discussion with Father Christopher when the Knott family contacted him in 2014, as he was obligated to do, NONE of this would ever have had to happen!
What a different place we would all be in today if Bishop Nevins was still our bishop. It bears repeating that Bishop Nevins loved and respected his priests and the people of this diocese, and in return the priests and people loved and respected him. This August 26th will mark the third anniversary of Bishop Nevins’ passing. I miss this compassionate, loving shepherd now more than ever before. God bless you, Bishop Nevins for the wonderful bishop you were for us. Watch over us, and help us now as you did when you were with us.
Jim and Katherine Gullo