While you are reading this, in a hotel on the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the United States Bishops are gathered for their annual meeting. With his name tag prominently displayed on his chest proclaiming to those who might be unaware that he is the chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Frank Dewane works the assembled crowd of brother bishops schmoozing and flashing his pearly-white smile. This bishop, who on his arrival in the Diocese of Venice in Florida ten years ago proclaimed that he was just passing through on his way to bigger and better positions, now finds himself blessedly elected to a committee position of the U.S. Bishops which gives him a platform, an opportunity to speak frequently and publicly about issues of justice, to publicize his every word, to constantly send out reminders that he is available for more prestigious stations. It may be unfortunate that his allotted speech at this gathering of bishops is the last one on the agenda, after all the other reports have been given, after all the meals have been consumed, after all the alcohol has been shared, just before the bishops head back to their home diocese. Bishop Dewane nevertheless has an opportunity to be seen, to orate, to publicize his words, to proclaim himself to be the bishops’ chief advocate for domestic justice. What he really believes does not matter as long as he can polish his image and paint an illusion of being a strong advocate for justice among those who might advance his career. That picture of him with Pope Francis that tops his twitter page is intended to support the persona he wishes to project; it compensates for the articles on bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse that come up in response to a Google search on “Frank Dewane.” Frank Dewane has a chance, for 48 hours, to invigorate his career and plaster over his reputation.
Despite the posturing and preening that is occurring, the reality of Bishop Frank Dewane is painfully obvious to a parish which has suffered at his hands, day-to-day, over the past year. That reality is that the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice demonstrates little care about justice or truth. He passes on even the easiest opportunities to exercise the virtues of mercy and compassion that are the hallmarks of the pontificate of Pope Francis. No doubt that Frank Dewane will meet other bishops at the Marriott Hotel bar, or the fashionable McCormick & Schmick’s across the plaza, and speak of what a good job, for it is only a job, that he is doing in Venice, Florida. Over several drinks, he might even refer to problems he is having in the Diocese, problems other bishops can no doubt identify with for the human condition insures that they are no different in any part of the country.
What we can be sure of is that he will never mention the name of our pastor, Fr. Christopher Senk, for that presents him with the perplexing choice of either diminishing himself or lying in the presence of his brother bishops. If he could speak, he no doubt would tell them, even those who studied with Fr. Christopher and have known him through his priesthood, what a terrible priest Fr. Christopher is. He would spread the lies that continue to be the foundation of the Diocesan case against Fr. Christopher, using the slanderous drivel initially planted by members of the Knott family, the well-known and wealthy Baltimore family, no doubt familiar to many who live around the Inner Harbor.
When he finishes his cocktails with other princes of the Church, he will retire for the night and sleep well with his senses dulled. He will never give a thought to what he continues to do to one of his priests, Fr. Christopher Senk, while speaking the language of domestic justice. With no information that even approximates the truth, he has psychologically and spiritually tortured Fr. Christopher for over a full year now, refusing to speak with him or with concerned parishioners who have requested an audience with him and deserve better than his silence or ridicule at the hands of his hirelings. Bishop Dewane’s lack of actual facts, and reliance on what are colloquially referred to as “alternate facts” rather than untruths, has not kept him from spreading misinformation. He concluded from day one, prior to any investigation, that Fr. Christopher is so guilty of something – anything – that he must be stripped of his priesthood. One might think that knowing the truth that he refuses to acknowledge, the Bishop would be kept awake at night, but he will give no thought to Fr. Christopher, or to the many parishioners he has consistently ignored. Let them cry; let them toss and turn; let them be castigated. He is chair of the committee on domestic justice! Inflated with a sense of his own importance he will ignore the commands of the Gospel, or even worse, twist the words of the Gospel in a vile attempt to justify his actions, forgetting that love must always be primary and that his treatment of Fr. Christopher can never rightly be defended in light of that standard.
While tempted to lose hope, we refuse to renounce that virtue. We hope that persons more grounded in what the Gospel demands will recognize Bishop Dewane’s complaints against Fr. Christopher for what they are: frivolous and irresponsible with no foundation in the truth. While others might be confused into thinking that because of his position as Bishop he can do no wrong, we know Bishop Dewane is wrong. Many of us have lived and worshipped with Fr. Christopher for nearly fourteen years. He has counseled us, comforted us in time of need, supported us when we were down. He has celebrated our blessings with us and been one of those blessings; he has encouraged us to be generous even when we were reluctant to be so; and he has built a church and a faith community which would be the envy of many. Bishop Dewane, it is time to admit that you are grossly wrong. It is time for you to exercise domestic justice, not merely talk about it. Despite the hundreds of letters you have received, you clearly do not know our parish; and it is apparent that you have never known Fr. Christopher. When you return from your meetings, correct the wrong you have done. Exonerate Fr. Christopher and return our parish to the state it was in before you were misled into a heavy-handed intrusion. In doing so, you will truly be doing the work of a loving God, a God of mercy and compassion.