The Plight of Fr. Christopher Senk
In a very short time we will be entering a new calendar year. For some fourteen months the pastor of Saint Isabel Church on Sanibel Island, Florida, Fr. Christopher Senk, has endured treatment by his bishop which is nothing short of torture. Fr. Christopher has been falsely accused by a family of total strangers, and has been investigated, without his knowledge by county and state authorities. He has been betrayed by a parish staff who are motivated by pure self-interest, separated from the bulk of his worldly possessions, and viciously attacked by the chief shepherd of his Diocese, the one person who should have had the care of Fr. Christopher as a top priority.
For more than a year now, Fr. Christopher’s life has been put on hold while Bishop Frank Dewane and his minions worked hard to prove things to be true, that were blatantly false. The Bishop had surely expected, after craftily informing the press of the false accusations against Fr. Christopher on October 29, 2016, to have people coming out of the woodwork, accusing Father Christopher of all sorts of things, things often hinted at by the Bishop himself, but that did not happen. They no doubt hoped that with the confiscation of his cell phone and computers they would find damning evidence that would prove financial impropriety, or worse, some kind of moral transgression. Sadly for them, nothing of the sort exists. On the contrary, hundreds of parishioners came forward supporting Fr. Christopher, most taking the time to write to the Bishop and tell him how absolutely wrong he was. The Bishop chose not to listen, or, even worse, blandly referring to “other things” which needed to be dealt with, further maligning the character of the pastor that we know and love. The few parishioners chosen to be interviewed by Diocesan staff and paid mercenaries, during their so-called investigation, were truthful and loyal to Fr. Christopher, in spite of the deliberate manipulation by those performing the interviews.
Materials from both sides, we are told, were sent to Rome for adjudication in June 2017, and there was little expectation that much, or anything, would be done over the summer. But as the weeks and months pass, and Fr. Christopher’s life still hangs in the balance, the silence coming from the Diocese and Rome is deafening. Should not ordinary decency demand that people at least be informed that the process is progressing, that the case is being weighed carefully and thoroughly? For while Fr. Christopher has been personally suffering over the last fourteen months, hundreds of parishioners are also suffering, and our pain seems to increase with each passing day.
What has happened to Fr. Christopher cannot be separated from what is happening to our once vibrant and loving parish, for it too appears to be under attack. The loving leadership of Fr. Christopher has been replaced by a malevolent triumvirate. Under the leadership of the Bishop and his Chancellor, a power-hungry office manager, and an inexperienced “priest in residence,” everything that made St. Isabel parish the envy of all who visited, is slowly disappearing. Some of our friends are poised to put their homes on the market, something they never would have contemplated had the “church situation not gone so badly.” The friends who occasionally still go to St. Isabel describe it as sad and depressing, and other parishioners have found spiritual nourishment in more welcoming non-Catholic environments. The recent forced resignations of the parish’s music ministry has only added to the pain already felt, and is an example of how “absolute power, corrupts absolutely.” The priest in residence even had the audacity to lie to the congregation from the pulpit, with regards to the unexpected departure of our wonderfully talented and also loved music ministers. What’s next…barbed wire fences?
The destruction of our beloved St. Isabel parish is a story that the local or national press should be interested in, but nobody is willing to take it on. Those in control will blame everyone but themselves for the sad state of affairs. They will bully and intimidate some of us into submission; they will add more locks and security cameras and insist that the security is all for our welfare, all the while suggesting that those of us who confront injustice are “crazies”. While speaking about “mercy and joy” they deliberately create a “them and us” atmosphere stating in the most recent bulletin our exercise of mercy and joy will “extinguish the fire of hatred and fear that will never beat us.” Where is that “hatred and fear” truly evident? The powers-that-be know nothing of mercy, and they are responsible for stripping every last vestige of joy from the beautiful Church Fr. Christopher worked so hard to rebuild after Hurricane Charley.
We pray that we will all be resolute in our desire to see justice done! We pray that Fr. Christopher will be exonerated and have his reputation restored. We pray that our parish may find healing, and the joy and peace which was once so much a part of our everyday lives. We miss our pastor and our church. The time to right this profound wrong is long overdue!
Leslie & Joe Anding
Parishoners, St. Isabel Church