A CLOSER LOOK AT BISHOP DEWANE’S MOST RECENT LETTER TO A PARISHIONER
On May 1, 2018, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, Bishop Dewane took the time to respond to a letter sent by seasonal parishioners in support of Fr. Christopher Senk. The Bishop begins, as he always does, with feigned “best wishes” and “cordial greetings,” and states something almost profound were it not perceived as so empty: “Your loyalty to St. Isabel Parish is commendable as is your sincere affection for Fr. Senk.” But there are some serious problems with the rest of his letter, and we would like to highlight some of those here.
“It is hoped that you know that all involved in the case of Fr. Senk have done their best to hasten a prompt outcome. However, these are serious matters and so patience is needed to allow for a careful decision.”
It would be most polite to suggest that this is disingenuous. Let’s refresh everyone’s memories. We measure the pain and suffering inflicted on our parish from October 28, 2016. However, the Bishop was aware of this case for nearly two years before. It was during those two years, while in constant contact with the family of Marion McIntyre and with the local Sheriff’s Office, that Bishop Dewane made a conscious decision to not share knowledge of the civil investigation with Fr. Christopher. Indeed, in spite of an August 2015 meeting unjustifiably threatening Fr. Christopher with “insubordination,” Bishop Dewane never bothered to mention anything to Fr. Christopher about the ongoing investigation. By the time the decision was made to send this case to Rome, Bishop Dewane had already been in touch with the State and colluding with the Knott family for three years, and by the date of this letter has been preoccupied with this case for well over four years. A prompt outcome?
Someone with Bishop Dewane’s experience in Rome surely knew that making a decision to send the case to Rome, after no serious investigation of his own, would seriously prolong the process (as it has). We do not think that Bishop Dewane has ever hoped for a “prompt outcome.” Rather, his deliberate delaying of this case by sending it to Rome was the Bishop’s way of dragging the case out, hoping that everyone, accused and friends of the accused, would lose interest and drift away. It should be clear to anyone reading this that the quest for justice by hundreds of parishioners has not diminished.
We wish to comment on another of the Bishop’s frequently-used phrases, “serious matters,” a phrase he has been using since the beginning of this injustice. In his letter to parishioners of January 17, 2017, Bishop Dewane hints of “other issues,” and frequently speaks of “other matters,” as if to imply that there are salacious things which he dare not speak about. To say that doing such a thing is not Christian is an understatement. How can a Bishop who “cares about all those involved” lead the flock to imagine the worst things possible, especially in this post-pedophilia climate that we live in. Doing so is reprehensible.
Bishop Dewane’s call for “patience” is easy if you are in his position, where daily routines are largely unaffected, while the lives of Fr. Christopher and countless numbers of parishioners have been totally and painfully disrupted. It should come as no surprise that those whose lives are truly affected are running out of patience.
“The Diocese has had to be circumspect about what it says about the case. On the other hand, the defense has been free to publicly tell its side of the story. You ought to be aware of all that has been written in the local media about Fr. Senk’s version of events.”
It is true that there is a need for the Diocese to be “circumspect,” but it is also true that the Diocese has used the excuse of caution for making no comments whatsoever on things they should be willing to talk about. First and foremost, the Diocese could answer the question of why it decided to persecute Fr. Christopher with no investigation of their own, long after the civil/state case was dismissed? Assuming the decision to never speak with Fr. Christopher in order to seek the truth was deliberate, why did the Bishop make that decision? How did the Diocese decide to appoint a young priest, with little to no pastoral experience, to shepherd a parish so wounded and upset? These questions could have been answered, but instead they were ignored, along with other valid concerns voiced by parishioners. Although Bishop Dewane professes to truly care about St. Isabel parish, how can he sit idle while the parish continues to fall apart at the hands of the staff and the priest-in-charge?
Bishop Dewane’s contention that the defense has been “free to publicly tell its side of the story” is false, and he knows it is false. For months Fr. Christopher and his canon lawyer, Fr. David Deibel, observed the highest degree of discretion as directed, never speaking publicly about the case. To date, we continue to be unaware of all the “privileged” details of the case, but we are confident and convinced that Fr. Christopher is not guilty of the charges leveled against him by his bishop.
If Bishop Dewane’s use of “Fr. Senk’s version of events” is subtly suggesting that his version is untrue then perhaps the Bishop should have taken more time to hear that version from Fr. Christopher’s own lips.
“With courtesy, it is not possible to read the reports of civil investigators as acquitting Fr. Senk of wrong doing…. One could say that civil officials appeared to be frustrated they could not prosecute Fr. Senk for the wrongdoing (sp.) they believe he committed. Nevertheless, the Diocese was obligated to evaluate the actions of Fr. Senk in the context of the law of the Church.”
Having studied the entire case purchased from Lee County we are well aware of what was in the civil investigation, and what Bishop Dewane fails to mention is that the case was filled with lies and empty accusations. The primary accusation by the parishioner’s family which garnered the attention of the Lee County detectives and started this nightmare was a bold-faced lie, proven such when some six weeks into the investigation the “stolen rings” were discovered in the alleged victim’s condo. Desperate to keep their investigation going, more falsehoods were added to the mix by the parishioner’s family, and the inept Lee County detective continued to state as true things that were completely unsubstantiated. Had Bishop Dewane “carefully analyzed“ the evidence, he could have easily discovered the lies, if he truly wanted to see the truth.
What is troubling about the Bishop’s statement above, “that civil officials appeared to be frustrated they could not prosecute Fr. Senk for the wrongdoing (sp.) they believe he committed,” is that the Bishop is making a judgment call, offering a personal opinion which is not supported by available information. The County Attorney, even with all the lies used to confect this civil investigation, had to conclude that “there isn’t enough to establish exploitation” of a vulnerable adult. Further, in a letter from Sheriff Mike Scott dated February 23, 2017, Fr. Christopher was informed that justice cleared him of “the charge, closing the door on the accusations made.” Sheriff Scott acknowledged that he had no control over the Catholic Church and Bishop Dewane, but told Fr. Christopher that “our system cleared you, but the Church is exerting pressure as though you were found guilty. That is regrettable.”
Given the complexities of the civil investigation, we will grant that Bishop Dewane “was obligated to evaluate the actions of Fr. Senk in the context of the law of the Church.” That law speaks about fraternal correction; that law speaks about respecting the reputation of all parties. Bishop Dewane’s insertion of this whole matter into the public forum has not only caused unnecessary humiliation to Fr. Christopher, but it has also caused shame to the local and universal church. Bishop Dewane still has a chance to do what is right.
“You may take comfort in the fact that Fr. Senk was afforded the presumption of innocence and was able to make a vigorous defense.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth! From October 28, 2016, the day Fr. Christopher first had knowledge of a civil investigation, and the day he was placed on administrative leave, he was considered guilty. We are aware that on that day, with no previous conversations with his bishop, that paperwork was drawn up and presented/offered to Fr. Christopher to voluntarily surrender his priesthood. Is that part of a “presumption of innocence”? Has there been a moment when Fr. Christopher has not been treated like a criminal during the last nineteen months? We think not.
We are in hopes that this reflection puts into proper perspective one of Bishop Dewane’s most recent letters. The letter is printed in full on the following page, with the name of the recipient removed.