Parishioners For Justice Deliver Letter To Prelates At Spring Meeting
After 19 months of unsuccessful efforts to address concerns over alleged abuse of authority by their bishop, frustrated members of Parishioners for Justice took their disputes with Venice Bishop Frank Dewane to prelates attending the Spring Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Thursday, June 14 in Ft. Lauderdale.
Each of the bishops and cardinals attending the conference received a detailed letter outlining the most serious examples of misuse of ecclesiastical authority by Bishop Dewane that has devastated their parish, brought serious harm to individuals and driven some parishioners to leave the Church. The letter appeals to the prelates to assist in resolving these issues in order to return the parish and their pastor to the thriving community of faith it once was.
The group of 500 Catholic laity from St. Isabel’s Parish on Sanibel Island was formed in 2016 to protest the bishop’s dismissal of their pastor, Father Christopher Senk, without cause or due process. Since then, they have raised more than $150,000 to support Father Senk’s legal defense and to protest a growing number of questionable actions by Bishop Dewane.
The letter notes that, while clerical sexual abuse and the Church’s failure to address it is “arguably the greatest scandal in the Church in our time,” there are other forms of abuse that can be equally harmful. Parishioners for Justice cites an alleged range of abuses of authority at St. Isabel Parish in the Diocese of Venice “that have shaken the faith of many and that continue to be ignored despite sincere and prayerful pleas for relief.”
According to Parishioners for Justice, the abuses include administrative, liturgical, canonical, financial, and personal elements. The letter sent to the attending bishops provides an overview of only some of the issues involved, supported by extensive documentation and references to parts of Canon Law that have been violated.
”We are trying to show that abuse takes many forms and that abuse of power can be as detrimental to the Church and the Faithful, as sexual abuse,”’ said Bob Kern, one of the founders of Parishioners for Justice.
Kern also notes the list of issues is not comprehensive and that Bishop Dewane’s administration has been marked by numerous vendettas, disrespectful language and outbursts of uncontrolled rage directed to situations and persons other than those at St. Isabel.
Just as sexual abuse has devastated the Church, driving away thousands of Catholics worldwide from the Vatican, the abuses of Church law and of sincere and dedicated people carry the potential to also develop into a similar public scandal, according to Parishioners for Justice. “Such abuses must not be tolerated or ignored,” Kern said.
The letter closes with a commitment to finding justice for the pastor and the parish and a plea to America’s Hierarchy to investigate the situation and to provide guidance to all concerned in seeking a peaceful resolution.