Sanibel, FL, August 29—A group of Florida Catholics in the Diocese of Venice has filed a complaint of mail tampering with the United States Postal Service against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The complaint alleges that the Conference’s General Secretariat diverted over 400 letters sent by the group, Parishioners for Justice for Father Christopher Senk, to American bishops attending their Spring Meeting at the Ft. Lauderdale Marriott Beach Resort & Spa. The letters, from parishioners of St. Isabel’s Parish on Sanibel Island, contained information concerning alleged abuse of authority by Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, Florida.
In June, 2018, after nineteen months of unsuccessful efforts to address these issues of abuse by their bishop, frustrated members of Parishioners for Justice took their disputes with Bishop Dewane to those prelates meeting in Ft. Lauderdale. Each of the bishops and cardinals attending the conference was sent a detailed, individually addressed letter outlining the most serious examples of misuse of ecclesiastical authority by Bishop Dewane. They maintain that this conflict has devastated their parish, brought serious harm to individuals and driven some parishioners to leave the Church. These abuses span violations of civil and canonical law as well as questionable financial policies, personal behavior and liturgical changes not in the Spirit of Vatican II.
The hotel confirmed that it received the letters and had turned them over to the General Secretary’s office, the organizers of the conference. When, after more than two weeks had passed with no response from the bishops addressed, members of the group contacted the USCCB. Numerous calls were made to various offices at the Conference. These calls yielded little or no information and promises to return calls were never kept. Ultimately, PFJ was told that the matter was in the hands of its General Counsel, Anthony Picarello. Calls, e-maiIs and a certified letter to Mr. Picarello were not answered.
The group demanded answers to the following questions:
Why were the letters not delivered and on whose authority?
Did a USCCB staffer open a letter addressed to a bishop to find out the content?
What was the disposition of these letters which contained confidential information?
Since no answers have been forthcoming, despite nearly two months of inquiries and a demand for a response by Close of Business, August 21, Parishioners for Justice subsequently filed a complaint with the US Postal Service.
Parishioners for Justice, now over 500 strong, was initially formed in 2016 to protest Bishop Dewane’s most egregious act, his dismissal of St. Isabel’s pastor, Father Christopher Senk, without due process or even knowledge of the charges against him. The group maintains that Bishop’s manipulation, prevarication and evasion has been enabled by an indifferent hierarchy and the involvement of the Knott Family of Baltimore who have colluded with Bishop Dewane to falsely accuse Father Senk.
Parishioners for Justice today issued this statement:
We are saddened that our legitimate and respectful pleas to America’s bishops for help in resolving valid concerns about abuse of ecclesiastical authority have been met with more abuse, obfuscation and illegal diversion of the US Mail, a federal offense.
Our letters, mailed to the American prelates attending the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, were taken by the General Secretariat of the Conference and were never delivered to any of the 400 addressees. Numerous calls, e-mails and letters were ignored by staffers in three different departments who refused to tell us why they were not delivered and what happened to the letters which contained confidential information concerning abuses of power by Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice. We were finally referred to the General Counsel’s office which arrogantly refused to address our claims.
We should point out that the letters were sent and diverted prior to announcement of the crimes of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the subsequent revelations of seven decades of fiendish clerical abuse in Pennsylvania. These heinous crimes have since occupied the Church and the Conference and perhaps they feel our claims are insignificant in view of this tsunami of scandal that has engulfed the Church. However, Parishioners for Justice maintains that the Church’s authoritarian and unethical handling of any legitimate opposition extends well beyond the horrific sex crimes that continue to shock and appall the world.
The bishops clearly have no idea how to deal with this self-inflicted crisis. Each is trying to outdo the other in apologies, prayers, unworkable solutions and belated sympathy for the victims. One bishop has called for a purge of homosexuals in the Church, regardless of whether or not they have acted on their orientation. Others suggested a Vatican investigation of the American Church, coyly described as an “Apostolic Visitation.” Media coverage has revealed numerous discrepancies in the various statements from bishops. A former Vatican ambassador is hurling charges of coverups and lying at his fellow bishops and Popes Benedict and Francis, calling for Pope Francis to resign. We suggest that they stop grandstanding and work to form a workable and united approach to this catastrophic situation.
Some have called for greater involvement from the laity but in our experience with many of the bishops is that they are contemptuous of the Faithful, protect their power at all costs and are totally unaccountable. Our complaints to Bishop Dewane, the Papal Nuncio and various Vatican officials have been largely ignored, censored and buried under a vast, unresponsive bureaucracy that has not changed substantially in centuries.
Given our experience, we feel this latest underhanded, censorious action and the violation of the Postal Code by the USCCB shows that the bishops are still enmeshed in coverups and censorship. This has serious implications for the future of the Church, which has, to date, only given lip service to the rights and opinions of the laity. Rather, their actions show contempt for the Faithful and for the laws of the land.
Link to Press Release: Florida Catholics Appeal To Prelates