An Open Letter to Bishop Frank Dewane
November 14, 2018
Dear Bishop Dewane,
As so many have done over the past two years, we write to you in the earnest hope that God’s grace might move you to bring justice to Fr. Christopher and to our parish of St. Isabel. Although you, through your Chancellor, have tried to discredit our organization by suggesting we are nothing more than “an independent association of private individuals,” we, nevertheless, continue to see ourselves as men and women who were once happy and proud to be members of St. Isabel Church. We have always wanted, and continue to want, what is best for our pastor and for our Church, and the time is always right for you to humbly recognize how much you have harmed both Fr. Christopher and St. Isabel Church. You have given us no indication to believe that your heart has been softened by God’s mercy, but we believe that with God all things are possible.
We were happy to read the address of His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre given to you and your brother bishops on November 12th in Baltimore, and we pray that some of what the Apostolic Nuncio said might inspire you to bring an end to the suffering of Fr. Christopher Senk and bring healing and peace to St. Isabel Parish. The “true repentance and reform” called for by the Archbishop was directed at you, Bishop Dewane, and we hope that you will take the “time, effort, and sacrifice” needed to “rebuild trust among the People of God” of St. Isabel Church.
On the outside chance that you failed to see that the Nuncio’s address was speaking about you, we take the time here to boldly highlight several things that he said, and which should be extraordinarily challenging to you in light of the situation of St. Isabel Church.
“If the Church is to reform herself and her structures, then the reform must spring from her mission of making known Christ, the Son of the Living God.”Bishop Dewane, what would Jesus do? Is anything you have done in the past two years Christlike in any way? Can you honestly say that your treatment of one of your priests, Fr. Christopher, was exactly what Jesus would do? Given that you have, to date, never had a conversation with Fr. Christopher with the purpose of discerning whether the false allegations made by outsiders were true, we do not think your actions have any degree of being Christlike. Further, you have never even followed the prescriptions of canon law which suggest you should speak with your priests “fraternally.”
As the chief shepherd you should have gathered the sheep to yourself in this Diocese, and yet you have sown discord and created division within the faithful. It was you, Bishop Dewane, or your office, which arranged for the Press to be present at the Masses on the days following your placing of Fr. Christopher on administrative leave. Whatever public scandal has occurred was created by you, and only you can fix it.
“There may be a temptation on the part of some to relinquish responsibility for reform to others than ourselves, as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves, as if the deposit of trust should be transferred to other institutions entirely. To regain trust it is not enough to simply preach words about responsibility, without living the difficulties of that responsibility, even in the face of criticism.” We think it impossible, Bishop Dewane, for you not to think of yourself in these words of the Nuncio. Your decision to send your request to strip Fr. Christopher of his priesthood to Rome, was surely done with the knowledge that the deliberations would drag on interminably. Further, your excuse for pursuing this cowardly path was that the “upset” of the parish was too great for you to be viewed favorably, regardless of what you decided. As we said above, you created the public uproar, Bishop Dewane, and it was made worse by your arrogant refusal to acknowledge the possibility that you could be wrong in your assessment of Fr. Christopher. You allowed the false accusations of strangers to rule the day, and you never made any serious effort to speak with those who knew Fr. Christopher best, the parish community.
“At the same time, there can be no question that the insights of experts, the contributions of time and professional skill of all the faithful, laity together with the clergy…. are critical to carrying out our mission as Shepherds. Assistance is both welcomed and necessary, and surely collaboration with the laity is essential. However, the responsibility, as bishops of this Catholic Church, is ours – to live with, to suffer with, and to exercise properly. The People of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy.” We think it is fair to say, Bishop Dewane, you have never given the impression that you were interested in anything we, as parishioners, had to say. Your visits to St. Isabel were guarded by the utmost secrecy, and you outright refused to meet with us on several occasions. When several of our number met with you in Venice you feigned interest in putting an end to the upset, stringing those meetings out over months, and then you never made any effort to do anything that might bring justice to Fr. Christopher or peace to St. Isabel Church.
Is it wrong, Bishop Dewane, that we, as “the People of God have rightly challenged [you] to be trustworthy”? You have to know in your heart of hearts that so much of what you have done is unjust. You have weaponized the false accusations of the Knott family, destroying a faithful priest’s ministry, and all but destroying a thriving faith community.
“We, in communion with our Holy Father, are heirs to the promise of Christ. As heirs and successors, each of us, individually and collegially is called to a special responsibility to strengthen the faith of our sisters and brothers, especially in confronting the challenges before us.”We can only hope, Bishop Dewane, that you find these words challenging, and perhaps even damning, for we do not feel you have “strengthened our faith” in the least. Indeed, you have all but destroyed the faith of many, recklessly following what looks like a vendetta, and you seem to be thoroughly unconcerned about the pain and suffering you have caused the St. Isabel Parish community. You have so damaged our community of faith that many former parishioners have been chased away to off-island, more welcoming parishes, or even to non-Catholic denominations. Sadly, you have so shattered the faith of some people, that they no longer choose to worship anywhere on Sundays. This, Bishop Dewane, rests solely on your shoulders. On a small island such as ours, you have also damaged the perception of the greater Catholic Church, and appear to possess no desire to repair that damage.
“We cry for the injustices perpetrated upon victims of abuse. We vow to fight a clerical culture that tolerates the abuse of authority. When abuse occurs, it is our sin and we must take it as such. These are not the sins of the media or the products of vast conspiracies. These are things we must recognize and fix.” We see ourselves as “victims of abuse,” Bishop Dewane, “the abuse of authority.” As Bishop you effectively answer to no one, and you appear to surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear. You are free to exercise the authority entrusted to you in a dictatorial manner, and over the past two years you have done just that. Although your abuse does not have the heinous qualities as that against children, it is nonetheless damaging and destructive. As the Apostolic Nuncio suggests you need to first own your abusive behavior, “see [your] failures clearly”! When that happens, we hope and pray that you can find a way to do what is right and just. “Rebuilding trust requires using authority to serve humbly and lead by example.”
The Nuncio reminded you of what Pope Francis has asked of you: you “are called to be living memories of the Lord” and the Pope “warns against being more concerned with form than substance.” As we have already stated, it is extraordinarily difficult for us to to see you, Bishop Dewane, as a “living memory of the Lord”! Your actions against Fr. Christopher, and your lack of regard for us, is so contrary to the gospel that it is difficult to see you as that “man of prayer”spoken of by the Holy Father.
In conclusion, we take this opportunity to remind you that the Apostolic Nuncio speaks of a bishop as a man of communion. “The Holy Father also reminds us that the bishop is to be a man of communion, marked with “the charism of togetherness” – maintaining unity and solidifying communion…. To accomplish this unity the bishop must love “weaving communion by being involved in the first person and by acting in a humble manner.” Part of being engaged and acting humbly involves listening.”Bishop Dewane, you have all but destroyed what was once a harmonious and united parish. Your actions against Fr. Christopher are despicable and mean spirited. You have made no effort to listen to the hundreds of voices who make up Parishioners for Justice and who knew Fr. Christopher better than you could ever hope to know him. In the last twenty-four months there were countless opportunities for you to listen to parishioners, but you refused to do that, preferring carefully orchestrated secret trips to the parish and hiding behind your feigned concern to allow the “process” to run its course. How much of the pain and suffering since October of 2016 could have been avoided had you only chosen to do what was right and just?
Bishop Dewane, you will no doubt question the motivation of us taking the time to write to you highlighting the Apostolic Nuncio’s address to you and your brother bishops. Please understand that we have the best of intentions. Assuming you listened to what the Nuncio had to say, your actions have given us little hope that you would see the challenge of the Nuncio’s words as applying to yourself. We have not lost hope that God’s grace might move you to do what is right. We continue to pray that you exonerate Fr. Christopher and return him to our parish where he can begin healing the harm that has been done. We pray for your healing as well Bishop Dewane, and look forward to you being the kind of Bishop that the Nuncio describes in his address.
Parishioners For Justice
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