April 05, 2019
Genetha Gray and William G. Gray
Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida
1000 Pinebrook Road
Venice, FL 34285
Dear Bishop Dewane:
Your letter of March 29, 2019 to your “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ” concerning Fr. Christopher Senk is a gross infringement on our personal rights. There are many aspects of your letter that are troublesome. We wish here to express our dissatisfaction in particular with your item (3) which states:
The Holy Father issued a penal precept that for a period of 5 years, Fr. Senk is to report to the Ordinary ‘any future gift received or bequest established’ for Fr. Senk by ‘those for whom he has exercised the priestly ministry’, whether money or items, the value of which totals more than $500.
Our suspicion is that Pope Francis had no role in this precept. In any event, it is absolutely unacceptable to us that you wish to constrain our freedom to use our personal assets in any way that we wish. You have no right to limit our activities in this way. Your insinuations that we are incapable of making decisions about use of our assets because we have had contact with Fr. Senk in a setting of “priestly ministry” is personally insulting. We have no intention of allowing you, or any church official, to dictate to us how we may use our personal property.
We are well aware that you and your subordinates have provided hurdles and discouragements for the community of St. Isabel to pray for Fr. Christopher Senk. We must presume that you believe it is your realm to provide spiritual constraints, to try to limit the scope of what people pray about. We are proud that many people we know have ignored your efforts, and they pray individually for Fr. Senk and congregate weekly to pray for Fr. Senk at St. Isabel. We admire the fact that the Episcopal Church on Sanibel even deems it appropriate to publicly pray for Fr. Senk in his time of trial. We pray for Fr. Senk and for the sick, the incarcerated, the disabled, the elderly, the deranged, liars, despots, even for bishops. You will not restrain us from that. Neither will you restrain us from using our possessions as we see fit.
Let us be clear. You have indicated that your intrusions into gift giving between Fr. Senk and other people applies to “those for whom he has exercised the priestly ministry.” In Father Senk’s case, the exercise of priestly ministry involves every interaction he has with any individual. Over the course of forty years, the number of students, parishioners, monastery visitors, and random individuals he has personally ministered to and the number of unknown individuals he has ministered to through Mass attendance is enormous. We are convinced that although you use the words “priestly ministry” you really do not appreciate what this term encompasses. We know this is a harsh and sad assessment of a bishop; but based on evidence we have, it seems warranted in your case. Despite the fact that your restriction is unworkable in general, we are more than happy, fortunate, and proud to state that Fr. Senk has exercised priestly ministry for us and for members of our family.
The implication of your restriction on our use of our resources is that you believe we are unable to manage them, to make decisions as to how we wish to spend our money or share our possessions. We never have and never will ask you to make such a determination on our behalf. We have family, friends, and a fine church community that we trust completely to help us make good decisions should the time come when we need that help. For you to now insert yourself into a position where you are monitoring when, how much, what, and why we might give a gift to any individual is an egregious violation of our rights that we categorically will not tolerate.
As a related but contrasting scenario, let us offer our perspective on your efforts to raise money for yourself, the diocese, and for St. Isabel parish through collections. Clarification of the following problems has been sought explicitly from the Parish Finance Council Chair, from your Chancellor, and from the Diocesan Director of Finance: 1) The statement of your Director of Finance that some donations are “immaterial;” 2) Discrepancies of thousands of dollars between reports of contributions by St. Isabel Parish and by your diocese; 3) Over taxation of St. Isabel Parish by tens of thousands of dollars for your CFA; and 4) Failure of the Finance Council of St. Isabel to provide timely, accurate, and complete documentation of the parish finances as required by the Diocese of Venice guidelines. No response that addresses these issues has been forthcoming. Further suspicions arise because of the listed precipitous drop of parish membership by around 200 families in November, 2018 reported by your diocese; failure to mention any results from the casino night at St. Isabel allegedly organized to support the parish; no accounting of the costs and income for the recent Orchid Ball; the illegal “bait and switch” of advertising for a barbecue to benefit the Community Pregnancy Centers and subsequently informing ticket holders that half the profits would be skimmed off to support your CFA; the excessively high CFA taxation rate in comparison to other dioceses; and others. The failure to be transparent on the collection and disposition of funds gives one pause about any contributions.
We note further that in managing the Finance Council of St. Isabel Parish, a woman who was unafraid to ask questions about use of parish resources was removed. Put in place to head the Finance Council was Mr. John Temporiti who is your consultant and thus most certainly does not exercise independent oversight or guidance. Mr. Temporiti’s questionable past does not assure us that the finances of St. Isabel are being responsibly monitored. Perhaps, there is a need for people to be protected from making gifts of any amount to any institution in the Diocese of Venice. However, no such “protection” exists; nor do we advocate for one. People should have access to facts and then, on the basis of facts, decide if they wish to do business with or give a gift to a family member, organization, or friend at their own discretion without your intervention or anyone else’s intervention.
Let us summarize. Edict (3) in your letter of March 29, 2019 is insulting, presumptive, and unworkable. It fails in at least three ways. First, it reveals ignorance of what constitutes priestly ministry. Second, it claims power on your part to interfere with and regulate how a large number of people manage and employ their personal finances. Third, while its nature implies that you consider yourself to be a necessary guardian of the resources of anyone who might have had contact with Fr. Senk, evidence suggests that you are a far greater threat to those who might wish to use their resources responsibly for “charitable” activities of your diocese.
Genetha Gray and William G. Gray