Open Letter to Fellow Parishioners:
We have heard from some of our fellow parishioners that they are troubled by our continuing support for Fr. Christopher, despite what they incorrectly believe is a decision by the Pope to impose a year of prayer and penance. They also suggest that we should not oppose the actions of Bishop Dewane, because as a bishop he follows in apostolic succession and, therefore, must be obeyed. Finally, they believe that, by continuing to confirm Fr. Christopher’s innocence on the basis of the facts personally known to us, we are creating or preserving dissension within the parish.
We respect the views of our friends and neighbors who hold those views. They believe that continued resistance to what we see as injustice conflicts with the teachings of Jesus.
But these are our reasons for believing, with all possible humility, that our continued advocacy for justice for Fr. Christopher is justified – even compelled – by our obligations as faithful Catholic Christians. Hundreds of members of our parish, including members of Parishioners for Justice, are convinced that we are following the teaching of Jesus, who urged His disciples to oppose injustice wherever they find it. In his time, the Gospels show, many of the injustices, including the false accusations against Our Lord Himself, came from the prevailing religious authorities, the Temple High Priests and the Pharisees. Jesus urged His followers to confront the religious authorities courageously, with truth, when they perceived those religious leaders to be acting in defiance of the message that Jesus was spreading, a message of justice for the oppressed and relief for the victimized.
It is said that both Fr. Christopher and those who believe in his innocence should defer to the will of the Pope. But this view rests on a vitally important misunderstanding: despite the impression that Bishop Dewane sought to create, Pope Francis was not personally involved in this matter. The issues never went to the Pope, and the Pope never decided that Fr. Christopher did anything improper or should be sent off for a year of “prayer and penance.” That decision was made solely by Bishop Dewane and some fellow bishops who acquiesced in his quest to punish Fr. Christopher somehow.
Which brings us to our resistance to Bishop Dewane’s quest. Some of our fellow parishioners take us to task for not blindly deferring to the decisions by Bishop Dewane, because he Is a bishop. But we have a fundamental difference with the view of those who believe that Catholic teaching requires the Faithful to comply meekly and without question whenever a bishop speaks. There was a time in the life of the Church when that attitude prevailed. There are still some in the Church, including those persons who think that the bishop’s assertions cannot be questioned, who would like to return to that era. But for more than fifty years, since the Second Vatican Council, which was summoned and presided over by two popes who now have been canonized as saints, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope Paul VI, the Church has recognized that the Holy Spirit does not speak only to and through bishops but also speaks though the People of God – that is, the entire Church community of lay persons.
We are quite comfortable that our actions are fully consistent with the teachings and leadership of these two pope-saints, who stressed the responsibilities of the laity in ensuring that the Church, including the members of the hierarchy, remains true to her calling as the instrument of Christ’s call for justice and mercy. As persons familiar with the facts, we do not see the actions of Bishop Dewane as either just or merciful. Therefore, in loyalty to the message of Christ and the authoritative teaching of the Church, we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. Who would?
It is unfortunate that our commitments are not shared by all of our fellow parishioners. But we did not create the conflict. The bishop did when he summarily removed Fr. Christopher on grounds that we know to be unfounded and unjust. Blaming the supporters of an innocent, falsely accused priest for creating discord is simply an example of blaming the victim for resisting injustice rather than ignoring it.
We appreciate your prayers for us, and you may be assured of ours for you.