Letters

An open Letter to PFJ

AN OPEN LETTER TO PARISHIONERS FOR JUSTICE

When Bishop Dewane’s March 29, 2019 letter communicating the decision by the Congregation for Clergy on Father Christopher’s situation was made public, I wrote Cardinal Stella, the head of the Congregation, expressing my dismay and disbelief.  A copy of that letter appears below.   It took well over two months for me to receive a reply which came, not from Rome, but from Bishop Dewane.  A copy of that letter also follows below.  I would ask the reader to carefully consider the following wording from the Bishop’s letter:

“As was noted in my letter of March 29,2019, the Congregation for Clergy “identified the grave appearance of impropriety and even exploitation” and “the Congregation considered as ‘lacking plausibility,’ the defense that the number and value of the gifts received by Fr. Senk in this case, were merely the result of generosity by parishioners.”

It doesn’t state that the Congregation found any actual evidence of impropriety but rather the “grave appearance” of same and that the defense “lacked plausibility”.  Neither impropriety nor plausibility were evaluated against factual data but rather by inference.  In any US Court of Law, such conclusions of guilt would have been summarily dismissed and the ethic of “innocent until proven guilty” would have prevailed.  Witnesses from both sides of the case would have been required to give evidence and be cross-examined to determine their veracity, the accused would have been provided a complete listing of the charges against him and permitted to face and respond to his accuser,  and the final outcome would have been decided by an impartial and external jury selected to avoid any possible undue influence or bias.  Obviously, that is not the way the Catholic church chooses to operate.

My disgust with not only the final decision but with the process used to achieve it does not diminish with time, but rather increases.   Unless the Catholic hierarchy wake up to the reality that a modus operandi that may have served them well fifty years ago has no place in contemporary society, the influence and stature of the church, at least in the United States, will continue its steady and inexorable decline.  I pray that they do.  But, in the meantime, a pastor who constantly brought Christ’s teachings of love and mercy to his parishioners continues to be forced to endure almost three years of mental anguish and agony by a system with no respect for facts and the truth, but rather for preserving absolute control by its leadership.

Michael J. Baldwin

 

 

April 12, 2019

His Eminence, Beniamino Cardinal Stella

Prefect, Congregation for Clergy

Palazzo delle Congregazioni

Piazza Pio XII, 3

00193, Roma

Italy

 

Re:      An Incardinated Priest of the Diocese of Venice in Florida

            Protocol #20172626/F  Rev. Christopher L. Senk

 

Your Eminence,

I am writing to express my condemnation and disbelief for the conclusions that Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice in Florida stated as being directly approved by Pope Francis and transmitted from the Congregation for Clergy relative to the case brought by the  Bishop against one of his priests, Father Christopher Senk of St. Isabel Parish, Sanibel, Florida.

These conclusions and the related up to eleven-year restrictions on Fr. Senk, communicated in a recent letter (shown below) to St. Isabel parishioners by Bishop Dewane, defy all credibility and suggest that they were based almost totally on a far-too-willing acceptance of the word of a handful of well-placed but remote accusers rather than the testimony and witness of many with extensive first-hand knowledge of the situation.

A few salient truths:

  • The accusation that Fr. Senk had preyed upon an elderly parishioner for financial gain was brought by a member of her family in Baltimore, MD – a family which had been financially generous to the Catholic church there. That same parishioner was estranged by her own wishes from her family during much of her time in Sanibel
  • Not once during the entire investigatory period did Bishop Dewane take the time to actually meet with Fr. Senk and provide him the opportunity to address the accusations against him face-to-face. In fact, Florida State and local investigations of the accusations had been underway for some two years before Bishop Dewane chose to even advise Fr. Senk of the matter and, at that same time, had prepared a document for him to sign admitting his guilt and renouncing his priesthood.  That hardly suggests impartiality on the part of the Bishop who obviously either viewed Fr. Senk as guilty from the start and/or was seeking the opportunity to remove a priest who had had the temerity to question his dictatorial conduct
  • Even after State and local prosecution of the case had been terminated for lack of evidence, Bishop Dewane elected to further investigate the matter and ultimately relinquish his own responsibility for the investigation by submitting it to the Congregation for Clergy
  • In spite of the subsequent direction of the Congregation, at no time did Bishop Dewane or the Diocese provide Fr. Senk with the case the Diocese had submitted to Rome detailing all of the accusations of impropriety against him. This totally prejudiced Fr. Senk’s case since it precluded him from developing a complete and thorough defense

If Bishop Dewane’s letter is intended to convey truth and justice within the Catholic church, it creates exactly the opposite impression – one of a complete denial of the truth.  It does nothing to change the impression, fostered by the rampant sexual abuse scandal within the church, that the Catholic hierarchy is interested in only one thing – protecting itself at all costs and maintaining autocratic control within a closed brotherhood.  If Bishop Dewane’s letter indeed conveys the actual response of Pope Francis and the Congregation for Clergy, it reinforces the misguided and outdated pre-Vatican II belief that the laity’s role is simply to pray, pay and obey and that such a belief remains both alive and embedded within church leadership.

When Fr. Senk was placed on administrative leave two-and-a-half years ago, the priest sent to the parish as Bishop Dewane’s representative publicly urged people, from the altar, to worship at other churches, either Catholic or of other denominations, if they disagreed with the Bishop’s decision.  In the subsequent months the environment at St. Isabel has deteriorated to the point that parish groups such as the Women’s Guild and Men’s Club have had to routinely seek meeting locations away from the parish.  As a result, some parishioners have searched for spiritual solace at other Catholic churches in the area, at the local Episcopal Church where Christ’s teachings of love and mercy prevail, or have left the church completely.   The sanctions communicated by Bishop Dewane’s letter do nothing to suggest that any constructive change in the atmosphere of the Diocese of Venice or at St. Isabel church is forthcoming.

Very truly yours,

Michael J. Baldwin, PhD

Cc:      His Holiness, Pope Francis

His Eminence, Cardinal Marc Ouellet

His Excellency, Archbishop Christophe Pierre

Bishop Frank J. Dewane

 

        DIOCESE  OF VENICE  IN FLORIDA     

OFFICE OF THE BISHOP

 

March 29, 2019

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

During this Holy Season of Lent, allow me to express to you my ongoing pastoral concern for the parishioners of St. Isabel Parish. It is now possible to update you regarding Fr. Christopher Senk.

You may recall that in June of 2017, the case of Fr. Senk was referred to the Apostolic See. At this time, I wish to inform you that on June 21, 2018, having heard from numerous parishioners, I wrote to the Congregation for Clergy recommending an outcome other than dismissal from the clerical state for Fr. Senk. The Congregation for Clergy informed the Diocese of Venice that Pope Francis approved the recommendation in an act of Supreme Authority, which means that the period for appeals or recourse has ended.

In explaining the decision of the Holy Father, the Congregation identified the grave appearance of “impropriety and even exploitation.” Further, the Congregation considered as “lacking plausibility” the defense, that the number and value of the gifts received by Fr. Senk in this case, were merely the result of generosity by parishioners.

Pope Francis approved the following measures for Fr. Senk: (1) The Holy Father formally warned Fr. Senk about his behavior and violations of the Code of Pastoral Conduct of the Diocese of Venice; {2) The Holy Father imposed upon Fr. Senk a year of prayer and penance at a location chosen by the Local Ordinary and; (3) 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. The final measure can be renewed by the Bishop of the Diocese for an additional 5 years. The decision emphasized that any future violations of the Diocesan Code of Pastoral Conduct or failure to abide by the provisions imposed by the Holy Father will result in a penalty. Considering the measures applied by the Apostolic See, Fr. Senk will not return to St. Isabel Parish as Pastor. After the year of prayer and penance, any determination about the suitability for ministry of Fr. Senk rests with the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in accord with Canon Law.

Now that the outcome of the case has been made clear, I want to thank the parishioners of St. Isabel Parish for your patience as the canonical process unfolded. I acknowledge that this has been a trying time for parishioners. Please understand it is my obligation to exercise careful vigilance. This obligation ensures that in serving parishioners, the highest standard of prudence and moral behavior is observed.

At  this midpoint  in our Lenten journey, it is the time to foster a spirit of peace and understanding at St. Isabel Parish. It is hoped that all parishioners can unite in common purpose, continue to strive to live the Gospel of the Lord with fidelity and to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Be assured of my continued pastoral care for you, along with my prayers. May God Bless you and your family as well as SI. Isabel Parish.

Bishop Frank Dewane

1000 Pinebrook Road• Venice, FL 34285 • 941-484-9543 • www.dioceseofvenice.org • Fax 941-488-2561
DIOCESE OF VENICE IN FLORIDA
OFFICE OF THE BISHOP

June 19, 2019

Dear Dr. Baldwin,
Please know that your letter to Cardinal Stella, to which I was copied, has been received . The thoughts and concerns expressed therein regarding St. Isabel Parish are acknowledged . Further, your concerns regarding Father Gates have been duly noted and will be given consideration

Allow me to note that, in the matters related to Father Christopher Senk, the Diocese of Venice has responded to the situation in a responsible manner, while also respecting Father’s privacy. In this regard, the common pastoral directions set forth by the Holy See have been followed and implemented with care.

As was noted in my letter of March 29, 2019 , the Congregation for Clergy “identified the grave appearance of ‘impropriety and even exploitation'” and “the Congregation considered as ‘lacking plausibility,’ the defense, that the number and value of the gifts received by Fr. Senk in this case, were merely the result of generosity by parishioners.”

This opportunity is taken to extend to you the assurances of my continued consideration, as well as my prayers.

Bishop Frank Dewane

FJD/mm
1000 Pinebrook Road • Venice, FL 34285 • 941-484-9543 • http://www.dioceseofvenice.org • Fax 941-488-2561

3 thoughts on “An open Letter to PFJ”

  1. I have read this recent letter and find it to be consistant with the catholic churchs stance on just about everything;this is NOT the church I grew up in or went to school with;it is headed towards outright Apostasy
    the BLESSED VIRGIN prophesied that the final battle would be over the family and corruption within the church;how can we expect justice for father Chris when the church is ignoring homoseuals,communists,inside the Vatican who are now Cardinals ,bishops etc;only the priests can change this culture;father Chris is one of those priests and we are all the less for his banishment;there will be no justice for him.

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  2. Thank you , Mr. Baldwin!

    Your letters reflect how we both feel and what we presently see as an abuse of power IN OUR CHURCH.
    It is more clear to us now as we review the case of our friend FR. Senk.
    We have always loved and served our church for many,many years— and we even raised our children to be Catholic — had we not believed and not loved it as we did, we would not have done that! The church was so important in our entire life! WE FEEL LIKE WE HAVE BEEN FOOLED BY THE CHURCH THAT WE LOVED AND SERVED!!

    We continue to want to belong to the church and love it – but it is difficult to overlook all the abuses — sexual and that of the abuse of power of SOME OF our LEADERSHIP. WE ARE LIKE SHEEP WHO FOLLOWED BLINDLY!

    We are not finding or seeing the very charity and faith in the two most important commandments which you may recall are to ”love God and love others”—-
    I feel that the bishop of Venice ,Fl doesn’t have to keep or practice the same commandment to love as Jesus taught us to do.
    He is the Bishop of Fr Senk and seems not to have treated Fr. Senk fairly or justly in that he didn’t even inquire about what father had to say! To offer to pay Father’s insurance if he’d just leave the priesthood … what??? Is that just? NO it was not just! ! WHAT IF SOMEONE HIGHER UP THEN THE BISHOP OFFERED TO PAY HIS INSURANCE IF HE’D GIVE UP HIS BISHOP POSITION?? HOW WOULD HE LIKE THAT???

    Did he think that was all that all that mattered to Father Senk??
    What did he think it meant to Father to be a priest?
    He must have thought it meant very little or nothing to ask Father to give up his priesthood??
    THAT WAS WRONG!

    Father Senk has proven himself to be a wonderful priest FOR OVER 40 YEARS—and he is a good person and it was an insult on the Bishop’s part to suggest that was all being a devoted priest meant to him!

    We were ALL also taught to ” Love God and love others! ” Even the leadership of our church must have heard that !
    .
    We mostly always saw this in the leadership in my early years as a Catholic—but now we do not always find it!
    Is that commandment still taught and practiced in seminaries? I hope so!
    Is it seen as important to being a Catholic today???” We learn by the example of our leadership!

    How about Bishop Dewane burying his hatchet(s) and practice TRUE faith, hope, AND charity as taught by the founder of the Catholic Church?? That would be Jesus!?? He believed in justice! He showed us by His love.
    I can accept it if the church admits to your own errors in wrong judgement and lack of charity!!! WE ALL ARE HERE TO CHANGE AND BECOME BETTER!! WE NEED TO MAKE THIS RIGHT !

    WE WANT OUR CHURCH TO TREAT OTHERS WITH LOVE AND JUSTICE AND TRUTH.
    THEN WE WILL BE THECHURCH THAT JESUS WANTED !

    !

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  3. IS THERE A LIMIT TO THE GIFTS AND BELONGINGS THAT A PERSON CAN LEAVE TO A PRIEST? what is a number thatcan be accepted or should be rejected??

    HOW ABOUT HOW MUCH CAN BE LEFT TO A BISHOP? IS THERE A LIMIT TO THAT FOR A CARDINAL?? HOW ABOUT THE POPE? WHO DETERMINES WHAT AMOUNT THEY CAN ACCEPT?? HOW ABOUT A HOME OR COTTAGE BEING LEFT?
    OR WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A FIRST CLASS AIR FAIR FOR LIFE?? CARS? TRIPS? WHAT IS THE LIMIT??
    ARE ALL CLERGYMEN IN THE CHURCH COMMANDED TO REPORT WHAT THEY INHERIT OR THAT THEYARE GIVEN? IS THAT RECORDOPEN TO THEPUBLIC OR FOR THE PARISHONERS TO KNOW?? JUST CURIOUS.

    WHAT GIFST HAVE PRESTS RECEIVED THAT MIGHT HAVE EXCEEDED THESE?
    what has the bishop been given ??

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