There is in interesting story in Newsweek this week. Fr. Marcelo Rossi is a best-selling author who has also sold millions of musical records in Brazil. He was once dubbed a “pop-star priest.” Fr. Rossi is known for his engaging homilies and sermons. While speaking at a closing Mass for a youth camp attended by about 50,000 people, a woman rushed past security and delivered a strong shove that sent Fr. Rossi unceremoniously off the edge of a stage such that he disappeared from sight. Fortunately, he was uninjured and returned to the stage to complete his talk. The incident was widely publicized such that even the president of Brazil sent out a tweet, “All our solidarity with Father Marcelo Rossi. God looks [over] Brazil.” The report of this story in Newsweek suggests international interest.
In our own corner of the world, Sanibel, a similar event has occurred. Fr. Christopher Senk was attacked verbally by a woman and her family almost five years ago. His bishop, Frank Dewane, who might have provided security against unscrupulous assaults, did not provide any security. Instead he eventually participated in this attack causing Fr. Senk to suddenly disappear unceremoniously from the parish he had served so well. Unlike Fr. Rossi, who was uninjured and quickly returned, Fr. Senk has been injured in reputation and spirit. He has been essentially held down by his bishop, not allowed to speak or complete any of his ministerial callings to preach, to comfort the sick and dying, to foster a joyful community of faith. In the 33 months that Fr. Senk has been banned from public ministry, on the order of 100,000 people have been deprived of his weekly Sunday homilies and daily reflections at Mass. There have been no tweets of support from people in high places, only a barrage of pleas from the ordinary people in the pews to Bishop Dewane who seems to ignore everything that does not match his needs for esteem and money.
It is a sad that the far more sinister attack on Fr. Senk does not receive the attention that Fr. Rossi’s attack has received. This suggests that celebrity is far more important than the facts of a matter. People whose lives are shattered by war, immigration, and injustice receive less support and interest than many inconsequential actions of a celebrity. Priests who labor in difficult circumstances receive much less attention than the pretentious utterings of bishops.
Our Catholic Church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals. The attention focused on the abuses by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Michael Bransfield comes only in hindsight. Although their indiscretions were widely known by many fellow clerics and members of the press, their celebrity earned them a pass until the overwhelming evidence of their misdeeds made further cover-up impossible. Action is needed against budding abuse to prevent its full-scale blossoming.
The woman who shoved Fr. Rossi has been arrested. We hope that she will be treated with justice for her action. Despite the fact that he has done more damage than that misguided woman, Bishop Dewane continues to pursue his agenda of oppression unchecked. The evidence of his inappropriate action in regard to Fr. Senk and in other elements of his leadership continues to build. One can only wonder how long the absence of celebrity will allow him to continue on his sorry course of suppression of facts and self-promotion while avoiding media scrutiny.