August 07, 2019
The letter dated May 10, 2019, from George and Vicki Bundschu to Bishop Frank Dewane is a heartfelt and honest letter expressing their dismay and hurt over developments in St. Isabel Parish. There seem to be three issues: 1) The unjust sidelining of Fr. Christopher Senk accompanied by efforts to damage his reputation; 2) The brazen letter of Mr. John Temporiti claiming to speak for the St. Isabel Parish community and insulting a significant part of that community; 3) The failure of Fr. Joseph Gates to exhibit characteristics one might expect from a properly formed and compassionate priest. An effective analysis of the July 12, 2019, response from Bishop Dewane appears in the letter to him of July 30, 2019. It is unfortunate that Bishop Dewane is apparently unable or unwilling to recognize the concerns expressed by Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu. Rather, he ignores their issues and hurts, expressed passionately, and chalks it up to lack of respect and ignorance. The tactic of name-calling when faced with arguments that one finds to be challenging is always inappropriate. The initial letter from the Bundschus deserves a thoughtful response, and more importantly, action to address their concerns. The actual response they received betrays the regrettable absence of pastoral ability of Bishop Dewane.
It is quite remarkable that the only question Bishop Dewane deems to address in his letter is, “What would Jesus do? In his answer, he seems to veer drastically off course. Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu raised questions concerning pastoral care; Bishop Dewane turns directly to finances. Although Bishop Dewane has been said to gage the effectiveness of a pastor according to his success in meeting the fundraising goals, particularly those of his Catholic Faith Appeal, it seems that turning to finances does not address Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu’s concerns. Nevertheless, since finances are seemingly of utmost importance to Bishop Dewane, let us repeat questions that have been raised in other letters and postings but which have gone unanswered concerning the financial shenanigans of the Diocese of Venice and at St. Isabel Parish:
- In a letter dated January 15, 2019, Mr. Peter McPartland, Director of Finance for the Diocese of Venice, claimed that accounting for small amounts of money contributed to parishes and the Diocese of Venice is “immaterial.” No response was received to the follow-up question of how large a sum is needed before it is considered “material.” We can refer Bishop Dewane and his finance director to Luke 21:1-4 for some enlightenment on this matter.
- During the summer of 2018, differences between weekly contributions to Bishop Dewane’s Catholic Faith Appeal reported in the St. Isabel Bulletin and by the Diocese of Venice were as great as $2000. Why did these large discrepancies exist?
- Although Bishop Dewane claims that the Diocesan assessment for his CFA is 26% of a parish’s annual offertory collection, the assessment for St. Isabel last year was unchanged from the previous year despite a significant drop in collection size. Why was St. Isabel overcharged last year in contradiction to Diocesan policies?
- The Diocese of Venice has a stated policy for each parish reporting its financial status. In particular, a parish is required to prepare/present/communicate an annual financial report (assets, liabilities, net assets, revenues, and expenses) to all parishioners published in the parish bulletin by September 30 of each year including specific information about parish organizations. No such report was issued in 2018 for St. Isabel; a financial report allegedly sent to all parishioners was, in fact, not sent to all parishioners and did not include all the required data. A question as to why this delinquency is tolerated and requesting rectification received no response.
- The Diocese of Venice has among the highest, if not the highest, assessment rates of any diocese in the country for it bishop’s annual appeal for funds. The need for this high rate is unexplained, and there is no accounting for many expenditures of the Diocese. Why is there no transparency?
Other questions arise concerning finances in that the reporting of weekly collections in the St. Isabel bulletin is inconsistent and incomplete. The fact that part-time-Sanibel-resident Mr. John Temporiti is chair of the Finance Council adds no confidence to the situation. Besides being mostly absent, he provides an appearance of conflict of interest as a paid consultant of Bishop Dewane.
In his letter to Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu, Bishop Dewane cited the four Gospel passages relating to cleansing of the temple of the money changers in light of financial corruption as an answer to their question, “What would Jesus do?” about the injustices to Fr. Send and the parishioners of St. Isabel. We have to admit that although the passages cited do not address the questions raised by Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu, they do have relevance for Bishop Dewane. Were Jesus able to penetrate the Catholic Center of the Diocese of Venice, one can speculate that his actions and proclamations in the temple area would be repeated with even greater vehemence.
What instigated the atmosphere of anger, sorrow, division, and distrust at St. Isabel Parish was the action of Bishop Dewane against Fr. Senk. The atmosphere is so poisoned that mention of Fr. Senk in prayer at Mass is forbidden and weekly prayer gatherings for Fr. Senk and for the parish are discouraged, and at times are suppressed. Various abuses of people and the parish continue, and even expand, making healing of the parish impossible. This abuse must be fought. It has been said:
We all have a role in working to end the evil that is abuse. All of us have to speak up, and we have to act when we see something, or when we come to learn of something. The most tragic part of the scandal is the continued suffering of the victims of abuse by clergy and the hierarchy. We have to recognize those in our midst who are wounded. They may be so wounded that they may not be able to pray. Because prayer is a very powerful healing mechanism, the task falls to all of us to appeal to the Lord, that He will look upon those who have been abused and that they will find healing.
And so indeed we must continue to object to abuse, to speak out about abuse, pray for the victims of abuse, and pray for the perpertrators of abuse. We note also that the words quoted were spoken by Bishop Frank Dewane at Mass in Epiphany Cathedral on April 24, 2019.
Bishop Dewane closed his letter to Mr. and Mrs. Bundschu with reference to Scripture, and we do the same here. The first letter of Peter to persecuted Christians exhorts all to humility that brings unity. We find the guidance to the leaders:
To the elders among you I, a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and sharer in the glory that is to be revealed, make this appeal. God’s flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd’s care. Watch over it willingly as God would have you do, not under constraint; and not for shameful profit either, but generously. Be examples to the flock, not lording it over those assigned to you, so that when the chief Shepherd appears you will win for yourselves the unfading crown of glory. — 1 Peter 5:1-4
May the Holy Spirit move hearts that are hardened so that Fr. Christopher Senk and the people of St. Isabel may find peace.
William G. and Genetha Gray