Truth Must Prevail
Here we make a couple of observations concerning the destructive impact that distorted facts can have in any situation. The old saw that lies repeated often enough become fact is a sad commentary on how sometimes misinformation can shape a course of action. We apply the general reflections here to the specific situation regarding Fr. Christopher Senk and to the future of Bishop Frank Dewane in the Diocese of Venice.
Suppose we are going to run a series of experiments involving measurement of temperature in an oven. We know that at all times, the temperature in the oven must be between room temperature (68o F) and 500o F. Suppose that one hundred measurements are made with the temperature in the oven being varied between measurements. Ninety-eight of the measurements indicate that the temperature is some value within the known range, but one measurement indicates a temperature of 640o F while a second measurement gives 42o F. Investigation of the experiments and the operating conditions of the oven confirms that indeed two measurements are out of range, although no reason for the discrepancy can be determined. The question that arises is how the full data set should be handled.
One possibility would be to simply discard the two out-of-range points and consider the other ninety-eight data points to be correct since they are in range. However, this approach would be flawed. Because no reason for the clear errors in the two data points can be ascertained, there is no way of knowing whether a data reading of, for example, 100o F is also erroneous with the actual temperature in the oven being 210o F. In fact, in light of the evidence that at least some of the data is inaccurate, without explanation, it is not possible to simply assume that any of the data is accurate just because it falls within a range of possibly correct values. None of the data collected in the series of exercises can be considered reliable.
In summary, if one reports data obtained from an analysis and some of the data is clearly wrong with no explanation, this means that there could also be errors in the data that falls within possible bounds. The entire data set must be discarded.
One of the great and important challenges of parents is to make clear to their children the harmful effects of telling lies. It is relatively easy to explain to a child that telling someone something that is not true is wrong. However, the fact that lying ruins relationships and makes communication impossible is more subtle and not as easy to explain to a young mind. Children may think of telling a lie as an isolated event that has no other impacts. It is difficult to convey the message that if an individual is found to be lying about one thing, that destroys credibility about truthfulness in all matters. This is the message conveyed in Aesop’s famous fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which contains the pithy last line, “Nobody believes a liar… even when he is telling the truth.”
Educating a young person about the hazards of lying is absolutely crucial. If a person assumes a leadership role while the reliability of his/her pronouncements are questionable because of either a reputation as a liar or identification of instances of lying, that leadership position is doomed. A known liar cannot expect any of his/her statements to be considered seriously even if they happen to be true, profound, and important. All statements of a liar must be rejected.
Bishop Frank Dewane
The preceding sections on science and parenting point out that erroneous information, either inadvertent or intentional, serves to discredit all other information proposed from the same source. This principle is very important in considering statements from Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice. Let us consider just three of the statements he has made in regard to the situation regarding Fr. Christopher Senk:
- Bishop Dewane claims no responsibility for the fact that the press was present at the end of the Mass where it was announced that Fr. Senk was being placed on administrative leave. However, the owner of two local TV stations has provided a copy of the press release from the Diocese.
- Bishop Dewane claims that the result of a civil investigation of the malicious charge that Fr. Senk took financial advantage of a vulnerable adult led to a determination from Law Enforcement that “the priest ought to be prosecuted.” In fact, the Sheriff states in a letter, “… our system cleared you, but the Church is exerting pressure as though you were found guilty. That is regrettable.”
- Continuing claims and statements by Bishop Dewane repeatedly denigrate the mental competence of the alleged victim of Fr. Senk. Besides being personally insulting to the individual mentioned, and perhaps to all people whose minds age gracefully, his statements are in gross contradiction to the medical record and testimony by knowledgeable professionals.
Our purpose here is not to decide whether these false statements are based on erroneous data supplied to Bishop Dewane, lack of familiarity with the file, or intentional lies. From one perspective, that does not matter. What is incontrovertible is that Bishop Dewane is a source of false information. These certifiable untruths are mixed in with other pronouncements of his concerning Fr. Senk as well as a wide variety of issues of importance to the whole Church. His position as ordinary of the Diocese of Venice does not exempt Bishop Dewane from consideration as a purveyor of “fake news.” Many other individuals in secular and religious leadership roles have met their downfalls because of their inabillity to promote truth. Although it is certain that some of Bishop Dewane’s statements are false, it is not possible to determine which, if any, are true. This is exactly the same dilemma encountered with a science experiment gone wrong or a child who sees lying as means of improving his/her situation.
The only way to solve the dilemma fostered by false information is to start over. Data from a science experiment corrupted as described previously must be discarded, and a new experiment must be initiated that is free from unexplained misinformation. A child, or adult for that matter, with a penchant for lying must come to understand that lying, even occasionally, destroys relationships and leads to destruction. That individual must restart building relationships, admit to previous lies, and embark on the path of establishing a reputation for honesty. Neither of these solutions is simple or without peril.
Bishop Dewane’s close ties to misinformation has put him in an untenable position. Only he knows for certain if he has been misled or if he has deliberately lied. In either case, he is now in a position where he is untrustworthy; he has lost credibility. It is a difficult situation for a bishop as well as for the priests and people he is charged to shepherd when his pronouncements must be deemed unreliable. It is a most difficult task to rebuild trust once it has been grossly violated. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Bishop Dewane will be Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida for six more years, until his mandatory retirement. It would be sad if these six years were squandered at a time when capable and reliable leadership in the Church is particularly crucial in light of recent scandals.
The only way that Frank Dewane can try to save his episcopacy is to renounce his errors. If he has been misled, he must correct the statements that resulted and change his advisors to a more reliable set. If he has willfully lied, he must also confess his misstatements and change his heart. Neither of these courses of action is easy; neither guarantees success. Either would require an admirable humility that publicly acknowledges failings, asks for forgiveness, restores those who have been harmed, and determination to set out transparently on a course of truth and justice.
Mary Craig, the author and journalist, has noted, “… choosing to face an uncertain future with hope rather than immerse oneself in the wreckage of one’s past is the one important freedom we have.” If Bishop Dewane were to extract himself from the wreckage he has produced to find a new freedom, he would be providing an incredible example of discipleship that could inspire his priests and people to better their own lives as Christians. If he is unable or unwilling to do this, the remaining years of his episcopacy will be stained by the hostility, upset, suspicion, anger, failure, and wreckage that currently marks it.
We pray that Bishop Dewane may seek and find the grace and humility to renounce the missteps of his past leadership of the Diocese of Venice, in regard to Fr. Senk as well as other matters, so that he will be able freely to lead the Diocese into an uncertain, but hopeful, future. If he cannot renounce the errors of his past, we pray that Bishop Dewane will leave the wreckage he has created, and continues to create, by resigning. Otherwise, action must be taken to remove him from office.