A GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY REFLECTION
It would seem that Good Shepherd Sunday would be an appropriate time to reflect on the tenure of our chief shepherd of the Diocese, Bishop Frank Dewane. When Bishop Dewane came to this Diocese he possessed little to no pastoral experience, having spent a number of years in Rome, where his observations of the machinations of the powerful Roman elite gave him much food for thought for what would be his unnoteworthy career as Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida. Very little of what Bishop Dewane touches doesn’t break or become ruined. We need look no farther for an example than what used to be the vibrant parish of St. Isabel. The Bishop’s distinct malice is obvious at almost every turn in this four year saga, and it can be seen, with great irony, on this Shepherd Sunday’s announcement of a new pastor for St. Isabel. To say it was done with malice is obvious. It was less than three weeks ago, we are told, when Fr. David Deibel, and subsequently Fr. Christopher, were informed by a reference in a letter supposedly sent to Deibel, that Fr. Christopher was no longer pastor, something that was managed by an episcopal Decree given days before Christmas in 2019. That Decree, to date, has never been shared with Fr. Deibel or Fr. Christopher.
We are all aware that our beloved pastor, Fr. Christopher, was encouraged to resign from his office as pastor numerous times, but he refused to do so because he wanted the protections and privileges of Canon Law that are normally afforded to pastors – they cannot be removed arbitrarily, even by the Bishop. Indeed, the process is clearly outlined and is meant to be transparent, and, in a gospel-like fashion, it includes warnings, the intervention of other priests, and an opportunity by the pastor to respond to the accusations that are made against him. None of that happened. As Bishop Dewane has done before, when it suits him, he is free to ignore the law of the Church, and the larger Church has no appetite to admonish or correct their feudal kings of any Diocese unless it happens to be either of the two big no-nos – sex or money. You will recall the bishop’s handling of his case against Fr. Christopher sent to Rome. Fr. Christopher and his Advocate rightly wanted to see what was due them, and even the Roman Congregation For Clergy admonished Bishop Dewane and gave him thirty days to share the case. On day thirty, Bishop Dewane outright refused, and the case was never shared, and the Congregation was uninterested in making Bishop Dewane do what he was supposed to do.
Which brings us to Good Shepherd Sunday, a day when the announcement of a new pastor should bring joy and happiness to a parish. The announcement seems to give new meaning to “birds of a feather, flock together.” When Fr. Martin, a virtual unknown in the Diocese, came to St. Isabel we had so much hope, hope expressed by PFJ on this website. It was not long before it became clear that Fr. Martin was not going to be a kindly shepherd. He clearly had been schooled by the Diocese and the parish staff, and any pastoral sensitivities he might have learned while being a military chaplain, were either ignored or forgotten. Fr. Martin’s distancing himself from anyone who might be on the “other side,” kept him from coming to know the very people that were mortally wounded in the combat that Bishop Dewane is solely responsible for. If there was an ounce of kindness or sensitivity in Fr. Martin, it was clearly not experienced by the unfortunate few who witnessed his disdain for them. What was the point of making a priest who is on the cusp of retirement, who very few people know, and who has manifested so few pastoral skills, the pastor of St. Isabel? Remember, with no notice, Fr. Martin is the one who so gracefully disbanded the 40+ year old St. Isabel’s Womans Guild, without blinking an eye. Since being an Administrator for the rest of his hopefully short tenure, would give him all the power he needed to run the church, what was the point of his Good Shepherd Sunday appointment? The point was to satisfy the continued malice of the Diocese of Venice. Any joy such an announcement should have engendered, is taken away by the hurt and the pain so many of us continue to feel.
Bishop Frank Dewane, you are no good Shepherd, we say with all due respect. You have never been interested in hearing the voices of your sheep, and as sheep we have no intention of following you. While that should make you sad, we regrettably sense that you feel nothing. Your lack of fairness to Fr. Christopher and to the people of St. Isabel parish, the people who actually built the parish, clearly demonstrates that you are no shepherd. Indeed, however strong it seems, you Bishop Dewane are the “thief and robber” in today’s gospel, the thief who only “comes to slaughter and destroy.” You have stolen from us our rightful pastor, a person you have literally slaughtered for almost four years now, and you have stolen from us more than three years of the blessing it once was to be a parishioner of St. Isabel church. The words of the entire Good Shepherd discourse in John condemn you, and should cause you to feel shame. But for you it is never about feelings Bishop Dewane, if you have any, its only about winning and having your way, and that at any cost. Happy Good Shepherd Sunday Bishop Dewane – too bad you will never be one!