THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY OF A TRAGIC EVENT – October 28, 2016
Four years ago the world turned upside down for Fr. Christopher. As a result of the malevolence of Bishop Frank Dewane, who for more than two years before October 28, 2016, was intimately involved with and fully informed of an investigation by the County Sheriff’s office which occurred as a result of the unfounded and false accusations of a despicable, and wealthy, family from Baltimore, who accused Fr. Christopher of allegedly taking unfair advantage of a vulnerable adult, his friend, and the friend of so many, Mrs. Marion Knott McIntyre. Fr. Christopher was never informed of this investigation, in accordance with the demands of the Baltimore family, nor was he aware that six years of his entire financial records had been successfully subpoenaed by an inept investigator, with the help of an incompetent judge.
The Diocesan case against Fr. Christopher was destined to be unfair, in spite of the pledge, we are told, that the Bishop assured Fr. Christopher and his canonist it would be “transparent.” After October 28th, it was entirely explainable why Fr. Christopher’s former priest friends had kept a complete distance. The “alleged attacks” were shared (supposedly anonymously?) with some members of the Presbyteral (Priest) Council, who, Fr. Christopher was told some time after 2017, unanimously maintained that the accused priest “needed to be dealt with,” in spite of them being given no details of the case. Indeed, even the Diocese, having done no investigation of its own, only had the County Sheriff’s investigation to rely on, an investigation, which with any scrutiny at all, was anything but thorough or fair. The ‘prize’ of that investigation was the six years of financial records, which gave the Diocese the opportunity to distort and lie about everything, including five or ten dollar checks given to Fr. Christopher for his birthday or Christmas. We have also been told, that the vindictive Office Manager, Mrs. Khristy Scheer, has been spreading falsehoods about Fr. Christopher, telling people that he only befriended “rich” people in order to “groom” them to be generous to him. Furthermore, neither the Diocese nor the screaming, greedy family, were in the position to judge the depth of the friendship Marion McIntyre had developed with Fr. Christopher, a friendship best described as something like ‘motherly affection.’
Regardless of the Diocese’s lack of real information, it was enough for Bishop Dewane to humiliate and demean Fr. Christopher, by removing him from his position as Pastor, and the very next day siccing the local media on the attendees at all the Masses, making sure that the accusations, although unsubstantiated and untruthful, were widely known. In addition, at that very first meeting, and several times later in the day, we are told that Bishop Dewane requested that Fr. Christopher sign papers to relinquish his priesthood forever, in spite of knowing so little of the actual circumstances. Fr. Christopher’s phone and two computers were seized, and none of the personal or private possessions on those computers (photos, homilies, or prayers in particular), were ever returned. No doubt disappointing to the Diocese, a clean sweep of the computers, which was meant to look for things that might have been damaging to Fr. Christopher, revealed nothing, and of course, had anything substantive been found, it would have been brought up with great joy.
The next two weeks were especially difficult, as local news outlets were quick to air ”popular pastor scandal” stories on all the network news, all of them portraying Fr. Christopher in a terribly poor light. After two weeks, the assault by the network news mostly ended, as they turned their attention to other more salacious stories. By that time the Diocese conducted what they called “their own investigation,” all the while never speaking to Fr. Christopher, or to the parishioners who knew him best. Requests from those parishioners to meet with the Bishop were always rebuffed, the Bishop hiding behind the lame and completely untrue excuse that he needed to “respect Fr. Christopher’s privacy” (something, had they actually believed in doing, would have kept them from calling the local media). Instead, the Diocese not only did not protect Fr. Christopher’s reputation, it appeared to be actively and deliberately ruining it, something Canon Law states should never be done.
During this time the Diocese would often deflect, and it eventually met with a small number of parishioners (8) who of their own free-will had generously retired the mortgage on Fr. Christopher’s house. Fr. Christopher had no idea of that parishioner-based plan to help his retirement, as is easily documented. The Diocese found out, by speaking to the parishioners responsible for that generous move, that they felt helping Fr. Christopher with his mortgage would free him up to invest in his retirement, which was on shaky ground given his twenty-seven years in the monastery which provided no retirement and made no contributions social security. The reality, we are told, is that what the parishioners did, pales in comparison to what had already been done for many other priests of the Diocese by appreciative parishioners. Although the Diocese tried to “lead” the eight parishioners to say something bad about Fr. Christopher, they never did, and that left the Diocese and the former FBI interrogator empty handed. Those eight parishioners, and a small handful of others, were the only parishioners the Diocese ever talked to in their so-called “investigation.”
Based on the ill-gotten financial records, that same former FBI investigator, created charts that she said showed Fr. Christopher, “traveled excessively.” She, and the Diocese, concluded that Fr. Christopher took “more vacation than he was allowed.” This was done by taking every last credit card charge not made on Sanibel as indicating Fr. Christopher was “away.” Even charges made off Island and on legitimate days off, and those that were the result of essential medical journeys to Miami doctors because of a dangerous infection in Fr. Christopher’s hand, were counted as days “away.” The charts were poorly put together, and deliberately deceptive, and they were easily refuted by Fr. Christopher and his canonist. It is unclear whether those charts were ever used again, since the Diocesan case against Fr. Christopher was never shared with Fr. Christopher and his canonist. What might that mean? It means that those charts, and other untruthful things, just might have been part of the package that made it to Rome, regardless of how untruthful it truly was, and could be part of what has been used against Fr. Christopher.
By January of 2017, Bishop Dewane had decided that the case to have Fr. Christopher removed from the priesthood would have to go to Rome, since the Bishop claimed he could never expect to be treated fairly by the local laity no matter what decision he could have made. But there was every indication that the Bishop’s mind was made up long before October 28, and there was only one decision which would satisfy such a blatant narcissist, as well as satisfy the reprehensible family in Baltimore who were still pulling all the Bishop’s strings – Fr. Christopher’s forced removal from the priesthood. The paperwork on the table October 28, 2016, should have served as a hint, but by January it was clear that Fr. Christopher’s actions were thought to be so egregious according to the Bishop, that only his removal from the priesthood would satisfy Bishop Dewane, which led him to make the decision to send the case to Rome.
For roughly six months both sides gathered information (Acts), and affidavits from respected individuals were secured by Fr. Christopher and his canonist to accompany all the relevant information. After witnessing the biased behavior of the Diocese up to that point, it is safe to assume that the affidavits they presented as evidence, from the Baltimore family and others influenced by the Diocese, were not from respected or trustworthy individuals, and none of the affidavits sent to Rome by the Diocese supporting their contention that Fr. Christopher should be severely punished were from anyone who actually knew Fr. Christopher, with the possible exception of an affidavit from the parish’s Office Manager, who, it is imminently now clear, had her own axe to grind and her own battles to be avenged. Indeed, it is possible, that the reason those Acts were never shared with Fr. Christopher and his canonist, is because they were so outrageously false. There is no other reason to suggest that the abandonment of what was promised and what would have been the proper protocol, was because the Acts sent by the Bishop were patently false, and, perhaps, implicated someone still working at the Church. The debased meanness of that person has been evident in so many of the actions that have taken place over the last four years.
The Acts for Fr. Christopher and Bishop Dewane were received in Rome in July of 2017, where they wallowed for nearly another year. It is conjecture on our part, that roughly by the end of June or beginning of July, in 2018, a time Bishop Dewane was believed to be in Rome, the Vatican made it clear that they were not of a mind, based on what was sent to them, to remove Fr. Christopher from the priesthood. In spite of its obvious critical importance, Fr. Christopher and his canonist were not informed of that decision by Rome, and they continued to think that their labors were meant to still be focused on opposing the complete removal of Fr. Chrisopher’s priesthood, an extreme action that is normally only done after a priest is convicted of pedophilia, and which of course was never the case here. In reality, the ground had shifted, and Bishop Dewane and his cronies in Rome, dreamt up a different approach, but it was the best the Bishop could possibly hope for. The “new” approach was designed in such a way that the Bishop could still achieve what he wanted from the beginning, the dissolution of Fr. Christopher’s priesthood. The only difference being that his removal would be virtual, much like what happened four years ago when Fr. Christopher was asked to leave the Church property and never interact with parishioners or staff.
Our timeline suggests that it took Rome and Bishop Dewane another six months to hatch the plan, which would be a mixture of punishments and remedies, and would require Fr. Christopher to disappear for a year and adhere to certain regulations set down by Bishop Dewane. It was a plan which needed time to be placed under the hand of Pope Francis, in forma specifica, which would make the decision of the Congregation for Clergy permanent and without any appeal. We are told that the Congregation issued its Decree in January of 2019, but it was not shared with Fr. Christopher and his canonist until May. It was in May that Fr. Christopher and his canonist first knew that the ground had shifted, that they were no longer fighting for the preservation of Fr. Christopher’s priesthood, since something considered “less” was being requested by the Bishop. There was still one thing that needed to be taken care of: Fr. Christopher’s removal as pastor.
In spite of the eventual and malicious removal of Fr. Christopher’s name from the Parish Bulletin, Fr. Christopher was still the only duly appointed pastor of St. Isabel Parish, and pastors have rights given to them by the Canon Law of the Church. Not unlike his priesthood, there were repeated attempts by the Diocese to get Fr. Christopher to surrender his role as pastor by submitting a formal resignation. Fr. Christopher knew that if he did such a thing, his role as pastor would come to an abrupt, and what would appear to be a “voluntary” end. Fr. Christopher made it clear that he wanted the “protections” that come from following Canon Law. It, apparently, was foolish for him to believe that those protections would be given to him.
As so many things in the Church happen, a “Decree” was issued stating that, at best, Fr. Christopher’s tenure as pastor “had become ineffective,” and his removal as pastor was being sought by the Diocese of Venice. It was already too late for the “personal warnings” that Canon Law states are meant to precede any such action, and so Fr. Christopher waited for the moment when he would be informed that “two priests” (often canonists) had been chosen to review the Decree. The Bishop would make his case known, and Canon Law provides for the opportunity for the priest being removed to make his case. Months passed, into the new year, when Fr. Christopher’s canonist inquired about Fr. Christopher’s status, so unclear was it. Fr. Deibel, Fr. Christopher’s canonist, received a response that his removal happened months before, and “that the time for any recourse (input) had long expired.” Fr. Christopher was quickly and prematurely moved to the “retired” state, with his salary suspended, and his pension and health benefits not yet ready to go into effect. Once again, the protections offered by Canon Law were not provided to Fr. Christopher.
Fr. Christopher now continues to wait for a decision regarding the imposition of those penalties and punishments, which Rome appears might be willing to negotiate. As we already know, in a meeting in February 2017, the canonist speaking for Bishop Dewane who was not present at the meeting, boldly announced that “the Bishop stated that he had no intention to ever give faculties (the ability to celebrate Mass in the Diocese) to Fr. Christopher again, no matter what Rome might decide.” While he waits, Fr. Christopher still has a permanent “no trespassing citation” from the City of Sanibel, unnecessarily imposed at the suggestion of Mrs. Khristy Scheer, who only continues to collude with the Diocese in causing as much harm to Fr. Christopher as is humanly possible.
In the meantime, Fr. Christopher’s health has been damaged over the last four years by the near constant stress. The clinical depression he has endured now for more than two years, while not unfamiliar to him, has lasted much longer than the one that led him to leave the monastery. In addition, a lien has been placed on Fr. Christopher’s new home, the result of an “anonymous” suggestion to Sarasota County to review his homestead status, a suggestion thought to stem from office staff or the Diocese. His reputation, for those who did not know him well enough, was seriously harmed, and, as we have recently learned, the Parish’s Office Manager, who should not even still be working at the parish with the public scandal of her many drunken nights out with the previous pastor, continues to spread harmful lies and untruths among parishioners – lies and untruths no doubt generously shared with the Diocese, thus securing a certain permanency to her position. When the former pastor was cited for drunk driving with Mrs. Khristy Scheer sitting in the passenger seat, most people would have lost their jobs. Not only did Mrs. Scheer retain her job, Fr. Gates was promoted to be full-time administrator of a northern parish.
Fr. Christopher was not allowed to retire in anything resembling a “normal way,” and his retirement has been marked by being unable to mourn the passing of friends and parishioners, and unfairly being issued a permanent and lasting no-trespassing citation, as already stated, a citation which was vindictively issued by the Office Manager for no apparent reason. When asked to have that no-trespassing citation rescinded, as well as the two issued to two female parishioners, the Diocese refused. Left standing, the citation will insure that Fr. Christopher will never be able to step foot on Church property, to mourn parishioners or witness their burials.
In addition to the aforementioned, the damage to Fr. Christopher’s financial stability is also not incidental. While Fr. Christopher earned a full salary up until May, the monthly salary would have been supplemented by $300-350 for the stipends Fr. Christopher would have earned for all of the Masses celebrated during the bulk of the past four years. Since Fr. Christopher rarely asked for replacement priests, contrary to the accusations of the Diocese, Fr. Christopher would have celebrated most of the Masses in the last four years. Fr. Christopher’s original plan was to retire after his 72nd birthday, a birthday that has not happened as yet, because it would mean a more stable retirement.
Fr. Christopher’s forced retirement was made all the more painful by watching the incredible mismanagement of the parish, moving it from a vibrant, active, and loving parish, to something that is barely recognizable. The vicious and vindictive spirit which prevails in the parish was never more evident than in the disbanding of the 40+ year-old Women’s Guild. It was not only totally unnecessary, it should have been disturbing to the powers-that-be, but unfortunately they appear incapable of being disturbed. Presently the parish is being served by a pastor who is virtually a “part-time caretaker” earning a full-time salary, and the recent firing of the parish’s music minister while he was on an approved health care leave, is in keeping with the vicious firing of the parish nurse while on medical leave. The vindictive spirit which continues to permeate the parish of St. Isabel, is the same spirit which fired/forced out the previous popular music minister, Scott MacDonald.
Parishioners For Justice regrettably recognizes the sadness which overwhelms each and every October 28 since 2016, and all the days in between. They are all even more pathetic given that they never needed to happen. The immeasurable pain Fr. Christopher and so many parishioners have endured was singularly the result of one person – Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Yes, the Knott family was purely evil; yes, the county investigation was poorly done; the Diocese’s reliance on vicious and vindictive Church personnel was unexpected; but the only person truly responsible for all the harm done is Bishop Dewane. The Knott’s case would not have gone anywhere, had it not been the Bishop’s desire to make it go further. The County had already dropped their poorly run investigation six months before October 28, 2016. Bishop Dewane had numerous opportunities to pause and find out the truth, but he chose to be manipulated by, and collude with, the Knott family, whose greed and sense of superiority drove them to destroy one priest’s life, and additionally destroy what was considered a premiere parish.
Fr. Christopher has enjoyed no justice over the last four years, and it is unlikely that he will ever see any justice whenever his plight with the Diocese finally ends. The Church as a whole has also suffered, for what is worst about the way the church operates, and what led to the dreadful pedophilia crisis, is what has been steering this case since October 28. Without his finding any justice, our prayer is that Fr. Christopher can find the peace that he deserves.
While we all admit to being tired of this truly unfortunate saga, our support for you Fr. Christopher is unwavering, and even when you might be feeling you are standing alone, hundreds of us continue to stand with you.
Parishioners For Justice