June 19, 1976
Forty-six years ago on June 19, I was ordained a priest with my classmate from the monastery, Fr. John Fortin. It was a day we were looking forward to since our elevation to the transitional diaconate the year before. Our families’ had gathered, and given the distance most had traveled, my family was making it a weekend in the woman’s dormitory, something that became an annual event. Nothing, it seemed, could ever rob us of the joy that was felt on that day. Blessedly, the details of the next forty-six years were hidden from our eyes.
Flash forward to this year, when the anniversary of my ordination falls on the quintessentially appropriate feast of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, a celebration of the Eucharist. For five and one-half years now, the ordination that brought so much joy forty-six years ago now brings an overwhelming sadness, for it has been under attack by the one person who should have had my health and well-being foremost in his mind, my shepherd, my bishop, Frank J. Dewane.
Without a word to me, my bishop colluded for two years with the despicable Knott family of Baltimore, who confected a frivolous and untrue attack on my character, suggesting I had stolen rings off Marion McIntyre’s hand. They falsely accused me of this while Marion was in the hospital and in the presence of my brother and now deceased sister-in-law. Their attack had no merit whatsoever, yet without my knowledge (legal?), they were able to secure a subpoena for eight years of my financial records. In spite of having my entire financial records in front of them, the County Sheriff’s case against me was abandoned in February of 2016 for “lack of evidence,” causing the then Sheriff (Sheriff Mike Scott) to state that I was “not guilty.”
This was surely a disappointment to my bishop, yet he never desired to get together and discuss these accusations in private. For eight months Bishop Dewane stewed and waited to pounce, and rather than talking to me, while still colluding with the Knott family, planned a big reveal to me with his Judicial Vicar, Rev. Joseph Waters from St. Petersburg on October 28, 2016. The meeting was designed to blindside and frighten me, per orders of the Knott family, and when my Advocate and I arrived, in the center of the conference table was a sizable stack of papers, which, if the bishop had read them, one could only conclude that he deliberately lied later in the meeting about their contents.
The piece de resistance of the short (20 minute) meeting was offered to me at the end. Assuming I was so guilty that I would immediately sign them, papers were drawn up for me to willingly surrender my priesthood. I refused to sign them then, and refused to sign them the numerous times they were once again offered to me.
Between then and now are numerous, but frivolous and untrue attacks on my person. There was the continued collusion with the Knott family which resulted in two civil lawsuits against me, both of which were settled at considerable cost. When the protracted diocesan case against me was settled in Rome, which concluded that they could not, based on what was provided, “remove Fr. Christopher’s priesthood,” and disappointment would once again overwhelm Bishop Dewane. He needed time to find another way to attack. He would choose to not share the Roman document announcing a conclusion to their investigation (information we were entitled to), in order to spend the next four months confecting new punishments/remedies, which included help from the previous prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy procuring an in forma specifica from Pope Francis, ordering me to go away for a year of prayer and penance. That has not happened, in spite of repeated requests from Bishop Dewane, due to my many health issues of which you are all aware.
And so where are we on this anniversary of my ordination? The shadows and darkness which occasionally cloud my life, have not diminished my joy that I find in being a priest. Being a priest has been made difficult, at times impossible, but I refuse to surrender my priesthood. For forty-six years my priesthood has been at the center of my life, and regardless of where it has been exercised, it has brought me a joy that pierces the moments of depression and lifts me out of any desire to be down. That priesthood is inseparable from the sheep I have been privileged to lead, and they are sheep whose names I know, and they truly know me. It is those sheep who have raised me up with their support and encouragement, and they have stood by me even when the powers that be suggested they were no longer welcome in the church they attended for decades. On June 19th, and every day, I am forever grateful for the love and affection shown to me by so many people, and I ask them to continue to pray for God’s just judgment, and the preservation of my priesthood, and its restitution in full. “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”