ROCKY MOUNT (VA)
WRIC - ABC 8 [Richmond VA]
July 13, 2021
By Kerri O'Brien
A Virginia priest could be removed from priesthood. He continued to blog about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals even after the Catholic Diocese of Richmond Bishop ordered him to keep quiet.
8News first began digging into this story back in early 2020. Father Mark White at first obeyed an order to stop blogging. However, he restarted the online conversation once COVID hit and in-person church services halted. That has now prompted Bishop Barry Knestout to take their battle to Pope Francis.
The dispute heated up when in a surprise move, Bishop Knestout suddenly showed up at St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount and took over mass. Father Mark White was the pastor at the Church. He also served as Pastor at St. Joseph’s in Rocky Mount.
During the televised service Bishop Knestout told viewers, “Father White and I are at odds.” In the video shared with 8News, you see Pastor White is forced to stand in the background. The Bishop went on to say, “Father White claims that I injured him. I claimed earlier that he injured me.”
Shortly after that mass, White was locked out of the churches, his apartments, and essentially kicked to the curb.
“Thanks be to God I had a parishioner that was able to provide me with a place to live,” said White. Now the embattled priest could lose his collar.
Bishop Knestout told White he’s petitioned Pope Francis to have him formally removed from the clergy state.
“It breaks my heart. I can’t see myself doing anything else,” said White.
Parishioners like Christy Hall are angry. She said, “They changed the locks on his apartment with no warning, I mean this is just goofy, childish stuff. It is as about as un-Catholic has you get.”
Church members Tiziana Dimao and Gina Foley can’t understand it. “It’s not right,” said Dimaro.
Dimaro, Foley and Hall all attend St. Joseph’s. They support Father White and thought he was a wonderful pastor.
“I am heartbroken at what is happening,” said Foley.
White says the blog at the center of the controversy was his way of having an open dialogue about the church sex scandals and the Catholic cover-ups. He said, “Without a more systematic acknowledgement of the kind of cover-ups that have occurred, a lot of it just seems like words.”
The priest also struggles with the fact that he was ordained by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was investigated by The Vatican years later and is now a known predator. The investigation found he committed multiple sex crimes against children and adults.
White said, “It’s going to take me the rest of my life to deal with that having happened.”
The priest thought Bishop Knestout would want to join him in the online conversation. White said, “Our Bishop knows him and worked with him very closely as well. We both were under the authority of this predator.”
Instead Bishop Knestout ordered him to take down the blog. The Bishop has now taken their dispute directly to The Vatican. During that mass in Rocky Mount he told viewers, “Father White will bring his case, and I will bring mine.”
“It is a crushingly painful thing,” said White.
It’s painful for parishioners too. “To have a good priest punished like this is unthinkable, it’s un-Christian,” said Hall. Foley says it jut doesn’t make sense. She told us, “It feels to me as if he is being treated worse than any proven pedophile.” Hall said it has destroyed the parish. She said, “We have several people who lost all their faith, left the parish and the church entirely.”
The actions of the Bishop have sparked protests. Members of St. joseph’s and St. Francis of Assisi took their fight to the Catholic Embassy in Washington, DC. Others have begged for a meeting with the Bishop but say they have been routinely denied. “He said the answer was going to be the same that he gave to other parishioners, nothing was going to change,” said DiMaro.
It’s been a true test of faith for Foley. She said, “As a parishioner, as a lifelong Catholic, it’s incredibly painful. He is a good man.” DiMaro feels the same. “I am Catholic but I don’t trust the hierarchy anymore,” she said.
Bishop Knestout wouldn’t talk with 8News about it either. He and the Diocese once again refused our request for an interview telling us, “this is a personnel matter.”
In a past statement we were told, “Bishop Knestout expects all clergy to express themselves in a manner that is respectful.” We were also told in that statement that, “the Diocese of Richmond continues to offer transparency about the abuse crisis.”
Parishioners like Foley and Hall don’t view any of this as transparent. Some Catholic Church members have written Cardinals and The Pope himself in support of Father White. Foley said, “We need good decent men like Father Mark.” Some have even requested the Bishop be relocated. “I think it’s a swell idea,” said Hall.
Father White is keeping his trust in his god.
“I know he is with me, I know he is guiding me. And this something he’s asking me to embrace,” he said.
Father Mark White has a Canon Law attorney trying to dispute the petition to have him removed. He says he also continues to try and do the good work. He is working with survivors of clergy abuse on a speaker’s series. The next one is in Richmond on July 25.
Speakers will be Mark Vath and Ricard Windmann. The event begins at 6:30pm at the Beacon Hill Center (6423 Iron Bridge Road, Richmond 23234).