A View from the inside of the Catholic Church’s Abuse Scandal
By Joseph H. Saunders
April 23, 2020
Fr. Mark White, a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Richmond in Virginia is emerging as a man of courage and integrity within the ranks of the clergy. He has been willing to do what few clergy have been-that is speak truth to power.
In October 2008, he started a blog under his own name in an attempt to reach those who don’t go to church. However, the blog evolved and has delved into heretofore unchartered waters-a Catholic priest criticizing the bishops for mishandling the priest abuse crisis.
White closed his blog in November 2019, after his bishop ordered him to do so. But after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of Masses with the faithful, he decided to resume blogging, as a way to stay in communication with his parishioners. Bishop Barry C. Knestout, the head of the Diocese of Richmond and White’s immediate superior, didn’t care for the criticism and ordered the priest to stop writing negative pieces about the church.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of Masses with the faithful, he decided to resume blogging, as a way to stay in communication with his parishioners.
His decision to challenge his bishop’s order, however, meant that on Monday he lost his job as pastor of two parishes in Martinsville and Rocky Mount: Bishop Barry C. Knestout sent a letter to White’s parishioners communicating the decision, and then the priest received an email himself.
Essentially, White was fired for exposing the truth about the inner workings of the Catholic Church and how it re-victimized survivors of sexual abuse. White has appealed the bishop’s decision and currently remains in Richmond.
In his blog, White addresses the McCarrick scandal and its repercussions with strong and forceful language. He also accused Pope Francis of failing to do enough to inform the faithful about the cover-up.
“I just don’t feel like I can be an honest priest if I don’t desire and seek in any way I can a true reconciliation with the church for those victims of the man who ordained me,” he said.
White said a widespread culture of cover-up within the church — that neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI was able to put a stop to — allowed McCarrick to rise in influence and power in the U.S. episcopacy in the late ’80s, despite the incredible harm he was allegedly doing to children and vulnerable adults.
Bishop Knestout views the matter differently. Knestout believes it is a matter of obedience. After all, he is the bishop and in Knestout’s mind, he has the prerogative to make an appeal to his authority.
Presently, Fr. Mark White is appealing his ouster as pastor of two parishes in the Diocese of Richmond. He hopes the canonical (church law) process will vindicate his decision to speak out about the sex abuse scandal. However, if it doesn’t he’s prepared to accept that and move on.
“And I hope that I will get justice in that process, but part of what I’ve been writing about is the fact that the quest for justice by victims in the Church has been almost impossible to see through in the end,” White said.
Despite numerous conferences, commissions and summits to promote the protection of minors, the Catholic Church is “nowhere near where we need to be as far as knowing what to do,” White said.
“I think the McCarrick case is the perfect illustration where the idea of damaging the image of the hierarchy was regarded as a higher liability than the disclosure of the truth,” he said, calling it “a serious, serious problem.”
The first step toward reconciliation is for the church to offer victims the benefit of the doubt instead of reliving in circles the pattern of secrecy, cover-ups and scandals, White said.
“The church is going to move into the future with confidence and in closeness to God the more we, all of us, seek to understand the point of view of people victimized and truly identify with them,” he said.
According to the priest, when victims are able to release themselves from the lies and guilt caused by a sexual predator, it’s “the work of Jesus Christ, it’s grace, it’s a triumph of heaven,” and “the church of Jesus Christ needs to see it this way.
The Catholic Church is a powerful institution firmly intent on maintaining its power, authority, and influence. History, including recent history, has demonstrated that the church prefers maintaining this control rather exposing its inner workings to the public.
Fr. Mark White has sided with the survivors of sexual abuse. He has made a powerful enemy. He may be sacrificed on their altar of expediency but his words ring true to all of us who are fighting for the rights of sexual abuse survivors. Regardless of the outcome, Mark White is a hero.