Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond found this news in the local paper, the Martinsville Bulletin:
Father Mark White has been removed as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, one day after Easter Sunday.
In a letter dated Monday to the parishioners of both churches, Bishop of Richmond Barry Knestout said the matter was done and named a temporary replacement.
“Today, I write to inform you that Father Mark White has been removed as Pastor of your two parishes effective this day,” Knestout wrote. “He has received a new assignment and will [be] leaving the area within the week.”
According to a statement from Knestout released later Monday, White has been reassigned as “chaplain to various prisons, state and federal, within the diocesan bounds” effective April 13.
Late last year Knestout had ordered White to remove a popular blog he had authored that often was critical of the way the hierarchy of the church has responded to the sexual abuse scandal.
White was summoned in early February to the Diocese of Richmond to meet with church officials, and church officials traveled to Rocky Mount a few days later to deliver an oral directive to White telling him to cease with the blog under the threat of being removed.
The diocese also took out full-page ads in the Martinsville Bulletin and at least two other state newspapers. Knestout later submitted a letter to Catholics that was published in the Bulletin, and White responded with a public letter to the bishop.
White initially complied with the bishop’s requirement, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and St. Joseph and St. Francis closed to the public and suspended all Masses.
I wrote “to the bishop … with my canonical arguments and asked that, especially considering the imminent need we priests will have to communicate over the internet, he formally remove his threat to remove me if I publish my blog,” White said at the time.
White said he received no response from Knestout, so he made the decision to defy Knestout’s order and resurrect his popular blog.
Bishop Knestout’s letter about the priest’s blog says, in part:
For more than a year, in fact since the fall of 2018, in my judgment Father Mark White has worked against the unity of the Church, promoted disrespect for the Holy Father, the Church hierarchy, his bishop, and has demonstrated a will adverse to obedience to the bishop of his diocese, which he took an oath to uphold at his ordination.
This has occurred on his website through a series of blog posts under the general heading of “the McCarrick case, the PA Grand Jury Report, the February 2019 Vatican Meeting, and the Scandal in general” beginning (according to Father White’s own index) from Nov. 17, 2018 to Oct. 3, 2019.
Numerous efforts urging Father White to refrain from inflammatory comments or “posting” on his blog have resulted in his attempt to publicly ridicule or embarrass his bishop. (See, for example, Sept. 20, 2018 and Nov. 13, 2019 now republished on his website in direct contradiction to my instruction to him of Nov. 21, 2019).
On numerous occasions, I invited Father White to meet with me privately to address these concerns, yet each time he refused or demurred, claiming he had too many local demands to take the time to meet in Richmond. When I responded to his questions by letter, he chose to publish my personal correspondence to him on his public blog (Sept. 20, 2018) rather than meet with me in person.
From Nov. 17, 2018 until now, Father White has acted in violation of promises he made at ordination by pushing the faithful to animosity against the Apostolic See, his bishop, and by injuring the good name of our Holy Father.
Meantime, as recently as April 14, Father White has continued with his blog posts:
A bishop does not have the legal right to silence a priest altogether, or to constrict a priest’s freedom in an unnatural way. A bishop has the duty to insist on clarifications and corrections, if and when a priest departs from truth and orthodoxy in his preaching or publications.
I acknowledge the bishop’s role there. I have asked many times for the clarifications and corrections that the bishop would have me make. Never got a specific response, or any kind of written response at all. In the meetings we had, he gave me only vague generalizations about what I had done wrong. I pointed out that we seem to have significant misunderstandings between us, and I asked for his specific objections. No response.
The Church has explicit rules about a bishop removing a parish pastor against the pastor’s will. So far we have followed none of those rules.
Longtime readers of The Bench may remember the name of Father Mark White from previous posts.