Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing

At least ten pastors in the Diocese of Venice have written a joint letter to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, complaining of the maladministration of Bishop Frank Dewane.  According to the allegations raised by his priests Dewane has refused any oversight or transparence of Diocesan finances in violation of Canon Law that requires both a finance board and the consent of the board of Diocesan Consultors on expenses over a given amount.  Even more serious, however, are the charges that Dewane has been verbally abusive to clergy and employees and that he has  repeatedly ruled those under his authority with intimidation, the use of fear, shaming, bullying and other non-Christian behaviors.” The letter goes on to say that Dewane’s “mean-spirited demeanor with clergy make him impossible to work with.  The bishop has a reputation among staff and clergy of being a “rageaholic” who intimidates by uncontrollable outbursts of anger.  This may of have worked for him in the corporate world in the days before he was “called” to the priesthood.  (The Bishop worked for NBC and for a subsidiarity of Pepsi in his early 30’s.)  It is not becoming a successor of the Apostles. 
One particular case is that of a retired priest from a religious order who lives in a retirement home in the Diocese of Venice.  When the bishop received a letter of complaint that Father had an Obama bumper sticker on his car during the 2012 election, Bishop Dewane called the priest in and demanded that he remove the bumper sticker even though the bishop had no authority over the priest whose membership in a religious order exempts him from the authority of the diocesan bishop.  There are frequent stories of the Bishop’s high-handed and arbitrary use of power. 
Bishop Dewane, for his part, dismisses the accusations as non-credible since the authors of the letter refuse to come forward.  A copy of the letter released to the press did not include the names of the authors and when the Papal Nuncio sent Dewane a copy of the letter, the Nuncio also deleted the names of its signers.  The official response from the diocese states
Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Diocese of Venice in Florida take seriously all letters of inquiry. However, anonymous letters or unsigned correspondences, as such, in professional circles lack all credibility… This is a clear attempt to maliciously and publicly damage the reputation of Bishop Dewane and the Diocese of Venice.”
Of course the letter was not anonymous or unsigned but the signers asked the Nuncio not to give the bishops their names for fear of retaliation—a fear that, according to several sources in the Diocese of Venice, is well founded.  The bishop is known to be a frightened and insecure man, even on the edge of paranoia” one priest said.  Many more priests would have signed the letter but they did not trust that their signatures would remain confidential and Bishop Dewane always gets his pound of flesh. 
One of Dewane’s idiosyncrasies is his instruction that when he comes to a parish, no altar server is to be taller than he.  As he is not a tall man this can be a challenge for a pastor trying to organize a liturgy.  He also does not like women in the sanctuary or participating in an active way as readers or other liturgical ministers. 
Dewane was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be Bishop of Venice in 2006. Along with Robert Finn of Kansas City MO, Robert Morlino of Madison WI, David O’Connell of Trenton NJ, Thomas Paprocki of Springfield IL, Michael Sheridan of Colorado Spring CO, Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix AZ, and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco CA, Dewane is considered to be among the “old school” bishops who pretty much ignore the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council and rule as petty princes in their own kingdoms.  Unfortunately, about the worst thing that happens to bishops guilty of ineptitude or even the abuse of authority is that they don’t get promoted, leaving a Bishop like Dewane in place for many years to come—many years in which he can hunt down and move in for the kill on those whose complaints have thwarted his rising through the ranks.  Meanwhile clergy morale plummets and the energy of the Church is drained for the lack of effective leadership.
This is not the first time that priests have written the Holy See about the bad leadership being given by their bishop.  A much larger group of clergy appealed to Pope John Paul II about the maladministration of Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archbishop of New York.  The appeal went unanswered.  There is need in the Church today for a serious system of review for bishops to make sure that they have the confidence of their clergy and faithful.  Bishops do not serve at the will of the faithful entrusted to them, but neither should they have some automatic tenure when so many abuse the power entrusted to them.  Of course, we can pray and hope that Pope Francis will give us bishops who embrace his understanding of the Church and share in his openness to the faithful, but it will take several years for him to appoint sufficient bishops to alter the direction of the Church in a sounder ecclesiology.  In the meantime, the bishops who do not “get” Francis’s direction need to be held accountable for their responsibility to be wise and loving shepherds for the flocks entrusted to their care. 
We Catholics make much—perhaps too much—of the Apostolic Succession of our bishops: the claim that through the unbroken chain of the laying on of hands, the office of bishop (and by extension, that of priest) can be traced back to the apostles.  But what good is the “Apostolic Succession” if the Gospel the clergy preach is not the same Gospel as the Apostles handed down and if the live they lead are so openly contrary to the Apostolic life.  No, we need better bishops than many of those we have been given these last thirty years or so. 


  1. I realize that you have a policy of not publicizing comments, but I assume you do read what is submitted. (Although you did see fit to make a previous comment of mine visible!) I am hoping that at some point you might reference the steady dismantling of Bishop Matthew Clark's 33-year legacy in the Diocese of Rochester by someone who bears a striking resemblance to the bishop of Venice. I don't know if there are "10 good men" in the diocese with the courage to do what their counterparts in Florida have done, but I do feel that members of the laity with nothing to lose in terms of livelihood or position are better able to counter the Katholic Krazies wherever they might be found.

  2. give me a few days and let me see what I can do. I am going to be in the Rochester Diocese next week and I will talk with some folk I know there

  3. The chancellor and bishop walk hand in hand, I think these characters to look the diocese from a business approach, where a conglomerate of subordinates, and it makes sense when it is said that the bishop appoints priests too young as pastors and administrators and the oldest or what are already the period of Bishop Nevins has resagado completely. As many good priests who engage with their communities. Do not forget that Dewane was a businessman and nbc and Coke already has that mentality

  4. A few years ago I wrote a letter of complaint to Bishop DeWayne and a number of other bishops regarding their public position on homosexual marriage. As a traditional Catholic I felt it was his duty to come out forcefully in opposition, instead of the more nuanced position they had taken that was more consistent with the USCCB. The letter I wrote to each of them was direct and intemperate by almost any standard.

    Only one bishop responded to my letter and that was Bishop DeWayne. His response was thoughtful, measured, understanding and even forgiving. He did not express either agreement or disagreement with my point of view, but from my perspective it was responsible.

    At the time I was a Maryland resident and, oddly enough, not only am I now a Florida resident, I am in his diocese. My wife and I have been assisting in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church since we arrived, and it couldn't get any better.

    It was by happenstance that I ran into this complaint letter, as I had been searching to find out if Bishop DeWayne had taken any position in opposition to the "girl scout" that may have been similar to Archbishop Carlson of St Louis. Apparently he has not. Nevertheless, in light of my earlier experience with him regarding homosexual marriage, I find it very difficult to believe that he would be anything less than respectful to anyone––unless there was good reason to be so. Quite frankly, if I had a subordinate that pasted an Obama sticker on their vehicle and drove it onto my parking lot, they'd get more than an earful from me.

    Perhaps some day I'll have the opportunity to meet and thank Bishop DeWayne personally for the courtesy he extended me a few years ago, but until then I will gladly speak up for his character and his accommodation for those who do not necessarily agree with the positions he might have on serious Catholic issues.