Matt C. Abbott
I recently received the following email (lightly edited by me) from Father Christopher Senk of Fort Myers, Florida:
I have not been allowed to function as a priest since October 28, 2016. My accusations were largely brought by the relatives of a parishioner with whom my bishop colluded for more than two years without my knowledge. A civil investigation exonerated (‘not guilty’) me of any crime involving the taking advantage of a vulnerable adult.
After what was less than a cursory investigation, and to date never having spoken with me about any of these matters, the bishop [Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice] sent the case to Rome requesting that they remove my priesthood. The outcome of that lengthy investigation was that Rome could find nothing that convinced them I did anything wrong, and they refused to remove my priesthood.
The bishop then secured, with the help of his cronies in Rome, an in forma specifica, ordering me to go away for a year of prayer and penance. The bishop says he will not even talk about reinstating me (although he vowed publicly to never, as long as he’s the bishop, give me faculties again) without going away for a year of penance.
Since 2016 I’ve done a lot of praying and a lot of penance. I’m a priest who endured sexual abuse as a young Benedictine monk, but the suffering I’ve endured over the past nearly seven years is much worse than the suffering of sexual abuse.
In a subsequent email to me, Senk wrote:
I believe my signing of [a January 2014 letter to then papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, signed by 10 local priests] complaining of the bishop's volatile behavior and bullying is one of the reasons he went after me.
In March 2019, Dewane sent a letter about Senk’s status to St. Isabel Catholic Church, which is posted on the parish’s website.
The National Catholic Reporter has covered Senk’s case in various articles.
In November 2020, Senk sent a letter to Cardinal Beniamino Stella, then prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (and copying several U.S. prelates, including Blase Cupich, Wilton Gregory, Allen Vigneron, José Gomez and Robert Barron), in which he wrote:
I have made what I believe to be serious complaints, and those complaints need to be addressed: that my bishop followed no canonical protocols in the handling of my case, including my removal as pastor; that on more than one occasion my bishop has lied and deliberately mislead the Congregation to the grave extent of involving the pope in my punishment, in forma specifica.
Bishop Dewane, while maintaining there were ‘other’ offenses against the Diocesan Code of Pastoral Conduct, has never told me or been specific about what those ‘offenses’ were. Bishop Dewane’s refusal to share the Acta with me and my advocate, in spite of being told to do so, is patently unfair and an offense against canon law.
Bishop Dewane’s early statement that he will never give me faculties in this diocese ever again in spite of what Rome might say showed a very definite animus toward me, an animus at work from the very start of the process. Also revealing a certain animus was Bishop Dewane’s decision to draw up papers for me to voluntarily resign from the priesthood, something I was repeatedly encouraged to do at the very first meeting the bishop had with me. Bishop Dewane’s early and forced retirement of me, which I was informed of after ‘the time for any recourse had expired,’ has placed me in a financially and unfairly challenging position.
As a result of his colluding with the wealthy family from Baltimore, Bishop Dewane has continued to do great damage to my physical health after more than four years of constant stress. Bishop Dewane has done nothing to restore the reputation he ruined at the start of this investigation by his calling the local press in to vilify me, and thus, by his hands, starting the only scandal there has ever been in this case….
An investigation into the allegations that Senk exploited a vulnerable adult was conducted by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. In response to my email inquiry, an official from the Sheriff’s Office wrote only that the case “was closed based on insufficient evidence.”
The Diocese of Venice did not respond to my email inquiry on Senk’s assertions.
A group of several hundred parishioners started a website in support of Senk.© Matt C. Abbott
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