"A group of 10 priests in the diocese of Venice, Fla., describing what they said had become an "intolerable" situation, took the highly unusual step earlier this year of composing a letter severely critical of their bishop, Frank Dewane, and sending it to the pope's representative in the United States.
The letter, addressed to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio, accuses Dewane of ignoring or violating canon law, abandoning consultative processes and ruling by "intimidation, the use of fear, shaming, bullying and other non-Christian behaviors."
The letter, dated Jan. 17, was first reported by TV station NBC2 in Fort Myers, Fla. NCR has since spoken to two of the signatories, who confirmed the authenticity of the letter and that 10 priests signed it. They spoke only on condition that their identities not be revealed, nor would they permit specific examples of Dewane's behavior to be reported, because they said those would allow the priests to be identified.While initial reports said that the signers included some pastors as well as other priests, one of the priests and another layperson familiar with the development of the letter told NCR that all 10 signers are either pastors or administrators and together represent significant years of experience.Dewane, in a half-hour phone interview with NCR, disputed the charges, calling them "malicious" and "unfounded." He said he had not been informed of the identity of the signers, who asked the nuncio for confidentiality. Dewane said he first heard of the complaints when the letter was reported by NBC2. He said the only correspondence he has received from the nuncio was a copy of the letter, without the names, following the initial news report about it. The signers say they have heard nothing from the nuncio. The letter describes a management style that the priests say has caused tension in the diocese for some time between the bishop, members of his clergy, and laypeople.Until this most recent development, however, little has been reported because neither priests nor laypeople affected by Dewane -- whether pastors who feel he has micromanaged and bullied them or laypeople who feel they've lost their positions because of ideological or theological differences -- were willing to state any of the matters on the record, for fear of retribution.Even with the revelation of the letter signed by 10 priests, no one is willing to speak on the record for the same fear. Some claim, too, that far more priests would have signed the letter if they hadn't feared reprisals. How the matter is handled from here is uncertain. Dewane, who recently convened a meeting of all his priests in response to the letter, told NCR he doesn't anticipate doing anything differently. He said he invites frank critique from his priests and contends that his priests have multiple ways of letting him know through deaneries and Presbyteral Council structures what they think..."
Bridget Mary's Response:
How tragic that the atmosphere in the Diocese of Venice is so toxic that the priests cannot address their concerns with Bishop Dewane openly as their beloved brother! It sounds like the priests are in an intolerable situation and have grave concerns that need to be addressed by the pope's representative in the United States. There is no place for bullying in the Catholic Church by anyone including bishops. All of us belong to the family of God and are called to treat one another- even those we disagree with- with mutual respect and loving care. This applies to the bishops too, including Bishop Dewane. Let us pray for the priests and for all who are suffering in this situation, including Bishop Dewane.