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Bishop makes good on threat to remove Father Mark White as priest in Martinsville, Rocky Mount

Bishop makes good on threat to remove Father Mark White as priest in Martinsville, Rocky Mount

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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.

White said in late March he realized the value of his blog, which has reached over 1 million readers, as a means of communications was more important than ever, so he wrote to Knestout and asked to be allowed to resume his posts.

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.

“Given all the strains on our parish community life caused by the virus outbreak, I feel duty-bound to use my blog as an avenue of pastoral communication,” White said at the time.

On Monday Knestout removed White from those duties and announced they would immediately become the responsibility of Father Kevin Segerblom, pastor of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke Episcopal Vicar for the Western Vicariate, “until such time as a new pastor can be named,” Knestout wrote.

White did not comment immediately.

On Easter Sunday, the day before Knestout’s letter of dismissal, White posted on his blog that he had called as many of his parishioners as he could to wish everyone a happy Easter and planned to continue doing so through the Easter season.

“One question has arisen in many of those conversations,” White wrote on his blog Easter Sunday. “‘How are you, Father?’

“The virus came; I wrote the bishop; I turned my blog back on; bishop wrote to the parishes; my canon lawyer wrote the bishop, asking him to retract his letter.”

That letter was published in its entirety in the Bulletin. In it, Knestout asked the parishioners of both churches what they thought he should do regarding White and his blog.

“You can’t endure life in 21st-century America, and remain an orthodox clergyman, without some stubbornness in your soul,” White wrote in his blog Easter Sunday, the day before his reassignment. “I accuse no one but myself.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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