Church members show support for priest in legal battle

Local News

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WFXR News) – Congregation members of two Catholic churches are showing their support for a priest who was removed by Richmond Diocese Bishop. The priest has appealed his removal and is still in place at both churches while the process unfolds.

Father Mark White presides over St. Joseph in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount.

Originally Father Mark White was told to stop his blog, which at times was critical of the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases. He shut the blog down for some time, but once the pandemic hit and he wasn’t able to meet with his members face to face, he started it up again and he was removed shortly after.

Now, those who attend his church are making it known, they support him.

“I wish everybody had an opportunity to have a priest like Father Mark,” said Judy Rogers.

Rogers and several other members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Rocky Mount say they don’t want to see Father White removed.

“This is a terrible time to remove our pastor. We need priest, somebody to talk to in these troubling times,” said Joe Graf.

That’s why many took up the issue when Bishop Barry Knestout, who originally tried to remove Father White, came and conducted mass at St. Francis. See his full homily here.

“Frankly I’m angry. Angry that the bishop thought that he could come to this church on Saturday the 19th, surprise Father Mark, surprise everyone else,” said Joe Kernan who thinks the Bishop may have been trying to send a message.

“Attempting to intimidate Father Mark. And he must have thought that he could intimidate the parishioners into not supporting Father Mark and nothing could be further from the case.”

The day after the bishop spoke in Rocky Mount, many church members thought he would do the same at Father White’s other church in Martinsville. So they went to show their respect with bumper stickers and signs.

“Father Mark did not know about this. We all got there and when he arrived around 3 o’clock to conduct the Sunday evening mass we all started blowing our horns and showing our signs and showing him how much we loved him,” said Rogers.

The Bishop Knestout was not there. He did, however, write a letter to the parish about Father White’s blog and the decision to try to remove him.

Read the full letter here.

“All of the people that I know, support him very much, want him not to be removed as our pastor,” said Graf.

“And if he thinks that the parishioners like myself and those who you just interviewed are going to walk away from Father Mark and leave him hanging, that’s not going to happen,” Kernan said.

WFXR News reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond for a statement from Bishop Knestout about this and was referred to the letter he sent to the parish.

When asked for a comment about the matter, Father Mark White released a statement saying, “I hope we can move forward calmly, according to the Church’s rules for resolving things like this.”

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