VENICE, Fla. -- Some Catholic priests within the Diocese of Venice are speaking out against their own Bishop. In a letter to their Archbishop, they say Frank Dewane rules with intimidation, fear, shaming, bullying, and other non-Christian behaviors.
The letter was written and signed by priests and pastors, and it contains some pretty serious accusations.
It highlights problems that some clergy members see with Bishop Dewane, the leader of the 70 local Catholic parishes, and was written to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano in Washington, DC back in January. We are told a lack of response initiated the priests to give the letter initially to NBC 2 in Ft. Myers.
The first of three areas of concern states "there is no financial transparency in the bishop's office." Of particular concern are the acquisitions of properties kept secret from clergy and laity of the diocese.
It goes on to say "the bishop does not allow legitimate oversight as canon law intends," saying councils and boards which help make church decisions have been disbanded and that the Bishop makes decisions on his own without oversight. Adding the bishop does not provide ongoing care for the clergy, especially the sick and elderly.
The harsh criticism continues: "Bishop Dewane has repeatedly ruled those under his authority with intimidation, the use of fear, shaming, bullying, and other non-Christian behaviors. Outbursts of rage, use of blasphemous language, despotic demands based not on reason or logic, have repeatedly scandalized clergy and laity alike. His absolute authoritarianism and mean-spirited demeanor with clergy make him impossible to work with."
They finalize the letter by saying "in summary, your excellency, we have lost confidence in Bishop Dewane, whose behavior is the opposite of what Pope Francis urges his priests and bishops to be."
ABC 7 asked to interview the Bishop on these accusations Friday, but were told no. We were sent a statement that reads in part: "No letter from any source has been received by the Diocese or Bishop Dewane on the topic that has been identified by the media.”
It goes on to say "this is a clear attempt to maliciously and publicly damage the reputation of Bishop Dewane and the Diocese of Venice. With the general nature and unfounded complaints in the letter that was released, one has to wonder who is being bullied by whom?"
The letter was initially signed by 10 priests and pastors. We are told there are many more, but there is a fear of retaliation.
Full statement from Bob Reddy, Diocese of Venice Assistant Communications Director, addressing the issue of the letter:
"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.
No letter from any source has been received by the Diocese or Bishop Dewane on the topic that has been identified by the media.
Having first seen the contents of the letter on the media website, it is concerning that while on two occasions the authors themselves demanded confidentiality, they in fact leaked the contents to the media. This is a clear attempt to maliciously and publically damage the reputation of Bishop Dewane and the Diocese of Venice.
With the general nature and unfounded complaints in the letter that was released, one has to wonder who is being bullied by whom?
Bishop Dewane continues to be open to speaking to any priests of the Diocese on matter of concern."