Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fr. Harrison and the Diocese of Harrisburg

Before addressing Fr. Harrison’s complaints against Bishop Rhoades and the Diocese of Harrisburg, we would like to repeat that we respect and appreciate the many praiseworthy things Fr. Harrison has done in service of the Church. And we consider him a brother in the faith, surely not an “enemy'” as cast in his article. Additionally, we understand the well-intentioned role he has chosen to take up for Bob because we have each played that role for Bob to an extent in the past as well. But his article is misguided and ill-informed.

To begin with, there is considerable irony in the fact that Fr. Harrison spent a great deal of space complaining about the alleged mistreatment Bob received from Bishop Rhoades while convening what amounts to an impromptu, canonical version of the “people’s court” designed to indict His Excellency. As such, we won’t be presuming to present our own canonical brief.

However, one cannot help but notice the number of equivocal words and phrases – “if”, “presume”, "seem”, “good reason to suppose” – that liberally line the arguments leading to Fr. Harrison’s conclusions. And perhaps more importantly, Fr. Harrison appears to have obtained all of his evidence from Bob. There is no evidence in his article that he has had any direct contact with the Diocese of Harrisburg to get the other side of the story. While we can understand why Fr. Harrison might be satisfied with his good friend’s word, the problem is that Bob has already been caught mischaracterizing and omitting relevant information from official, ecclesial correspondence in the past (read here and here )

As such, if Bob and Fr. Harrison were set on this course of action, it would at least have been less objectionable to reproduce his entire correspondence with the diocese – both from Bob and from the diocese - in PDF format for everyone to view (including that which is related to the refusal of his imprimatur on CASB 2), rather than continuing to leak whatever selective quotes are deemed most advantageous to Bob.

In fact, even the extremely limited amount of material that Fr. Harrison leaked brought to light new, pertinent information about the reasons Bishop Rhoades rejected Bob’s article Catholic Apologetics International and Its Teaching on the Jews (CAITJ) – a rejection that played a pivotal role in Bob’s ultimate decision to disobey Bishop Rhoades.

For instance, while Bob gave his readers the impression that Bishop Rhoades' rejection of CAITJ was based solely on doctrinal content and that his “tone” did not play a role:

Sungenis: I subsequently wrote a new article [CAITJ] whose “tone” was proper… (OCRNR, p. 11)

We now know that it most certainly did:

Fr. Harrison: “the Vicar General, Fr. King, replied with a long letter, dated August 23, 2007, stating that in the judgment of Bishop Rhoades, the 7-point statement on Judaism contained in the letter [CAITJ] was not fully satisfactory because of the tone and content of some passages. (p. 12, #5: emphasis added).

Notice also that Fr. Harrison describes the letter from Fr. King as “long.” One wonders what else might come to light were Bob to simply reproduce his entire, long correspondence with the diocese for all to view. (For a further discussion of some of the problems with CAITJ, read here: link1 and link 2 ).

At this point, one may also wonder why Fr. Harrison finds himself in the position of even attempting to make such a public case against a bishop, a case that is, for all intents and purposes, solely for the sake of Bob’s public relations. The simple answer is, because Bob first decided to make a public issue of it.

It was Bob Sungenis who publicly divulged what was occurring in his private interactions with the Diocese of Harrisburg. Bob opted to make several very public, defamatory accusations against Bishop Rhoades designed to justify his decision to recommence attacking Jews. And after Bishop Rhoades merely defended himself from Bob’ s false, public accusations at someone else’s request, Bob then had the chutzpah to use this as an excuse to make additional public attacks on His Excellency. (Please read here for more detail). Had Bob kept this matter private, as he ought to have - and just as the Diocese of Harrisbug did – then the Catholic faithful would have been spared the sad spectacle of this impromptu “court.” And Fr. Harrison would likely have avoided the time-consuming CAI-BTF role known by ex-Sungenis volunteers as damage control.

Perhaps a few additional, brief comments may be of use:

1) Contrary to Fr. Harrison’s claim, Bob did not “promptly comply” with Bishop Rhoades’ “letter of June 29 and (sic) taking down from his website all material relating to Jews and Judaism.” (p. 14) In fact, a few days after receiving the aforementioned letter from Bishop Rhoades, Sungenis publicly defamed His Excellency by falsely accusing him of being a proponent of the problematic Reflections on Covenant and Missions document, which gave the impression that Jews have no need of Christ or His Church. Sungenis then not only kept all of his anti-Jewish postings up for a full month, but also proceeded to post several new anti-Jewish items at CAI - including a prominently placed cartoon of a Jew pointing an assault rifle in a child's face.

It was only after Bob was subsequently summoned in to the diocese to meet with Fr. King and Fr. Massa at the end of July, 2007 that he “promptly” saw the light and indicated his intention to comply. (Please read the following for a more complete treatment of this issue: Timeline and Sungenis Smears Bishop). However, as we know - because of the letter he wrote to his friend Edgar Suter (which Suter promptly forwarded to a large group of Sungenis’ critics) – Sungenis did so for pragmatic, self-serving reasons and not the grandiose, noble-sounding reasons he attempted to claim in public (click here).

We also noted that Fr. Harrison used ellipses to omit the most contentious and defiant sections of Sungenis’s statements to Bishop Rhoades, such as his statement that he would “be quite happy to expose [to the Vatican] the belief in Dual Covenant theology that [Bishop Rhoades] and the USCCB were apparently promoting.” (p. 7) Sungenis was certainly not the humble, obedient son of the Church Fr. Harrison has portrayed him as being (see also: Sungenis’ “Invitation” to Bishop Rhoades)

2) Contrary to Fr. Harrison’s claim, Sungenis has not compliantly desisted from using the title “Catholic” at his website. The name “Catholic Apologetics International” is still prominently featured, including the address of his website and the name of his publishing company: and Catholic Apologetics International Publishing, Inc.  In fact, with the exception of Bob's "home page", the name "Catholic Apologetics International" appears at the top of virtually every other web page on his site.  As such, Bob apparently remains in violation of canon 300 because he has never obtained the permission required to use the title “Catholic.” A few examples of Bob's continuing misappropriation of the title "Catholic" may be found on the following web pages:  link1 , link2 , link3.

3) We invite Fr. Harrison to attempt to reconcile the statements Bob made to Michael Forrest and Edgar Suter on successive days:

Sungenis: “I specifically stated in my recent posting that Bishop Rhoades did not conclude that I had to remove all the Jewish material from my website… As I specified in the above posting, I voluntarily took down the material…Why is it that you went against what my bishop concluded by claiming that the bishop demanded I remove the material, when, in fact, I stated that he did not do so?”

“[The bishop] only asked that I would be more careful in my writing on the Jews…there is nothing more he requested.” (Email to Michael Forrest, Aug 6, 2007).


Sungenis: “The fact is that I was under an interdict from my bishop. I had no choice unless I decided to directly disobey him.” (Email to Sungenis supporter, Edgar Suter, Aug 5, 2007, emphasis added)

4) It is telling that Fr. Harrison, a doctor of theology, explicitly declined to publicly address Bob’s multiple calumnies of a theological nature against Bishop Rhoades (those documented here, here and here). Instead, although he candidly acknowledges that he has a very limited canonical background, he felt compelled to publicly take up a canonical defense of Bob Sungenis.

5) The timing of Fr. Harrison’s article has raised more than a few eye-brows, following so soon after the bishop of the diocese in which he resides (Archbishop Burke) was reassigned to the Church’s top canonical court at the Vatican. In fact, we have been made aware that Archbishop Burke had been contacted regarding a presentation that Bob was invited to make at a recent event organized by Fr. Harrison in Archbishop Burke’s Diocese of St. Louis. According to the reliable information we have received, Bob was subsequently disinvited due to the direct intervention of the Archbishop. This being the case, one wonders what Archbishop Burke would think of Fr. Harrison's present article.

6) Irrespective of the canonical argument Fr. Harrison fashioned for Bob’s disobedience a year after the fact, he failed to indicate whether he believes Bob’s stated reason was a sound moral basis for refusing to listen to Bishop Rhoades. Recall, Bob’s actual rationale for refusing to listen to Bishop Rhoades was that it is “against Catholic faith and morals” for him to refrain from addressing Jewish issues (read more here). Further, Bob founded this “faith and morals” argument on his baseless accusation that Bishop Rhoades holds heretical views that he is “attempting to propagate” to “unsuspecting Catholics”. One might have hoped that a priest of Fr. Harrison’s stature would take serious umbrage at a layman publishing such unsubstantiated charges of heresy against a Catholic bishop. Unfortunately, Fr. Harrison explicitly declined to comment on Bob’s charges against Bishop Rhoades.

Ultimately, the question is whether Bob should have listened to his father in the faith. And then, even should one answer in the negative, the question becomes whether it was therefore acceptable for Bob to justify his refusal to listen by publicly accusing his father in the faith of holding to a heresy, “attempting to propagate” it to “unsuspecting Catholics” and having greater “allegiances” to Jewish causes than the Catholic Church. We think not.

Bishop Rhoades was right in directing Bob to cease public commentary on Jewish issues. Bob has repeatedly proven himself incapable of handling Jewish issues responsibly and honestly. He remains committed to spreading his offensive, anti-Jewish agenda. Everyone, from Jewish converts to people still in need of Christ and His Church and even Bob himself, would greatly benefit were Bob to listen to His Excellency. And with every new anti-Jewish comment, article and conspiracy theory that appears at BTF (click here for the most recent examples), Bishop Rhoades’ discernment and prudence is only reconfirmed. It pains us to see a priest of Fr. Harrison’s stature place himself on the wrong side of that prudent judgment.

In the end, it seems increasingly clear with each passing day that Bishop Rhoades was indeed acting “in God’s stead” when he intervened, precisely as Bob himself stated at the end of July, 2007.

Related articles:

We also recommend reviewing the following articles in their entirety:

1) Timeline