Diocesan Profiles 
Diocese of Venice, Florida
John Hushon Reports*

The Diocese was formed out of the Miami Diocese in 1984 and a “Vatican II” auxiliary John Nevins was named its first bishop.  He presided over an “open diocese”—permitting pastors substantial latitude with respect to community building, encouraged ecumenical “interfaith” outreach, and became especially involved with the poorest members of the diocese—the migrant farmers in the Immokalee area.  He retired at 75 in January of 2007 and Frank Dewane became the new Ordinary.  Dewane is a native of Wisconsin, a late vocation schooled in Detroit and Rome, where he became a staffer at the Justice and Peace secretariat.  He has had almost no pastoral responsibilities.  Over the last three years, he has proven himself to be efficient, hyper-conservative, and very close to the Vatican where he travels quite frequently.  His Chancellor was a classmate and close confidant of John Paul II—equally efficient, conservative but with a streak of vindictiveness.  As the following indicates, in three short years they have radically changed the diocese—and many say have destroyed it.

He replaced all Vatican II pastors with his new guys, many from abroad, some new seminary grads. (This took about 2 years.)  Abolished permanent diaconate in the diocese and "accepts" resignation of all active deacons as of March 31, 2010. Instructed pastors that no women are to be EMs, lectors, acolytes when Bishop is presider at a parish liturgy.

He attempted to re-establish several Latin prayers in the general liturgy (i.e., the Creed), but relented when the chancery was stormed with protests. He purchased an unused Protestant Church and established a Latin-only Tridentine Mass program, using priests from the canonically suspect Order of St Peter. He requires a parish in each region to offer at least one Latin Mass per Sunday.

All parish councils were dissolved. New pastors hand pick a few "loyal" advisors—and until now have not requested any nominations of parish committee members. Dozens of parish employees who are "liberal" minded were terminated for "financial reasons"—even those who were working for free. (In our parish alone, 3/4 of the employees were terminated and 1/2 of the volunteers—including, for example, a multi-year, volunteer sacristan who had the temerity to attend a home mass at which the retired pastor was presider.)

The Diocesan Council created by Nevins was eliminated. A few close friends of the bishop (mostly priests) have been chosen as advisors. The Bishop created new deaneries and named trusted friends as deans who report to him on various parish activities at weekly meetings. All reporting from the Diocesan Council is terminated—there is no transparency on the activities

The Diocese tightened up financial controls, requiring all parishes to deposit their entire weekly collections automatically into approved bank accounts, monitored and managed by the diocese.  The diocese takes 26% as tax/cathedraticum/faith appeal, and "permits" pastor or his business manager to write checks for parish activities from the balance. All parish expenditures must be audited annually. The Chancery has reached down into the parishes specifying the compensation for DREs, music ministers, custodians etc. No second collections are permitted and appeals for funds going outside diocese are prohibited—unless approved by the diocese—and there are very few approvals. Parishes are not permitted to raise funds for any purpose except through collections approved and monitored (and subject to the tax) by the diocese. 

The Diocese reorganized its financial holdings and property ownership. All are divided into two parts: part in a Foundation (with Bishop as sole trustee and without audit) and part in General Diocesan Operations (audited, but the audit is worthless as the auditors refuse to render an opinion of fairness--because of frequent movement of funds between the two sets of books and no audit of the Foundation.) One member of the diocesan office (who requests anonymity) reported that the bishop purchased a large and lavish new property for his “palace,” miles from the Cathedral and the chancery in a remote and inaccessible location. Refurbishment costs exceeded budget by a factor of two. At the same time, funding of Catholic Charities was seriously reduced because of bad economic performance.

No speakers, presiders, ministers, retreat leaders, prayer group leaders, mission conductors are permitted in any parish without specific approval of the chancery. Most are rejected. (There is automatic disqualification of anyone who has spoken in favor of married or female priesthood, pro-choice, CTA or VOTF affiliation etc) Many such activities have been moved to the local Orthodox or Protestant churches. It was reported that the bishop wrote to the Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church and complained that groups “purporting to be Catholic” were sponsoring objectionable speakers at Orthodox locations—and the local pastors of were requested out of “comity” to cease. They did so. Protestant ministers have refused to comply. Speakers forbidden have included Curran, Doyle, Carroll, Padovano, Townsend, several members of USCCB’s Child Abuse Panel, Eugene Kennedy, Berry. Recently, Bishop Gumbleton was denied permission to preside at a “Peace Mass.”

All parish bulletins are now vetted by the chancery before publication. Many announcements are routinely deleted--such as VOTF meetings and, of course, CTA meetings. Individuals who place notices under car wipers at Sunday liturgies have been threatened with legal trespass process.

There can be no meetings on parish/diocesan property without permission of the chancery. Some examples: YOGA classes prohibited as "affiliated with Buddhism"; concerts prohibited, school plays must be pre-approved. VOTF, CTA, Pax Christi have all been denied meeting space.

Religious education programs must be of the form approved by the diocese—primarily memorization of the catechism. Any adult education programs must have pre-approved leaders.  First Communion, Confession and Confirmation preparation have been radically reformatted—and numbers participating have dropped. There have been several reported instances of the bishop expressing anger and disdain for teachers (including those in the diocesan high school) in front of students when a student missed words in a prayer or rote answer to a catechism question.

All parish and diocesan ministers and employees must sign an oath of loyalty and obedience (and silence) to the bishop in ALL matters. This is actually administered at an annual Sunday parish liturgy at which the bishop is present and the ministers/employees kneel around the altar pledging their loyalty and obedience.

All parish and diocesan employees are forbidden (under pain of losing their jobs) to attend speaker programs in other (mostly Protestant venues) or to attend meetings (like the American Catholic Council Assemblies or listening sessions and VOTF speaker series and CTA meetings).  Spies actually report on who attends. One retired Christian Brother who teaches an adult Bible study class in his home was asked to stop his support of CTA/VOTF activities--by a letter from the Chancery to his Provincial. When the Provincial responded that he had no authority to require specific actions of a retired person acting on his own, the Bishop wrote back and indicated that if the Provincial did not do something, he (the Bishop) would banish the Christian Brothers from the diocese (they teach in the high school and run a food bank/counseling service for migrant workers in Immokalee).

The chancery reviews all material (including paid advertising) in the diocesan newspaper and excludes much material. For example, VOTF cannot advertise its speaker series and a local parish’s Faith Justice Lenten series announcement was excluded because not all the proposed speakers had been vetted by the diocese.

The bishop has removed most professors at the Rice School for Pastoral Ministry (Barry University, Southwest Florida), decertified Barry as school for diocesan ministry, removed many volumes from the library, discharged the volunteer librarian “for financial reasons”—he was a member of CTA, accepted a trusteeship at the ultra-conservative Ave Maria University (Opus Dei) and agreed to work toward ministerial appointments from Ave Maria grads (i.e., DREs, etc.).

Mass attendance is way off, so are contributions—far more than has been experienced by other churches and charities because of the recession. 

*John Hushon is a graduate of Brown University (1967) and Harvard Law School (1970). He practiced international corporate law with a major firm in Washington DC, New York and Eastern Europe.  He has taught international business transactions at the graduate level at Widener University and Northwestern University as an adjunct. He became the CEO of El Paso Energy International Corporation in 1995, retiring in 2001. He has a Master of Theology from Washington Theological Union with a concentration in Scripture (2005). He has completed significant additional doctoral work in Theology. He co-chairs American Catholic Council and teaches history of religion and Scripture courses at the Renaissance Academy of Florida Gulf Coast University. He lives in Naples, FL with his wife, a PhD environmental consultant who is active in (mostly) volunteer efforts concerning the ecology of Southwest Florida and the Everglades.