Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I've Got To Say I'm Stumped

at the sheer incongruity, if nothing else, of the planned renovation of a Walsingham chapel at the Santiago Retreat Center.

Let's just start with the biggest issue: the retreat center is in a mountainous chapparal ecozone, which is ordered to burn every 20 to 50 years (the vegetation would not survive if it did not periodically burn). The California wildfires that make the news every year are simply the natural effect of this condition. Last week's Blue Cut fire, which took place in neighboring mountains visible from the Santiago center, burned hundreds of structures. Barring some combination of luck and heroic effort, this is what happens to structures that are built in this ecozone.

The structures at the Santiago center appear to be built with this in mind -- in other words, they're cheap and temporary, and this is what you see anywhere in areas like this.

Notice too, though, that the trees surrounding the building in the photo touch the building. It doesn't look as though the site has been planned or maintained with the potential for fire in prudent view.

But why undertake a clearly expensive interior renovation of buildings like these when there's a good chance the wood paneling and so forth won't last through the next fire? If I were a donor approached for a project like this, it's the first question I'd have in mind.

But leaving the question of fire aside, why are we doing this? The total assets of the center are listed as $128,644, which simply matches what we see in photos. Yet a proposal appears to want to spend considerably more than this simply to renovate the interior of one very cheap temporary building on the site.

The goal is to comfortably seat people whilst [note the preciousness here] having the ability to hold a solemn high mass, for the Annual Pilgrimages, and to orient the chapel in a neo-gothic interior that blends with a Spanish mission exterior, as a nod to the Spanish Franciscans who named Santiago Canyon on July 25, 1769, during the Portola Expedition. The exterior grounds around the chapel will contain a prayer garden surrounding the building itself, in the design of the Rosary so that pilgrims may pray whilst enjoying the beautiful surroundings of natural Southern California.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a multiphase renovation, to be used on special occasions or annual pilgrimages -- by a group that doesn't have its own facility at its normal location? I can imagine some lesser members of the Huntington, Crocker, or Stanford families endowing such a thing in the late 19th century, with the resource being passed down for occasional use now, but why are we doing this in 2016? Elsewhere I see mentions of a daily mass, but the Santiago property is not normally open to the public -- you have to call to make a reservation. Might there be a better use for someone's time here?

If Fr Baaten wants to e-mail me and set up a time for me to visit so he can make a case for what's going on here, I'll be delighted to bring my camera and take a detailed look. Short of that, I've got to call into question the judgment of anyone who is indulging this misbegotten proposal. (However, while it's apparently OK for Fr Baaten to call Patrick Madrid, it definitely isn't OK for anyone in the OCSP to e-mail me. Bp Lopes, you could potentially get me more on your side with a little more PR savvy.)

But I'm willing to listen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crowdfunding

My regular correspondent has pointed out that two OCSP or OCSP-related organizations are resorting to crowdfunding to attract donations. For instance, the Santiago Retreat Center, whose strange proposal for a pedantically detailed Anglo-Catholic chapel in the hardscrabble chapparal I mentioned last week, is out to raise $50,000. (It is not clear how the projects proposed in the appeal relate, or don't relate, to the OCSP proposal, nor how OCSP Fr Baaten's position as facilities director there relates to this proposal.)

Crowdfunding is defined (for instance) on this Wikipedia page. It is most commonly used for entertainment media projects, although philanthropic ventures also sometimes use it. Strictly speaking, it also uses crowdfunding platforms like gofundme or the clickandplege site used by the Santiago center. Random begging over the web, or Facebook, which is what BJHN and STM appear to be doing, seems to be a little farther from the definition. However, it seems to me that some of the disadvantages of this method still apply, taken in part from the Wikipedia entry:

[F]failure to meet campaign goals or to generate interest results in a public failure. Reaching financial goals and successfully gathering substantial public support but being unable to deliver on a project for some reason can severely negatively impact one's reputation.
Clearly, some of the appeals and proposals we've seen in Scranton have potentially had this effect. Also,
  • Donor exhaustion – there is a risk that if the same network of supporters is reached out to multiple times, that network will eventually cease to supply necessary support.
  • Public fear of abuse – concern among supporters that without a regulatory framework, the likelihood of a scam or an abuse of funds is high. The concern may become a barrier to public engagement.
. . . . By using crowdfunding, creators also forgo potential support and value that a single angel investor or venture capitalist might offer.
One question I have is why there sems to be no support from a prominent Orange County donor to Catholic projects, Tim Busch. BJHN cannot have escaped Busch's notice, since the group meets in the chapel at his offices and has even used his wine cellar. But apparently for fundraising, BJHN is on its own. Is there some reason why Mr Busch is less hospitable to proposals from BJHN?

I think Houston needs to take a much closer look at fundraising practices in Scranton and Irvine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

More Thoughts On The Interests Of The Parties

I'm a little puzzled that the ACA continues to be a party to the legal actions regarding the St Mary's parish. In November 2012, looking at what the ACA may have wanted in this whole matter, I counted 68 parishes and missions in the four US dioceses. As of this morning, I went back and counted 26 in the DONE, 8 in DEUS, 8 in DOW, and 12 in DMV for a total of 54.

In both 2012 and today, I gave the ACA the benefit of the doubt and counted everything each diocese listed on its website. This means that some number of the 68 in 2012 were inactive or paper parishes; it looks like there are similar questions about the current 54. For instance, although the Diocese of the West currently lists eight, three of these (the one in Montana and one each in Arizona and California) are probably inactive. In fact, two of the other California parishes are moribund without rectors.

My speculation in the November 2012 post was that in undertaking the May 2012 cruise to the Greek islands with Bp Grundorf to negotiate merger with the APA, Brian Marsh anticipated a multimillion-dollar infusion to the ACA from the recently seized St Mary's property. Since then, the ACA's prospects in this attempt have receded at best to stalemate. Prospects for merger with the APA have faded apace, and I don't believe this is a coincidence.

One thing that's stuck with me was Mr Lancaster's cringe in the courtroom Friday when Judge Murphy mentioned the word "receiver". The implications of the St Mary's vestry declaring bankruptcy are complex -- or indeed, a mortgage holder forcing appointment of a receiver -- and I'm nowhere near understanding them at this point. However, I think the bottom line for Mrs Bush and the ACA would be even more loss of control and less ability to delay proceedings.

A bankruptcy trustee would presumably have greater power to pursue the assets Mrs Bush removed from the parish bank accounts early this year. This would be a big problem for her. A good question would also be whether the money went from the non-profit parish accounts to accounts belonging to an organization that may not have formally been a non-profit. This could interest the IRS, and any irregularities could potentially threaten the ACA's tax exempt status.

Another issue could involve a receiver appointed to deal with any foreclosure action connected with the apparently fraudulent mortgage Mrs Bush took out on the property in 2014. A close look at this matter from an independent third party could cause other problems for Mrs Bush and the ACA.

In either case, this would probably allow a trustee or receiver to rent the commercial property. It would probably allow the Kelleys to continue to live on the property, and it would probably allow the vestry to continue to hold services. The rental income would be collected for the benefit of the creditors, and this would probably result in loss of effective ability by Bush and the ACA to delay proceedings via litigation.

it appears to me that Mrs Bush and the ACA would have more to lose than the vestry in any move like this. In addition, a lingering question has always been whether Mrs Bush's interests and those of the ACA are the same, especially in light of any potential irregularities over Mrs Bush's draining the bank accounts or obtaining the 2014 mortgage.

I've got to assume the attorneys for both sides are well aware of the issues involved.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What Problem Are Mrs Bush And The Creels Trying To Solve?

A regular visitor raises a very worthwhile question:
Some time ago, you reported that a [gentleman shouted in the courtroom to] the legitimate vestry that they ultimately would not get the property. I'm guessing that he foresaw that extended legal proceedings would render the parish's property essentially unrentable and that the parish would have difficulty paying its bills without the rental income. The obvious strategy was to force the parish into either bankruptcy or forfeiture of the property for non-payment of taxes, either of which would allow the other group to buy it cheaply.
My own view, as evidence has surfaced over time, continues to be that the Bush-ACA group never had a coherent plan and were never unanimous over it. (For instance, Bartus wanted to go into the OCSP with himself as pastor, while the ACA wanted to keep the parish and allowed Bartus to make the OCSP think the parish would come in under his leadership. That plan was overtaken by events and simply replaced.)

But during Friday's hearing, Judge Murphy made a remark in passing that "maybe a receiver would be the best way to resolve this situation." Mr Lancaster visibly shuddered at this and muttered something along the line of, "no, no, that won't be necessary." I suspect Mr Lengyel-Leahu simply recognized that this was something that could happen and had no apparent reaction.

The problem with bankruptcy is that a receiver looks at all the claims against the property and puts them in order. In addition to creditor claims, there will be liens by attorneys, as well as the apparently fraudulent mortgage Mrs Bush took out in 2014. Add to that the fees the receiver will collect. The result would be that the Bush group and the ACA DOW would realize very little, if anything -- but the process would drag on for several more years at least. Mrs Bush is 86 and the Creels are both 78. Anthony Morello is already in the next world.

This simply isn't the result of any clever master plan.

A big question is whether Mr Lancaster is advising his clients of their realistic prospects in this matter. But whatever he may tell them, the question is whether they will listen. I believe it's a common Catholic moral position that the tendency toward lust in youth matures into greed and an impulse toward power in old age, and this may be what's operating here. Whatever the logic of their position, Mrs Bush and the Creels wield power, at least for now, and at least until they wind up in assisted care.

Consider that, of the three ACA parishes remaining in California (a fourth is a mission and essentially inactive), two have been without rectors for an extended period -- this includes the Creels' Fountain Valley parish. My surmise is that neither of the two can attract a rector, as they can no longer pay a salary. I've got to wonder what kind of fantasy world the tiny clique that runs the ACA DOW is living in.

"Bishop" Williams continues as episcopal visitor, although he can apparently no longer be located, simply because if the ACA made a move to dissolve the DOW and merge it with the Diocese of the Missouri Valley, additional parishes, dismayed at the prospect of Strawn, would opt to leave the ACA. Since most of the equivalent APA diocese went into the REC/ACNA, an APA merger would not help this situation -- but now any merger with the APA is on hold anyhow.

There is no question that Mr Lancaster intends to drag out the legal proceedings indefinitely -- but he somehow thinks he can do this without putting the property permanently out of his clients' reach. One question would be how hospitable actuarial reality is to this plan and whether the ACA will eventually wake up to the way in which these proceedings are hastening its demise.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Looking At The State Of The St Mary's Parish

First, a couple of observations from yesterday: Mrs Bush and the Creels from Fountain Valley attended the hearing. Mrs Bush has generally not come to courtroom proceedings, and neither have the Creeps Creels (who I assume represented the moribund ACA Diocese of the West -- the three at this point are probably a non-trivial percentage of the whole diocesan membership). However, other stalwarts from last year's trial, including Messrs Cothran and Meyers AKA Omeirs, were absent.

Further on the ACA DOW, it is reported that the Episcopal Visitor, the "Rt Rev" Owen Rhys Williams, who had been living in an apartment around the corner from St Mary's, has not been seen since mid-July, nor his car nor his wife. He has presumably departed the area, though no one knows his current location. However, he had been irrelevant to the workings of the diocese ever since his designation, with the real power resting with Frederick Rivers and the tiny Fountain Valley clique. I can't imagine there will be many confirmations that will require his presence in the future, if any at all.

I was invited to a discussion in the courthouse cafeteria following the hearing, involving a dozen or so counsel, clergy, staff/volunteers, vestry, and other interested parties. I don't believe anything that was discussed was confidential, so I will provide an overall summary of what was said, leaving out a few specifics of legal strategy.

Mr Lengyel-Leahu stressed that it is in the parish's interest to get the litigation behind it, and it's also in the parish's interest to get the commercial space rented. The obstacle to renting the space is the clouded title stemming from the appeal of Judge Strobel's decision. It appears that an interim step will be to obtain a title insurance policy on the property, but even this is uncertain. He urged the parish to pursue smaller or shorter-term potential tenants who could make use of the space even with the longer-term legal issues unresolved.

Short of that, the parish doesn't currently have the income to meet even a bare-bones budget (roughly $150,000 a year was mentioned, which seems reasonable to me). Mr Lengyel-Leahu put it in terms of "you could lose everything."

The outcome of the hearing doesn't really change anything legally, which is also what Judge Murphy said yesterday. Although Mr Lancaster told Judge Murphy on January 8 that the appeal of Judge Strobel's decision had been "expedited", there have been repeated delays in getting parts of the trial record to the appeals court. Yesterday Judge Murphy pointed out that in fact there had been no request for expediting the appeal (i.e., Mr Lancaster lied to him), and he said it could easily be a year and a half before the case is argued.

While it's in the interest of the parish to get the litigation resolved, it seems fairly plain that it's in the interest of the ACA and the Bush group to drag things out. I suggested to Mr Lengyel-Leahu, in fact, that Mr Lancaster's strategy was to drag things out until everyone was dead -- he laughed, but I'm not sure he really disagreed. However, Mrs Bush was born in 1930. It's a puzzle to me that she would want to be preoccupied with litigation at this stage of her life -- not to mention that the editor of the local paper thinks she's destroyed her previously high reputation in the community. By the same token, the St Mary of the Angels situation has probably assured that no new parish will ever come into the ACA DOW as actuarial realities quickly catch up with it. I have the impression that Brian Marsh is pretending this isn't happening.

Mr Lengyel-Leahu suggested that an equitable solution to the litigation would be for Mrs Bush and the ACA to drop their claims on the property, their appeal, and their suit against Fr Kelley in return for the vestry dropping potential damage claims and civil fraud charges against Mrs Bush and the ACA. The vestry and Fr Kelley have always favored this approach, but it has never been accepted on the other side. Mr Lengyel-Leahu thinks that Mr Lancaster would probably insist on things his clients weren't entitled to in any negotiation, so prospects at this point seem remote.

Friday, August 19, 2016

In Court, Things Drag On

I attended the hearing this morning on the motion by the vestry to dismiss the civil theft case against Fr Kelley based on lack of standing by the Bush group to bring the suit. Judge Murphy's tentative opinion denied the motion:
A motion for judgment on the pleadings may be made on the same grounds as those supporting a general demurrer, i.e., that the complaint fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a legally cognizable claim. (Stoops v. Abbassi (2002) 100 Cal. App. 4th 644, 650.) Defendant Christopher P. Kelley (“Defendant”) moves for a judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that neither Plaintiffs Anglican Church in America (“ACA”) nor Diocese of the West (“DOW”) are real parties in interest as they do not hold title to the property at dispute in this action, and that Plaintiff Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St. Mary of the Angels’ Parish in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California (“Rector”) does not have standing to bring this lawsuit as it is an illegitimate “appointed vestry.” However, Defendant’s motion relies entirely on facts from outside of the pleadings, specifically, an opinion from the Court of Appeal in a related case. While an opinion from the Court of Appeal is judicially noticeable, the Court is not required to judicially notice the truth of the matters stated therein. Furthermore, even if the Court were to judicially notice the Court of appeal opinion, Defendant fails to show how that opinion would have a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on the case at bar.

The motion is DENIED.

However, Judge Murphy said he would hear a motion for summary judgment based on lack of standing on December 5. I'll have more to say in a subsequent post.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Problem Are We Trying To Solve

in the Blessed John Henry Newman expansion? A couple of visitors have raised this question with me via e-mail. One asks,
I was wondering what you are thinking about the fact that Andy is starting or becoming a sponsor for so many different groups, yet as of yet he can't seem to get enough money to purchase or even rent a decent place for a church building.
Good question; I just don't have an answer. Regarding the various expansion plans at the Santiago Retreat Center, I got interested in this when I started looking into where Fr Baaten was calling from. The photos of the facilities here suggest that, rather than "rustic", a better description might be "hardscrabble", and the market appears to be lower-income and at least partly Hispanic -- the staff includes a Director of Hispanic Programming & Events.

Yet they're aiming at putting a rood screen in the chapel, with a BDW daily mass. With all the other plans, do they intend to raise the income level of the clientele -- bring in all the Anglo-Catholic yuppies, maybe make the Hispanic Catholics uncomfortable so they'll leave? Who knows? Is anyone asking these questions?

The other question that comes up is how many of the people being recruited for the new groups are in the Anglicanorum coetibus target market -- disaffected former Anglicans or Catholics who haven't completed the sacraments of initiation. A name that's been pointed out to me on the various Facebook pages is Charles Coulombe, who is prominent in Traditionalist circles and a Latin Mass enthusiast. Msgr Steenson's original intent appears to have been to separate the OCSP from Traditionalist tendencies, which even conservative mainstream Catholics like Fr Ripperger characterize as "angry" and "perfectionist".

The best we can tell from the Facebook pages is that many potential members appear to be current Catholics, yuppies to be sure, but not in the target group originally envisioned for the OCSP. Comments at Ordinariate Expats suggest that we're seeing mission creep:

But actually, the most significant item here is the congregation’s programs to reach out to young adults — a demographic that far too many Roman Catholic parishes and even dioceses have long neglected, with the tragic consequence that young adults in need of pastoral services find their way to other denominations that willingly provide them. Outreach to this group is crucial to secure the future of every ordinariate community!
Observers on the ground in Irvine suggest that "young adults" actually means something more like "a clique of heavy-drinking yuppies". But I'm puzzled -- there's no shortage, from what I can see, of Catholic resources dedicated to young adults, including regular Youtube presentations by Fr Mike Schmitz, Los Angeles Bishop Barron, whose Youtube presentations often cover popular culture topics appealing to young adults, and many others. Our own parish often focuses on youth activities, it's had numerous vocations, and it has a girls' high school.

I'd want to be careful that the Bartus groups aren't either providing a haven for angry and perfectionist factions that may see less opportunity elsewhere, or are simply poaching people (especially by offering activities that feature alcohol) who might be better off in diocesan parishes. (Or the impression of activity we see may be something stirred up for effect.)