Monday, July 28, 2014

Appeals Court Decision

On July 23, the appeals court ruled in the case of THE RECTOR, WARDENS AND VESTRYMEN OF ST. MARY OF THE ANGELS’ PARISH IN HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA et al., v. ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AMERICA et al.. The ruling was partially in favor of the elected vestry, but it didn't get all it asked:

The dispositive issue in all three cases before us – who controls St. Mary’s? – comes down to the validity of the August 2012 amendment to the articles of incorporation and bylaws. If the amendment was valid, then St. Mary’s no longer is affiliated with the ACA, and any acts by the ACA after August 6, 2012 are irrelevant. If the amendment was not valid, then, under the provisions of the bylaws, the Rector has jurisdiction over the church building, and the ACA’s post-August 6, 2012 acts have force and effect.

Although we have concluded that the validity of the August 2012 amendment may be determined through application of neutral principles of law, we cannot, as the elected Vestry argues in its briefs on appeal, order entry of judgments in its favor based upon the trial court’s factual findings in the forcible detainer action. Trial in that action was bifurcated, and the first phase addressed only whether the issues raised were ecclesiastical matters to which the court must defer to the highest ecclesiastical authority of the ACA and the DOW. The validity of the August 2012 amendment was not at issue in that phase, and therefore, Bush and the Kangs were not obligated to (and did not) present any evidence as to that issue. Instead, Bush and Kangs simply asserted that the vote to amend was “illegal” and violated the Parish’s bylaws. Therefore, even if the trial court made findings of fact that could support a finding that the amendment was valid, judgments could not be entered in favor of the elected Vestry without giving the ACA-related parties an opportunity to present evidence to support their assertion that the vote on the amendment was “illegal.” Accordingly, we reverse the judgments in all three cases before us and remand to the trial court for further proceedings to allow both sides to present evidence on the validity of the August 2012 amendment.

The court did rule that Judge Linfield erred in accepting Mr Lancaster's argument on behalf of Mrs Bush and the ACA that the control of the St Mary's building was an ecclesiastical issue in which the courts could not intervene. I always thought this argument was unsustainable. In effect, it meant that the US First Amendment allowed a sect to determine that a member was a heretic, and then to decide the heretic could be burned at the stake: an ecclesiastical issue, after all, and the courts can't intervene. Clearly there are limits to "freedom of religion", and the appeals court went through US Supreme Court and California precedent to establish this.

However, the court also ruled that the validity of the August 2012 amendment to the St Mary's Bylaws deleting any reference to membership in the ACA must be determined by the trial court. The ACA's case to date has been that this is not necessary, since their claims are an ecclesiastical issue. I think a big reason for this strategy was that the facts in the case were so bad that the ACA had to keep the court from looking at the facts. If this is the case, it seems likely that the elected St Mary's vestry will prevail when the case is retried.

On the other hand, the bottom line is that this case will not be resolved any time soon: the ACA and Mrs Bush have the option of appealing this decision to the California Supreme Court, but even if they don't do that, they will have many opportunities for continued delay at the trial court level, while remaining in possession of the parish property. The question is how far in cost and inconvenience the ACA wants to go in trying to keep a moribund parish whose property will be tied up in litigation for the foreseeable future -- and how much of the parish's property value will remain when all the litigation is concluded.

My wife notes, however, that we are not necessarily dealing with rational people. I would add that we aren't dealing with intelligent people, either.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What About The Future?

Yesterday my wife pointed out what she said would be an uncomfortable truth for everyone involved: no matter how the current legal cases are eventually resolved, there are going to be two sets of attorneys who expect to be paid. My own view is that if St Mary's stays within the ACA, it will never be a viable parish. Even under Fr Kelley and the Patrimony of the Primate, average Sunday attendance was in the neighborhood of 30. I simply assume that average Sunday attendance under Frederick Rivers and Mrs Bush is considerably less. As long as the bank at the corner of the parish property continues to pay rent, this will allow the rump parish to continue -- but legal bills are still mounting, and the lawyers for the elected vestry already have a lien on the property.

Let's just take the possibility (by no means certain) that the elected vestry succeeds with the appeal that was argued Thursday. At that point, it must begin to pay off what it owes its attorneys (assuming, of course, that the ACA and Mrs Bush do not appeal that decision and continue the struggle). My own brief experience as an interim treasurer of the parish under the Patrimony was that it was just breaking even on salaries, maintenance, and expenses, given the meager pledge-and-plate and the rental income. How it might expect to pay those with a new hefty deduction for what it owes the lawyers is a worthwhile question. In addition, my wife suggests that even if the elected vestry wins its appeal, Lancaster & Anastasia LLP will take the position that they represented the ACA and Mrs Bush under the assumption that they were authorized to engage them, whether that was actually the case -- so they'll be at the parish doorstep with their own claims for payment, regardless of who wins.

But I don't see St Mary of the Angels as a viable Anglican parish, whether under the ACA or any other "continuing" denomination. As a "continuing" group, it probably would not consider affiliating with the ACNA, where there might in fact be enough interest to sustain a parish in Los Angeles proper. The informal scuttlebutt I've heard is that the parish is no longer in the running for the US Ordinariate -- but the Pontiff for whom Ordinariates were a pet project has retired, and Pope Francis does not appear to view them with the same favor. The Ordinariates in any case have not lived up to their initial hype. There would be no greater benefit to St Mary of the Angels to affiliate with the US Ordinariate at this point than to affiliate with any of the tiny "continuing" denominations. Jeffrey Steenson, frankly, dropped that ball, and that opportunity is now gone for good. (I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker. . .) Even as a Catholic, I wouldn't have all that much interest in attending an Anglican Use mass at St Mary's, simply because I'd feel it was part of too small and too feckless an enterprise -- better to stay with my "real" Catholic community.

My wife suggests, and I've always agreed, that the only real option for the parish is to sell the property, pay what it owes in legal fees, back salaries, and damages, and dissolve (the residual proceeds would need to go to a non-profit in any case). As a designated historical landmark, it will be very difficult to convert to any but religious use. We have a sort of private joke that it could go to the Scientologists, but even they have a nice, new facility just a couple of blocks up the street -- why go with an old, Christian-looking building and fight the termites?

On the other hand, someone pointed out this development:

The largest diocese in the United States, and one of the largest in the world, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is about to officially receive and welcome the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), Rorate can confirm. Rumors on this huge step for Tradition in America had been circulating in the past few weeks, but at last we are able to bring this piece of news to the general public.

Archbishop José Horacio Gómez receives our gratitude for warmly welcoming an institute dedicated exclusively to the Traditional Mass to the Archdiocese, the FSSP. The little pueblo of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula was founded under the aegis of the Traditional Mass by settlers sent by Blessed Junípero Serra, so it is fitting and proper that the Mass of Father Serra be daily celebrated in a setting dedicated exclusively to it in the Archdiocese.

We are also informed that the FSSP will need to eventually purchase or build a church in the city: at first, they are looking at either the Downtown or Hollywood areas.

So they're looking to buy a building, maybe in Hollywood? Hmm.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The St Mary of the Angels Case and Natural Law

Since I've become Catholic, I've done a lot of thinking on the question of natural law. (I am going to define natural law here as "a principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature and right reason which tend toward human happiness", as opposed to statutory law, which can be at variance, and the small number of principles that Aquinas saw as derived from religious revelation, such as the Trinity.) In recent months I've discovered the treasure trove of on line courses and lectures offered at Hillsdale College, which often refer to natural law theory and its role in developing the US founding documents. (I should point out that Fr Christopher Kelley was an adjunct instructor at Hillsdale College before he became Rector at St Mary of the Angels -- this should place Fr Kelley in greater context, and it adds to my own respect for him and gratitude for the role he's played in my own spiritual growth.)

One remark that some lecturers in the Hillsdale series have made is that trying to violate natural law is a little like trying to violate the law of gravity. One rough proof of this assertion would be the erosion of human happiness that's resulted from the experiment of the last two generations in de-emphasizing natural-law marriage and its role in child rearing. It is simply a truism that a child raised in a two-parent household has a much greater chance of success in later life, and staying married is a much surer guarantee of staying out of poverty for that child's parents. This is natural law in action, and it's difficult to see how this should be controversial.

There's a very common cultural shorthand for what happens when you try to violate the law of gravity: the cartoon figure who runs off the edge of a cliff, continues in the air for a few feet, then looks downward in surprise, and drops. If we draw a metaphorical parallel between natural law and the law of gravity, something like the same thing happens when you try to violate natural law: you run a few feet off the edge of the cliff, look down in surprise, and suddenly drop.

Regardless of the eventual disposition of the current legal cases surrounding St Mary of the Angels, it's hard for me to avoid thinking that the ACA, its bishops and prebendaries, the parish dissidents, and their retainers, have been trying to violate natural law. Included in natural law would be prohibitions against lying, cheating, stealing, and bullying -- you can try to get away with these things, but it never quite works out, and in the end you look down and drop.

My wife and I were both a little surprised and distressed to see the change in William H. Lancaster, whom we saw two years ago during the 2012 trial of the St Mary's unlawful detainer motion against the parish dissidents. Mr Lancaster has not aged well. He does not seem to spend as much money as he earlier did on getting his hair tended, his voice was unsteady, and he committed a major gaffe with the appellate justices that cannot have done him or his case well: when one justice asked him a question, he interrupted the justice and didn't allow him to finish the question. This drew a rebuke from the presiding judge on the panel. (This guy is a senior litigator and former partner in a prestige firm, and he doesn't know how to defer to a judge???)

My wife speculated that Mr Lancaster was nervous, since he was going up against a panel of judges who may not have thought well of his case in the first place. After all, Lancaster's and the ACA's position is basically that if God is the first cause, then everything is an ecclesiastical issue, and no court can get involved in anything. Smoke and mirrors -- I have a feeling this already hadn't flown with the judges, although I'm just a lay observer. Both Mr Lancaster and Damon Anastasia were present for the oral arguments in this rinky-dink case -- one wonders what other clients these guys have, if any, and how much, or whether, the ACA and the parish dissidents are paying them.

Eventually natural law is going to catch up with all these people.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This Morning The California Appellate Court Heard Oral Arguments

in the case of The Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St Mary of Angels' Parish in Hollywood et al. v. Anglican Church in America et al., which is a consolidation of appeals on several cases related to the 2012 seizure of the parish by the ACA. In August 2012, the trial court ruled that it could not interfere in what the ACA and the St Mary's dissidents argued was an exclusively ecclesiastical matter, covered by the US First Amendment. The elected St Mary's vestry had argued that the issues in the case could be determined by neutral principles of law, by following California corporation law and the St Mary's parish bylaws.

The ACA had argued that issues like who was a member in good standing of the parish were ecclesiastical and up to the parish rector and the bishops of the ACA. The bishops, in an effort to reverse several parish votes in favor of joining the Patrimony of the Primate, the US Catholic Ordinariate, and disaffiliating from the ACA, had argued retroactively that no such vote could be valid, because it was up to the bishops to determine who was a member eligible to vote, and basically if you wanted to leave the ACA, you had abandoned communion, so your vote wasn't valid. So the only valid votes basically would be from those who wanted to stay in the ACA -- and the First Amendment prevented the courts from intervening in this ecclesiastical issue.

The actual record made this tenuous, as the story came out in oral arguments. The parish bylaws required that a list of members in good standing eligible to vote be drawn up by the rector in January and July of each year, and that the list be posted. Neither the ACA nor the St Mary's dissidents ever registered any objection to this list. Prior to the July 2012 vote to disaffiliate from the ACA, Anthony Morello notified exactly two members of the parish that they had been excommunicated -- but with an 80% vote in favor of disaffiliation, this had no effect on the landslide outcome of the vote. The elected vestry's attorneys argued that this was sufficient to decide the issue, and no ecclesiastical judgment was involved.

Based on the questions by the appellate judges during arguments, my wife and I got the impression that the judges were leaning toward the elected vestry's position on this matter: they appeared to believe that several actions by Bishop Strawn and Anthony Morello were unauthorized by either the parish bylaws or the ACA canons (a position my wife and I have held all along).

Naturally, it ain't over til it's over, but it was good to have a breath of sanity in these proceedings.

Monday, July 7, 2014

So Why Am I Doing This?

I had an e-mail over the weekend that asked,
Why are you doing what you have been doing and apparently intend to continue what seem to be pretty harsh commentary as your [sic] target the former Episcopalians mostly clergy it would seem. Can you explain to your audience what the purpose of your continuing (no pun intended) blogs is? What is it you hope to accomplish?
The main thing I see about the Continuum is how dangerous it is, spiritually and even physically. I would not minimize the utter recklessness of Owen Rhys Williams and Frederick Rivers in hiring a man with an arrest for child pornography on his record as an interim priest. Any family that allows a minor child anywhere near this guy is derelict, but why on earth would an adult want to have anything to do with that parish? Let's face it, there's something really weird about a denomination where something like this could happen.

Next, the spiritual danger: these guys are charlatans. A great many priests, bishops, and prebendaries in the Continuum are not minimally qualified in the sense that mainstream denominations assure when they ordain ministers. As far as I'm aware, as I've said here already, Owen Rhys Williams does not have either a four-year undergraduate degree or an MDiv. Apparently Frederick Rivers doesn't have these, either. Stephen Strawn's MDiv is from an unaccredited seminary.

Even those with more conventional qualifications are still questionable. For reasons not disclosed, Brian Marsh, although he completed his seminary studies, was not deemed qualified for ordination in The Episcopal Church and apparently had to shop around for two years to find a denomination that would ordain him. John Vaughan left the Roman Catholic priesthood for vague reasons and then appears to have been eased out of The Episcopal Church as well. Louis Falk left The Episcopal Church following a scandal, concerning which a couple of stories are in circulation, one of which would be explosive if confirmed -- those details may have been behind Falk's apparently not entirely voluntary retirement as "Archbishop" of the TAC.

This is a disreputable bunch. Ordinary parishioners in the ACA appear to be, unfortunately, naïve and trusting people who deserve better. There is such a thing as spiritual laziness, however. The ACA's people should be moving on. But there are also enablers, Anglo-Catholic bloggers who should know better. They are giving the TAC-ACA and other continuers far more prestige than they deserve.

If I accomplish what I'd most like to, someone like Stephen Smuts will quit his blog and find something meaningful to do with his life, rather than pretending to be a priest. If he did that, it would be because dozens or hundreds of other "Continuers" would have woken up. That's what I'd like to accomplish.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Let's Rethink the Continuum -- III

As I've mentioned here before, while Anglicanism has leaned toward Roman Catholic liturgical form at various times in its history, it is a Protestant denomination. It does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope, and in addition, Article XXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which are included in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, says in part:
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. . . . The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
Protestant denominations had ordained woman priests for decades prior to The Episcopal Church's decision, some from their founding. The St Louis Affirmation can be looked upon as an attempt by a particularly conservative Anglo-Catholic faction in The Episcopal Church to impose its highly selective quasi-Catholic views on a main line Protestant denomination. Those who broke away were perfectly comfortable, it would appear, with married priests and bishops, divorce-and-remarriage, artificial birth control, and no-Popery, but apparently they wanted to pick a fight over the ordination of women, not normally a Protestant preoccupation.

I think Douglas Bess is spot on when he begins Divided We Stand remarking on the difference between the wildly overestimated numbers that the Continuum either predicted or now claims, versus the tiny actual memberships in its denominations. The vast majority of Episcopalians have been satisfied to be main line Protestants. When they fall away, it is not in the direction of liturgical conservatism.

In addition, one of the key figures in the Continuum, Louis Wahl Falk III, really didn't have a dog in this fight. He'd been deposed by the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac in 1966. A member of a prominent Wisconsin family, he'd left that state in the wake of the scandal to run what was apparently one of the family businesses in Iowa. I made a number of career wrong turns when I was young; in fairly short order I realized I wasn't cut out to be either an Army officer or a college professor, and I moved on. Somehow, Louis Falk doesn't seem to have gotten the same sort of message: a dozen years after he was removed as an Episcopal priest, he seems to have determined he still had a vocation, and he got right back into a fight that, frankly, shouldn't have concerned him.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let's Rethink the Continuum -- II

Douglas Bess traces the dissatisfaction with The Episcopal Church that eventually led to the Affirmation of St Louis to the tendency toward secular leftist progressivism that took over in main line denominations beginning in the 1950s. The Civil Rights movement, which was not leftist-progressive in the same sense but concerned with natural law, also disturbed some Southern clerics, especially after The Episcopal Church integrated its parishes officially in 1964. Wikipedia lists the main tenets of the 1977 Affirmation of St Louis:
  • Dissolution of Anglican Church structures: That the churches to which the delegates had previously belonged had ceased to have a valid ministry through the act of ordaining women to the priesthood.
  • Continuation of Anglicanism: That Anglicanism could only continue through a complete separation from the structures of the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.
  • Invalidity of Schismatic Authority: That the churches to which the delegates had previously belonged had made themselves schismatic by their break with traditional order and, therefore, had ceased to have any authority over them or other members.
  • Continued Communion with Canterbury: That communion with Canterbury would continue because the Church of England had not, at that time, ordained women to the priesthood. This article of the Affirmation became inoperable with the ordination of women by the Church of England in 1990s.
The Affirmation clearly concerned itself exclusively with the ordination of women by The Episcopal Church. The other bone of contention in the Continuing movement was the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It's worth pointing out that well before 1977, The Episcopal Church had adopted a course that resulted in loss of social prestige that simply isn't mentioned in the Affirmation, and Bess doesn't mention it either: in the 1930s, The Episcopal Church's position on marriage and the family was very close to that of the Roman Catholic Church. TEC had gradually dropped its opposition to artificial birth control, divorce, and remarriage, although as The Anglo-Catholic blog points out, "right down to the 1940s/50s divorce was strongly disapproved of in that church, especially for clergy, for whom, with rare exceptions like the notorious Bishop Pike, divorce alone, with or without remarriage, generally ended all hope of a 'successful clerical career.'"

A Wall Street Journal editorial from nearly 40 years ago has stuck with me: rightly or wrongly, it proposes that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Papal infallibility, promulgated in the First Vatican Council, emerged in response to the Church's final loss of all secular authority with the incorporation of the Papal States into the Kingdom of Italy. That editorial drew a parallel with the main line Protestant denominations, which abdicated their moral authority by abandoning the field during the "sexual revolution" of the 1940s and 50s, but compensated for the loss of that prestige by taking vocal leftist positions (either officially or via individual clergy) in the 1960s. The loss of main line Protestant prestige is underlined by the brilliantly satirical performance of Donald Sutherland in the 1971 film Little Murders. That performance is available on line here and is well worth watching. Sutherland in the film is not vested, as an Episcopal clergyman would almost certainly be for even a rich-hippie wedding, so he might be a Presbyterian or United Church of Christ cleric, but the implicit critique applies across the board to all the main line denominations.

The Affirmation of St Louis has nothing to say about the real cause of The Episcopal Church's loss of prestige: the ordination of women, for the general public, was an inside-baseball issue and indeed, the Affirmation was a belated and feckless rear-guard action in any case. Main line Protestantism had lost the war by the time Hollywood had portrayed its disgraceful surrender in 1971.