Monday, August 20, 2018

Working Through The Obscurities

In response to the upcoming ordinations and the potential recklessness, or not, connected with them, my regular correspondent has some reflections. I am going to intersperse my comments.
Justin Fletcher and Jonathan Mitchican did not have to gather groups. Nor, of course, did the two men recently ordained who will be serving as military chaplains for the foreseeable future. Nor did the Bros. Clearly some kind of triage is going on. Granted, this still allowed the Bros to get ordained, but no system is perfect.
Well, let's take the case of Mitchican, the only one of these to be well publicized. The photo at right is from the St John XXIII School web site. Now, if I were casting for an actor to play the curate at a hoity-toity TEC parish in horse country, could I find a better candidate, someone who more looked the part? (He could also have been the liberal Protestant priest played by Donald Sutherland in Little Murders -- you can see it here -- for that matter.)

The reason he didn't have to gather a group is that he's perfect. A shock of prematurely white hair. An old-boy suck-it-up rictus that bares teeth that need treatment. A squint toward the middle distance, which says he ain't gonna notice much closer at hand. I would think the prosperous families in the Houston area can be reassured that even if this is a Catholic school, they can feel as if it's St Grottlesex, a solid TEC institution. And when he moves to an upper-tier OCSP parish, the faithful there can be convinced it's all solidly Episcopalian at heart.

But what of Fr Longenecker, who told our parish this past Lent that Anglicanism "looks like" Catholicism? Why on earth is Catholicism in this case turning around and trying to "look like" Anglicanism? Mitchican is clearly the star of this cohort. Whether he can do more than look an oddly incongruous part is still an open question.

If I were in charge I think I would forget about the group-gathering, or even finding replacements for marginal groups whose leaders are retiring (I think this has failed, or is failing, in every instance). Instead I would focus on finding good candidates to support the ministry of currently successful OCSP parishes (unfortunately Canada is a special case). Celibate seminarians---first choice---and successful TEC/ACC (former) clergy who would consider the OCSP over the PP if they had the prospect of a "real" job. An educational institution that advertises only sessional/adjunct positions is not going to attract distinguished academics as applicants.

Gregory Tipton and Philip Mayer strike me as sincere but desperate. David Hodil was ordained as a transitional deacon with Jason McCrimmon in August 2017. But the latter is now Fr McCrimmon, while Mr Hodil remains Mr Hodil. Did something go wrong with his "ministry plan" at the Tampa Bay Ordinariate Group? The article in last November's Ordinariate Observer stated that "both Floridians are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in the summer of 2018." I don't think they are going to wind up on the 6 o'clock news, but I don't think they are going to build strong OCSP communities, either. Better, IMHO, to let St Swithun, Podunk close than prolong the agony with a no-hoper. Or a careerist who will abandon it at the first opportunity.

I get the impression that the OCSP is being run primarily to look good to outside observers -- but these are not even Mr and Mrs John Q Anglican, who might be thinking about coming over -- that market's been exhausted. I think Bp Lopes is playing exclusively to higher-ups in Rome, downplaying the mediocrities he's ordaining to swell the numbers of little Potemkin groups, playing up the very occasional poster boy that might fit someone's preconceived notion of incoming Anglicans.
Let's just accept that the North American Ordinariate has no more legs than the PP it replaced, and focus on sustaining the communities it has successfully created. This is not nearly the challenge, for a competent and godly pastor, that building up a community from scratch would be. That is a rare gift, and often comes with significant ego-baggage. Bp Lopes knows nothing from HR, and Fr Perkins is clearly feeling his way on an unfamiliar path. Msgr Steenson could at least draw on the TEC net, although when this failed him he made some pretty bad stabs in the dark. What's he thinking, up there in Minneapolis-St Paul?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Why Did Nobody Notice That Luke Reese Was A Terrible Person?"

My regular correspondent asked this question, assuring me that there was no intention of flippancy. I don't sense any lack of charity or hyperbole here; this is a Catholic priest who was convicted of a felony on the basis of clear testimony. The judge in the course of sentencing observed that he was "a 'dangerous person' who fooled a lot of people."

According to the Wikipedia summary of the John Jay College report on Catholic clergy sex abuse, "over a 50-year period, out of more than 100,000 priests deacons and religious order clergy, 4,392 (~4.4%) were accused of sexual abuse, 252 ([less than] 0.26%) were convicted and 100 ([less than] 0.1%) sentenced to prison." While Luke Reese was not accused of child sex abuse, and I'm not sure if there's an equivalent statistic for priests accused of non-sexual felonies, I would guess that this gives a general idea of how many Catholic priests are convicted of felonies -- a microscopic number and percentage, I'm sure.

If we assume there are currently about 60 priests in the OCSP, for one of them to be convicted of a felony puts the percentage at about 1.7%. This is about 20 times the historical number, and not only that, we might expect those electing to convert to Catholicism as fully catechized adults would represent an especially devout and committed group. Except we've come to recognize that there are a good many opportunists and fringe-denomination Protestants who've come to the end of careers otherwise. My own estimate is that of these, even if none commits an actual crime, several more in this group are fully capable of scandals or disastrous errors in judgment.

My regular correspondent and I agree that the judge in Indianapolis was speaking from evaluations in a pre-sentencing report by forensic psychologists trained to look for sociopathic tendencies, and indeed, following a felony conviction, fully entitled to find them after the fact. But could anyone have forestalled the problem by ringing alarm bells or waving red flags beforehand?

I heard from a visitor close to the situation at Holy Rosary who said that in his view, there was always something off about Luke Reese, including what appeared to be a sense that ordinary standards of conduct didn't apply to him. OK -- but of course, he was speaking after the fact. I don't get along with every last priest I've met either. Is that enough to raise questions about their priesthood? Even if he tried to raise this with the pastor at Holy Rosary or the vicar for clergy, I doubt if he'd have been taken seriously, and it could well have hurt him to do it.

But I think there were other red flags. Reese was first ordained in one of the fringe "continuing" denominations, and he hopped from one to another before becoming Catholic. I've heard suggestions there could have been issues that led to his earlier jurisdiction-hopping, and I doubt if much effort was spent in tracking those down. But much more to the point, he didn't have an MDiv, and despite spending four years as a day student at the St Meinrad seminary, he didn't get one.

And Pastoral Provision formation, I've recently discovered, normally takes just two years. If Reese took four years, that should have been an issue in itself. By the same token, the recent case of Philip Mayer, who was in a Pastoral Provision formation program but doesn't seem to have made satisfactory progress after six years, should be a matter of concern. Even if he likely won't beat his wife in front of the altar, his many posts on social media should have been more closely reviewed with an eye to his stability and judgment.

The problem I see with the OCSP is not just a willingness, but indeed an eagerness to ordain highly marginal candidates. In fact, if it was visible under Msgr Steenson, it seems to have accelerated under Bp Lopes. One issue is a concern I've begun to have over whether Fr Perkins is qualified to serve as either a vocation director or a vicar for clergy, but he's in his position because Bp Lopes wants him there. What's going on is happening because Bp Lopes is OK with it.

This is a continuing problem. I suspect there are diocesan bishops in both the US and Canada who are aware of it, and I suspect it will be addressed.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A More Encouraging Story

Fr Jonathan Erdman was ordained deacon in the OCSP in March 2017 and priest in July 2017. According to my regular correspondent, he seems to have had a solid, twelve-year career as a TEC clergyman; he left TEC only after trying unsuccessfully to save his job in a struggle with his vestry. In one of those unpublished "policies" that's sometimes followed and sometimes not, when he contacted the OCSP he was told that gathering a group was the ticket he needed punched to get ordained, and he gathered a group, Our Lady and St John, which meets at the St Martin of Tours Parish, Louisville, KY.

Apparently when he started, he worked in a facilities manager job with the Archdiocese of Louisville, but it doesn't seem to have been noticed up to now that he soon became an associate at the St Martin of Tours parish. This is unusual in itself -- while some OCSP priests serve as diocesan supply priests or parochial administrators in very small diocesan parishes, only one -- Luke Reese -- seems to have become an associate at a normal-size diocesan parish fulfilling a normal set of diocesan parish duties in addition to celebrating DW mass.

But now my regular correspondent has discovered that Fr Erdman is no longer at the St Martin of Tours parish, but as of June is now an associate at a larger diocesan parish, St Margaret Mary, Louisville. This says to me that Fr Erdman has transitioned into a full diocesan rotation of associates, and this in turn suggests to me that the archdiocese's vicar for clergy has decided he is a real Catholic priest. What a contrast to characters like Philip Mayer, who seems to have been someone the diocesan authorities preferred to cut loose.

How this may affect the Our Lady and St John group, still at the St Martin of Tours parish, is an interesting question. My regular correspondent says,

I counted 25 in the congregation in the OL&SJ July 15 Sunday mass pic posted on their FB page. If they are all Ordinariate members that is about triple the initial size of the group, so not too bad. But nowhere near a self-sustaining community.
Based on occasional remarks I hear from our parish clergy, the workload on associates is daunting. I'm only beginning to understand its full range. The impression we get is that the main work of an OCSP priest is wearing just the right vestments while saying the DW mass in just the right way. But I'm learning that saying mass isn’t a big part of an associate’s time. They are giving last rites, counseling big time, comforting the bereaved, visiting the sick, etc etc etc. This in turn makes me wonder how much time Fr Erdman, if he’s fully occupied at another parish, can give to 25 in an OCSP group. My regular correspondent comments,
I'm sure OL&SJ now includes people who never previously met an Anglican, but like the music, or the coffee hour, or being part of a small community. He may well feel they have served their purpose. There are a number of former OCSP clergy who have moved on to diocesan jobs and let their former groups fend for themselves or fold: Fr Chalmers, Fr Wagner, Fr Sly, to name a few. I don't get the feeling Fr Baaten is knocking himself out for St Augustine, San Diego. So Fr Erdman may well be moving up and on.
I think the lesson we might draw from this, at least tentatively, is that if OCSP priests are brought more fully into the actual work of the Church, Anglicanorum coetibus quickly fades in importance. But it's also a matter of serious concern that the great majority of OCSP priests or candidates have so far been proving themselves unsuited to the actual work of the Church, although when a diocese occasionally finds a keeper, he seems to be recognized in fairly short order and his talents put to more appropriate use.

Friday, August 17, 2018

No Prison For Luke Reese

Via WTHR Indianapolis:
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - A former Indianapolis Priest has been sentenced to Community Corrections and home detention for a felony battery conviction.

Father Luke Reese was sentenced to 3-years with two years suspended Friday morning after a scathing rebuke by a Marion County Judge.

* * *

Magistrate Stanley Kroh told Reese he had not taken responsibility for his own actions and saw "absolutely no remorse." Kroh called the former priest a "dangerous person" who fooled a lot of people. Magistrate Kroh said he was heartbroken to read a letter from Reese's adult daughter about her father's behavior behind close doors.

Kroh then warned Reese that any violation would send him directly to prison.

"You are in need of significant mental health counseling. It's time for you to look in the mirror. You are here because of no one but yourself," Kroh said.

In handing down the sentence Kroh noted that the only reason Reese was not leaving the court in custody was because he had no criminal record. Reese showed no reaction to the Magistrate's words.

Full story at the link.

The June 12 Tampa Bay Post And More On Mayer's Resume

A very helpful visitor located at least a version of the deleted June 12, 2017 post regarding Mr Mayer and the Tampa Bay group in the Wayback Machine. I believe this may be a later draft, as the initial one I saw seems to have mentioned Bp Parkes by name, but in any case, any reference to it was subsequently deleted completely.

While the original request was that I delete that post, I'm concerned that the information in it now tends to raise questions about Mr Mayer's conflicting stories about his ride on the denominational carousel, his overall sincerity, and his generally unstable career. Recall that elsewhere, he portrayed himself as a Pastoral Provision candidate in the Diocese of St Petersburg. But the version we see here makes no mention of this:

Moving to Continue Discernment

Dear Friends,

Thank you for coming out to our evensong and potluck service on June 4, 2017. The attendance and support was greater than I expected and I believe that seeds were planted, that there might be an Ordinariate parish established in the Tampa Bay area at some point in the future.

I recently learned that in order for me to continue my discernment of a vocation to priesthood within the Ordinariate, I will need to relocate. At the same time, my present employment is scheduled to end this calendar year. It thus becomes essential that I redirect my energies, and so I will not be continuing to develop a local Ordinariate community.

We will not offer evening prayer on July 16 or August 13.

I deeply appreciate your encouragement over recent weeks. Please keep my family and me in your prayers, and join me in praying for the success of the evangelizing mission of the Ordinariate across North America, and for a continued appreciation of the unity in diversity that the Ordinariate offers our Church.

Yours in Jesus and Mary,
Philip Mayer

So what we learn that's new here is that his "present employment is scheduled to end this calendar year". Let's put this in the context of what we've learned from his accounts of his career elsewhere: from 2011 to 2017, by his version, he was a Pastoral Provision candidate for the priesthood in the Diocese of St Petersburg, attending the Boynton Beach seminary and working in various diocesan jobs to support his family. But Pastoral Provision formation is normally, we've learned, a two-year process. I already thought it was unusual that he should be spending six years at it.

I've got to surmise that the Diocese of St Petersburg also began to think this was unusual. After watching the video I linked yesterday, I even wonder if, past a certain point, the diocese simply never took him seriously, and may have decided the merciful thing to do would be finally to cut him loose, end the provisional employment arrangements with generous notice (which I think is implied in his post), and urge him to find a line of work to which he was more clearly suited.

Instead, having failed at the TEC priesthood, he appears also not to have been deemed suitable for the Pastoral Provision -- and I've got to raise the possibility that he must have been regarded as rather a sad case by the authorities in the diocese. But no matter, Houston's standards are even lower! He didn't work out after six years of trying to be a Pastoral Provision priest, but the OCSP is going to ordain him after little more than a year and send him to rescue a failing mission, exactly the sort of job that his track record says he won't succeed at.

Having watched the video, I'd say that one step he might have taken could have been to lose the scraggly beard and weird shoes, but I would guess that the vocation directors in St Petersburg realized the problems were deeper than that. But I'm also seriously concerned that the problems in Houston lie deeper than Mr Mayer.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

More On Mr Mayer's Background

My regular correspondent has done more digging and reports,
Mr Mayer led St Peter's, The Colony, TX. When he started there it had about 60 members and met in a hotel banquet room. It is later referred to as St-Peter's-by-the-Lake, 4809 S Colony Rd, The Colony. This address is currently a Lutheran Church, so,perhaps they shared space. In any event St Peter's, The Colony has now closed.

UPDATE: This video indicates that the St Peter's mission was earlier in the Lutheran parish, but left it for the Marriott location. You can get an idea of Mayer's style in the video. He has exciting news to share -- never a good sign.

Mr Mayer did his BA in Pastoral ministry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL---an Assemblies of God institution. I assume this was his denominational background, but at some point he discovered Episcopalianism. Then TEC seminary and a brief stint in ordained ministry in TEC. Not entirely successful. This profile of an OCSP candidate is starting to look quite familiar.

My correspondent updated me yesterday and had discovered that Mayer's MDiv is from Nashotah House. This adds to the puzzle, because to attend a TEC seminary, one must be sponsored by a TEC parish and be approved by a TEC bishop. Yet by the time he'd left undergraduate studies, he was an evangelical. What led him then to consider TEC, whose publicly asserted values on issues like gay priests and bishops, as well as long-standing traditions on things like the sacraments, are diametrically opposed to evangelicals? Er, when did he see the light, and what light was it?

What parish did he attend in TEC, presumably for long enough to impress it with his sincerity in wishing to pursue holy orders? What did he tell the bishop? Has anyone seriously asked him about why he's so intent on becoming a Catholic priest when he's spent so much of his life on a denominational carousel? Is this an authentic vocation at all? Is this a question someone like Fr Perkins is now even qualified to address?

It's also hard to square the strange record we have from May-June of 2017, in which as best we can determine, Mayer was in the process of pursuing ordination in the OCSP and starting a Tampa Bay group without quite leaving his Pastoral Provision formation program, in which he seems not to have made the progress that would have been expected toward ordination there. Would this indicate a tendency to do things behind a bishop's back? Or is this simply attributable to incompetence in Houston in not communicating with Bp Parkes? We'll never know.

In any case, ordaining this guy is simply copacetic with Fr Perkins and Bp Lopes. Frankly, the more I learn, the more I'd drive 50 miles on a Sunday to avoid having to attend an OCSP parish mass. Yeah, the sacrament is valid, but so would be a mass celebrated by Fr Geoghan when he was in the Archdiocese of Boston. Best not to get too close if there are options. There is something seriously wrong here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What Really Happened In Tampa Bay?

My regular correspondent has done more research on Mr Mayer's background and the timeline of the Tampa Bay group's formation and demise. As already noted here, the explanation from Mr Mayer on a post that was briefly up on the group's website but taken down on June 12, 2017, was that Bp Parkes of the Diocese of St Petersburg had requested via Bp Lopes that the group-in-formation not proceed.

Unfortunately, I didn't think at the time to keep a record of what exactly was said in the post, and apparently it was taken down so quickly that I wouldn't have been able to copy it had I visited it a second time. I know it was there briefly, because Mr Mayer himself asked me to remove my reference to it here.

However, a post from May 12, 2017 at the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog substantiates at least some of what had been on the Tampa Bay group's website before it was taken down:

We’ve been asked to post information about this new group forming in Florida.

Here’s an excerpt of news from the site:

Philip Mayer, who formerly served as an Episcopal priest before becoming Catholic, was recently asked by the director of vocations and clergy development of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to begin seeking to establish a community in the Tampa Bay area with the goal of building a parish. Once the community has been formed, Philip will, God willing, be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in order to say Mass for the new community and to lead it to becoming a parish.

We would like to invite you to come and celebrate Pentecost and pray with us for the formation of this community by joining us for Evensong (chanted evening prayer) and a potluck Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM at St. Mary Catholic Church, 15520 North Blvd, Tampa. Children are welcome.

We wish this new community well! Please send us some pictures to post!
Here's interesting fact number one: within a week of the group's first meeting, Bp Parkes appears to have asked Bp Lopes to shut it down; the announcement of the shutdown took place within the octave. My regular correspondent, however, discovered that a Facebook page for the group still exists, which "shows gatherings scheduled for June, July, and August which of course never took place".

But there's another, bigger question. Exactly whom did Mr Mayer report to in June 2017? The Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog post above says Mayer was "asked by the director of vocations and clergy development of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to begin seeking to establish a community in the Tampa Bay area". However, my regular correspondent has discovered from public information available on the web that from September 6, 2011 to July 2017, Mayer was what he describes as a "Pastoral Provision candidate" in the Diocese of St Petersburg, attending the Boynton Beach seminary. During this time, he worked in various jobs in the chancery and elsewhere in the diocese, but he was never ordained.

So even in the May-June 2017 period, Mayer was by his own account a Pastoral Provision seminarian in the Diocese of St Petersburg. As my regular correspondent asks, "I recall that the local bishop got Bp Lopes to intervene. Why didn't he just call Mayer on the carpet?" Good question. Here's another. Mayer was a Pastoral Provision candidate for six years? Recall that Luke Reese, who had no MDiv and was in hindsight about as unsuitable as you can get, attended the St Meinrad seminary for only four. And diocesan seminarians spend only three years in seminary!

But Mayer was an ordained TEC priest, presumably with an MDiv -- yet he seemed to be making slow, even imperceptible, progress toward ordination in the Pastoral Provision. I'm wondering if the Diocese of St Petersburg was in the process of cutting Mayer loose, to tell the truth, and news that Mayer was pursuing ordination in the OCSP came as an unpleasant surprise to Bp Parkes, under whose nominal authority Mayer continued to be. Also, this comment at the post linked above discusses a two year period of formation for former Anglican priests established under the Pastoral Provision. So something was clearly hinky in Mayer's case.

Since August 1, 2017, Mayer has been Director of Campus Ministry at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, FL. This is in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orlando. However, apparently as of January 2019, if not sooner, he'll be heading to St Augustine as a transitional deacon and priest. He'll serve an OCSP group that meets at the St Benedict the Moor mission, which is in the Diocese of St Augustine. One interpretation of all this is that the Diocese of St Petersburg would prefer not to have any further dealings with Mr Mayer.

The information on Mayer's prior career is that he served from 2008 to 2011 at a St Peter's Episcopal Church near Dallas, which I believe is St Peter's McKinney, TX. I believe he was an associate there, although the job info on the web says he was "pastor", which is not a formal title in TEC. If he was a vicar, it sounds as if the bishop wasn't all that warm about his service. It sounds as if his TEC career stalled, but somehow he wasn't able to make it to ordination in the Pastoral Provision after six years of trying.

I tend to agree with my regular correspondent's summation of Mayer's career to date:

I think Mayer got the idea for the group and then lights started flashing. But impossible to know, really. In any event, result was "Hit the road, Phil." What did you make of his account of his career in TEC? "Many fabulous offers, but went with marginal parish in Dallas." Seems to fit your profile of TEC no-hopers turning to The One True Church.
Why is the OCSP so intent on digging these guys up? In light of experience with Luke Reese, they aren't just ciphers, they're liabilities.