Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Concerns At Our Lady Of Walsingham

I simply haven't heard enough of events in the North American ordinariate to post more than occasionally about what's going on there, but I recently got an e-mail from "A Concerned Walsingham Parishioner" that revives suspicions I'd begun to have during Bp Lopes's extended indisposition last year, after falling from an attic ladder in his residence.

My regular correspondent reminds me that I posted an e-mail from a Walsingham parishioner on june 27, 2020 as well, regarding the promotion of Mr Josue Vásquez-Weber, who had previously been Bp Lopes's executive assistant, to the position of Chancellor. The post at that time said,

The individual who reported J Henry's promotion gave this background:
From being the Facilities Manager at St. Theresa's in Sugar Land, Texas, to becoming the personal assistant and now CHANCELLOR for Lopes, Josue's rise in the Ordinariate is truly astronomical in nature! Especially for someone that clearly doesn't know anything! Not only that, but he's also Bishop Lopes' "housemate".
My regular correspondent and I have noted the not entirely decorous tone with reference to the bishop in J Henry's letters to clergy that implies an absence of supervisor-subordinate boundaries, and the visitor's assertion here may reflect this as well.

Just last evening I was reflecting on how Our Lady of the Atonement has had a great deal of turmoil, but in contrast, Our Lady of Walsingham seems to have been quiet. The visitor here suggests this may not necessarily be the case.

A new e-mail -- at this point, I can't verify that the two messages are from two different people, as they're both anonymous -- reads as follows:
For about 5 months or so, Josue has taken it upon himself to not only completely and utterly destroy the mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham (even whispering into Lopes' ear and changing mass procedure DURING MASS), but also to terrorize the workers, staff, and other members of the parish with his own childish tantrums. Indeed, a seminary drop-out with absolutely no qualifications other than a suspicious proximity to the bishop has absolutely nothing to do other than establish his authority to be of far greater heights than his diminutive stature.

This man has made people who work at Walsingham - who have built this parish, by the way, with no need of Lopes' or Josue's help whatsoever - cry, consider quitting, and overall come close to having, if not outright actually having, suicidal thoughts.

The man has ruined a project for a high school that was not his whatsoever, destroying fundraising possibilities. He changed landscaping that a very generous parishioner had ultimately paid for. He has changed musical choices (where he feels like he has any knowledge of music is unbeknownst to me, I don't think this man can actually tell two notes from the sound of a jackhammer) from the very capable musicians there, even wanting to sing!

I ran some of the information in the e-mail past my regular correspondent, who replied
As we have noted, Mr Vasquez-Weber and Bp Lopes seem inseparable; live-stream from the Cathedral and postings about visits from the bishop on community websites/FB pages from anywhere around the country invariably show J. Henry acting as SD when Bp Lopes celebrates. I am not surprised to hear that he feels entitled to speak on behalf of the bishop where liturgy and music are concerned, or that he sticks his oar in elsewhere in the administration of the parish, and probably in other areas of OCSP business. Of course he has no background either with the parish or the “Anglican Patrimony,” but his relationship with Bp Lopes makes that irrelevant.

Not a recipe for popularity.

As far as the high school is concerned, the latest on the OLW website is the report of the fundraising firm completed in December 2019. It was very positive, but since that time, nothing seems to have been done, although obviously 2020 was not a great time for fundraising/building projects. It would be interesting to know exactly how J Henry is seen to have sabotaged the scheme.

I have assumed that Fr Perkins’ elevation to Monsignor is a prelude to his retirement. Unfortunately for Bp Lopes experienced administrative talent is pretty thin on the ground in the OCSP.

I would be interested to hear any information that would either contradict or confirm the allegations from the Walsingham parishioner here. I publish them prompted, now at some distance and greater detachment from covering Anglicanorum coetibus, because I felt something was hinky about the Houston chancery all along, and this stirs my suspicions yet again.

But also, it's worth pointing out that, almost ten years after the erection of the North American ordinariate, a lot of people have become disappointed in the project, and it's certainly had more than its share of scandals. I think what I may do is write a series of posts on the new blog exploring what I think is the clear failure of the Anglicanorum coetibus project and the reasons for it.

In the meantime, if anyone else can shed light on what's happening at Our Lady of Walsingham, I'll be happy to hear it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

How Is This Catholic?

Let me preface this post by stressing, again, that in 2013, unable to enter the Church via Anglicanorum coetibus, I joined the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church via RCIA. Since then I've attended novus ordo masses. My view is that, as a convert, it would be absurd for me to say that the Church to which I converted somehow got it all, or even some of it, wrong in Vatican II. So I've been increasingly skeptical of the tendency of the North American ordinariate to ally itself, in however unspoken a way, with the pre-Conciliarist movement in the Church.

A visitor sent me a copy of the announcement to the St Barnabas Omaha ordinariate parish of the appointment of a new pastor, Dcn Stephen Hilgendorf. The announcement was accompnied by what seems to have become the standard pastoral family portrait, the deacon himself with his wife and children. The wife and family are unusual in themselves for the diocesan priesthood, of course, but even more unusual is that his wife and daughter are wearing chapel veils. The Roman Catholic Church has no particular prescription regarding women's head covering, but the implication, in Omaha now as elsewhere, seems to be that if women in the ordinariate aren't wearing chapel veils, they aren't with the program.

The puzzling thing here is that Anglicanorum coetibus was, at least originally, intended to create an environment where Anglicans could feel comfortable coming to a Catholic mass, or something like that. But neither Episcopalians nor continuers had chapel veils as a practice. This is, for Catholics, an archaism maintained, as far as I can observe, either by elderly women or younger women from countries where this has been a more recent practice -- but there is no liturgical or doctrinal requirement for it, and the Church has no position. Ladies who are plenty devout come to mass in our parish without them.

By the same token, the ordinariate, though this isn't universal, seems to have adopted a preference for receiving communion kneeling and on the tongue. In at least some cases, this is enforced by distributing the sacrament via intinction, leaving the communicant no option, though the Church allows either. I'm told, though, that intinction is from the Catholic perspective in fact a post-Conciliar innovation. Here it seems to be adopted as, like chapel veils, something of an affected archaism, though in the Church intinction isn't archaic at all.

For that matter, I'm told that despite the stuffiness of the Divine Worship liturgy, the masses at the Our Lady of the Atonement ordinariate parish are very popular because they're the only place in town where people can get the sacrament on the tongue. The position of the USCCB, that is, the Roman Catholic Church, is that communion in the hand and on the tongue are equally valid. As I age and my hands shake, I prefer it on the tongue for convenience, but each winter, our parish suspends the practice during flu season and has naturally extended it during the current COVID situation.

I deal with it. I certainly don't go hunting for some parish an hour's drive away where I can get the sacrament on the tongue no matter what. What is Dcn Hilgendorf's policy on administering on the tongue? What would happen if, like most Episcopalians, I came to his communion rail with my hands extended?

The impression I have, just from the photo with the announcement of his appointment, is that Dcn Hilgendorf is With The Program, which is to say that he endorses neither Anglican nor typically Catholic practices like chapel veils and effectively compulsory communion on the tongue, and possibly post-Conciliar innovations like intinction -- a highly idiosyncratic and not even very Anglican combination that suggests there's quite a bit of private judgment being introduced to Catholicism in the ordinariate. And it looks like he's enthusiastic about it.

It reminds me of recent remarks by Bp Barron to the effect that you don't get any higher authority in the Catholic Church than an ecumenical council. To pre-Conciliarists who say there are certain parts of Vatican II they don't accept, he asks what parts of Trent they don't accept. What parts of the Nicene Creed do they not accept? There's a word for people who think this way, and it's Protestants.

I'm more and more convinced that the practical implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus has been, rather than welcome Anglicans into the Catholic Church, instead to create something like a whole new Protestant denomination, Anglo-Liberal in its orientation though affecting eclectic conservative forms, with the not fully witting endorsement of Catholic authorities.

I note that Dcn Hilgendorf's background includes a bachelor's from Hillsdale College. I've taken many of Hillsdale's on line courses, and I'm convinced it's possible to get a much better education there than I got in the Ivy League 50 years ago. I've also been highly impressed by the class participaion of students there in video classes -- but I'm sure Dr Arnn carefully picks them for such sessions, because I know from some I've met that it's very possible to go to Hillsdale College and still be silly.

I'm not yet sure about Dcn Hilgendorf. I would, though, expect a Hillsdale alum to do better than get with the ordinariate program, especially if he's claiming to be, of all things, a Catholic priest. Dcn Hilgendorf, what parts of USCCB policy don't you accept? There must certainly be some.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Sister Mary Margaret Laid Off From Atonement Academy

A San Antonio visitor sent me an e-mail yesterday that Sister Mary Margaret, a longtime fixture at the Atonement Academy, the parish school at the Our Lady of the Atonement ordinariate parish there, has lost her job in a school reorganization. This was announced to parents in a January 29 letter from the Head of School (click on the image for a larger copy):
The visitor reports that masses at Our Lady of the Atonement are jammed, since it continues to be the only Catholic parish in town that administers communion on the tongue. However, the visitor raised additional questions about Sister Mary Margaret in a series of e-mails that I ran by my regular correspondent:
Did you hear Sister Mary Margaret was let go? She was the last of the godfather crew, laying super low since everything collapsed. Kept her full time teaching job, well paid enough that she bought a house quite some years ago. I never figured that out. It's a rather nice neighborhood.

And a friend had the audacity to put a GoFundMe for Sister. Has she not been there since it started way back when? No retirement saving..nothing.

My first question was how a religious could own real estate, since the vow of poverty heavily circumscribes conditions of ownership . My regular correspondent replied,

The GoFundMe letter says she is in”private vows” and “responsible for her own financial support” so I assume poverty was not one of her vows. Unclear if she is even officially up to the level of Myrna-Mary Chruschz (née Bengry) the vowed hermitess.

Her LinkedIn shows her as Co-Foundress of something called the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, Peoria, which has apparently been a”Secular Institute in Formation” for the last sixteen years. Not on the “Consecrated Life” page of the Diocese of Peoria website. A Gilbertine analogue, I suspect. But she is a well-qualified teacher with twenty-five years’ experience.

The visitor, also expressing puzzlement over "private vows", added:
It really was a mafia set up with Father Phillips, Deacon Orr and Sister. She saw and heard everything and has managed to not have her name come up. She's been there from the beginning..no way she didn't know. She was on boards and committees, she was an administrator (pretty sure vice principal a few times). In between the rotating of principals there, like a wheel of fortune game.

Sign of the cross. So glad we left.

I covered the issue of private vows throughout much of 2017 on this blog, discussing the problem of the Calgary "Gilbertines", who were also in private vows. Houston belatedly and reluctantly determined that in fact there was no way to regularize Frs Bengry and Beahen, and Bengry's mother, Mrs Chruschz, into a religious order with public vows. I suspect Houston found itself in a similar situation with Sister Mary Margaret. I discussed the canonical dilemma with a religious in private vows in this post here on December 8, 2017.

In that post, I quoted the recommendations of a canon law expert to a bishop who had questions regarding individuals in private vows. She made it plain that among other things, the bishop and the parish pastor must make it clear that such individuals, even if they're calling themselves "sister" and wearing habits, are not vowed religious. This doesn't seem ever to have been done with "Sister" Mary Margaret, who seems to have been paid as a lay employee of the school.

The visitor adds,

Well the story that's told over and over is she was in the first group of nuns who came to help the school way back in the beginning.

That group didn't last, apparently their vision was very different than Father P.

They left, .all but Sister Mary Margaret. She DID NOT return to the home convent.... She has been at OLA since the others left...so is that when this " private vow " nonsense took place? When she stayed behind? Is that what they used so she could stay..? Who knows with this crew.. But she was the lone wolf/nun who stayed.

She occassionally goes visit the convent, at least when we were there.

I think private vows at OLA means THEY are keeping it all private.

It does appear that, as in the case of the Calgary Gilbertines, Houston is at least belatedly working to make things right.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Is Australia Unique?

It seems to me that the problems the CDF has identified with the Australian ordinariate differ from those in the UK and US only in degree -- all suffer from stagnant growth and financially weak parishes that can't pay a priest's stipend. Most clergy require outside incomes, either from pensions or day jobs. All have aging clergy with little depth in the replacement pools. So why single out Australia, except as the worst of an unpromising bunch? My regular correspondent comments,
The Pastoral Provision was allowed to totter on for 22 years—-indeed technically the congregation of St Athanasius, Chestnut Hill is still a PP parish. Why is the CDF taking a hard line with the Australian ordinariate? Why not just allow it to die a natural death? Is the whole ordinariate project being seen, belatedly, as a bad look for the Church?

If the plan is to make the ordinariates justify their existence, the UK will be next in the crosshairs. It has one building to its name, no stipendiary clergy apart from those in local diocesan employ, and as we have often discussed is the least interested in maintaining Anglican liturgical patrimony, since most of its clergy used the OF even when in the CofE.

Its financial resources are few and it has failed to grow; indeed the latest data at catholic-hierarchy.org from the Annuario Pontificio shows that its membership has declined by about half since 2014-16 and it has lost five communities since its high point in 2014. For purposes of comparison, the Australian ordinariate had 1,200 members in 2019.

With an official membership of 6,040 the US ordinariate is twice as big as the other two Ordinariates combined. It has some buildings and some money. But if the project is coming under scrutiny in Rome we know that there is plenty of cause for concern in Houston as well.

The passing of the project's most powerful patron, Cdl Law, and the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI mean that the opportunity for reassessment is growing. Insofar as the talent pool even in the US is mainly marginal ex-Protetant clergy, I think bishops would be correct in having a concern that people who walk into an ordinariate parish that calls itself a "Catholic church" don't get a consistent product.

For now, thouigh, the bishops have other priorities -- a scandal couild change that. The situation at St Barnabas Omaha is an indication that parishes aren't well supervised, and serious problems aren't addressed before they're out of control.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Australian Ordinariate Threatened With Closure

An Australian visitor sent me the following e-mail:
[T]he Australian Ordinariate . . . has been given less than a year by the Vatican to become financially viable or their future will be decided by the Australian Bishops (who will wipe them out). There is no way they will meet these financial goals.

Below is the message the Australian Ordinary emailed out to selected Ordinariate members with the attached file in the attachment of this email- but they never intended for the information to go public as they are keeping the information from others parties who should know. I ask you to publish the information in its entirety to bring some transparency into the matter as the former Ordinary Harry Entwistle is an incompetent fraud . . . who doomed the Australian Ordinariate, and Reid is little better: both appointed TAC bishops by Hepworth himself, and the apples did not fall far from the tree.

Dear Friends and Supporters of the Ordinariate,

By now you will be aware that we have been, for some years, attempting to encourage the clergy, faithful and supporters of the Ordinariate to use various evangelism talents and tools to build up the membership. And that’s important if we hope for there to be subsequent generations in our communities, with one of the most pressing related problems to small membership being the ability to support financially new priests when our current clergy must retire. Most of them are on pensions of some sort, and many also have their own accommodation, so the issues of stipend, housing etc. have not been at the forefront of our collective thinking. We’ve been trying to make it more pressing, and now our Rome “parent” has requested that there be some concrete benchmarks or milestones looking ahead.

The attached letter from our Episcopal Vicar lays this out, following on from a Governing Council meeting last week.

With my prayers that we can ensure that there will indeed be future generations who have a stable church home in the Ordinariate!

Monsignor Carl Reid, Ordinary

The letter itself, which was attached to the e-mail in a pdf, is reproduced below (click on the images for larger copies). The bottom line is pretty clear. Toward the bottom of the first page:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a timeline, and that timeline is dependent on us, the priests and laity of the Ordinariate.
  • The major city parishes must be able to sustain financially a priest. These communities must generate and have in hand $30,000 by the end of 2021, and have the same amount in pledged donations for 2022, ending in 2023. The amount will be matched by the Ordinariate, provided each major city parish achieves the target.
  • If this benchmark above is not met, then letters will be sent to the ACBC by January of 2022 at the latest, asking counsel regarding the future of OLSC.
The Australian ordinariate has been the smallest and weakest of the three that were erected under Anglicanorum coetibus. What I find significant here is not that it's likely to be closed a year from now, but that the CDF appears to be monitoring all the ordinariates for signs of growth and financial health. It's simply not encouraging to say, "Well, at least it's not the North American or UK ordinariate that's threatened, huh?" That's not the good news. The bad news is that the CDF seems now to be interested in whether the whole project is worth the trouble.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Out Of Court Settlement For Most Recent St Mary's Hollywood Lawsuits

A knowledgeable party has told me that there's been an out of court settlement for the most recent set of St Mary of the Angels Hollywood, CA lawsuits. Over the past 45 years, that Anglican parish has been involved in litigation more often than not, with three major groups of lawsuits, the first over its leaving The Episcopal Church, the second over its leaving the Anglican Catholic Church, and the third over its leaving the Anglican Church in America in an attempt to enter the North American ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church under the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus.

The settlement comes for a subset of the most recent litigation. In it, over the course of nearly a decade, the courts seesawed in a series of opinions and appeals over which vestry, one backed by the ACA or one comprising a group intending to enter the ordinariate, controlled the parish property.

The legal fees involved could be met only because the parish received substantial rental income from a commercial property it had developed in the 1980s. The successive vestries were able to use the income and the collateralized value of the commercial property to pay at least five teams of lawyers in successive lawsuits. But ten years of litigattion meant that this was more than even a multimillion-dollar commercial property could sustain.

Most recently, the victorious vestry, faced with the need to keep payments up on a loan that had been secured by the losing vestry to pay their own lawyers, refused to pay that loan on the basis that the losing vestry had no authority to take it out, since they'd lost. The lender obviously disagreed and wanted the loan repaid. This cycle of litigation went on for several years, delayed in 2020 by COVID.

The individual who contacted me said he'd known generally that talks were under way for an out-of-court settlement, but that the attorney for the lenders had contacted him just the other day to confirm that the settlement had taken place, saying only "St Mary bought out our liens (though at a steep discount) and sold one of the properties to fund it.”

The knowledgeable party interpreted this to mean that the ACA vestry was forced finally to sell the income-producing commercial property, leaving only the parcel on which the church building itself is located. But since such an out of court settlement is likely to be confidential, it hasn't been covered in local media, and this must be considered speculation by a party who has been close to the situation, but not privy to the current settlement.

However, legal actions over the past decade have resulted in the church parking lot being deemed part of the adjoining commercial property, so that the church no longer has any off-street parking available, in an area where any on-street parking is very difficult to find.

But the weekly offerings to the parish have never met its expenses without the rental income from the commercial property. I served briefly as the parish treasurer during its initial attempt to join the ordinariate, and weekly offerings from the several dozen regular members were in the $1000 range. Periodic total closure of the parish, its uncertain disposition, and the general controversy have decimated even this group. As of 2011, the parish's general expenses were in the $250,000 per year range. Utilities, heating, insurance, and maintenance costs on an aging building will continue.

A major part of the ACA's desire to keep the parish, we must assume, was the diocesan tithe from the annual rental income. It appears that the ACA has lost this (it probably never got much in any case), while the parish now continues as a potential major liability to the denomination. It can now only sustain very marginal, poorly supervised "continuinng Anglican" clergy who will inevitably be up to mischief.

But in addition, the church building is designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 136. According to Wikipedia, this does not prevent demolition or alteration. However, the designation requires permits for demolition or substantial alteration to be presented to a historic monument commission. The commission has the power to delay the demolition of a designated property for up to one year.

It's extremely doubtful that the parish can meet its continuing major expenses without the income from the commercial property, and its membership is probably minimal at this point. I would not expect it to survive as a corporate institution much longer.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

More On The Spending At St Barnabas Omaha

Since St Barnabas came into the North American ordinariate, there's been an enormous amount of construction activity and property acquisition that I hadn't really spent much time tracking down. In hindsight, it was far out of proportion to the size of the parish.

Just as a start to getting an idea of what had been going on, my regular correspondent sent me this link to a 2017 story (it may require you to answer a quiz question before you can see the text):

In 2013, St. Barnabas made a cash payment to the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska allowing the church to permanently occupy its historic building at 129 N. 40th St. The congregation and the diocese reached the out-of-court settlement after a Douglas County District Court judge ruled that church members must surrender the structure, the rectory and other property to the diocese.

Renovations on the building started in September 2016, with routine repairs to the plaster ceiling, Catania said. In the process, workers discovered more serious problems and opened up the ceiling to the peak of the roof.

“We thought ‘If we’re doing this, what else can we do?’ ” the priest said.

The church ended up with new paint and lights and refinished pews and floors. The sanctuary floor also was lowered nine inches to accommodate the three steps up to the altar that are common in older Catholic churches.

My regular correspondent provided updates on post-2017 spending:
Presumably purchasing its property from the local TEC diocese depleted any endowment the TEC parish had. The new legacy, however, made it possible for the parish to undertake the renovations described [above]. In addition, the rectory was demolished and a landmark house in the neighbourhood was purchased. It sold for $800,000 in 2013 and presumably for more than that when the parish bought it in 2019. Converting it from a nine-bedroom bnb to the uses described in the linked article must have also cost a fair bit.

I believe the parish also purchased two apartment buildings next door to it which now house the St Barnabas Academy and possibly the music director. Fr Catania lived there before the Offutt-Yost mansion was purchased. In 2018 the church bell was refurbished and a new electrical ringing apparatus installed.

You reported on the purchase of the apartment building(s) on June 23, 2017. I see that a new organ had also been installed. Presumably the demolition of the former rectory was related to the long-standing parking problem described here. The lot was poured and painted in April 2019.

The church also purchased a bus to collect Sunday attendees in what I assume is an area poorly served by public transit. It is evident that the $150,000 +/- budgeted for annual givings would not sustain the parish without the addition of substantial income from other sources, and if the recent endowment has been used for these other projects there is no other income.

A parish of this size (I counted about 50-60 people in the pews in a FB picture of Bp Lopes’ visit last Sunday) can’t afford this, certainly not in the space of three or four years.

Whatever the specifics, it appears that the parish's current financial situation is dire. I still have a difficult time envisioning exactly what buildings are in the current complex, exactly how they're used, exactly what the parish's current programs are, and whether any bring in any significant income.

I would be interested to hear any serious plans for how the parish intends to dig itself out of this situation -- the new priest will, it seems to me, have challenges that are greater than would normally be faced by ex-Protestant clergy with often marginal or part-time careers serving small and desultory groups. But if no new leadership of any sort will arrive until July, I wonder if the parish can even last until then, if that's when any serious work will even begin.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable party adds:

Some clarifying info regarding your latest post:

1) The settlement with TEC for the building was paid for with an advance from the bequest before the parish received the full amount (after the parishioner died).

2) The Offutt House was acquired via a house-swap. After tearing down the original rectory, the parish, at the instigation of Bishop Lopes, purchased a house two blocks down the road for use as a rectory. In the meantime, the owner of the Offutt House had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell it. She approached the parish to see if they were interested in buying it, since it was contiguous with the parish property. At the time, she wanted to sell it with an adjoining house that she also owned, and wanted $1,000,000 for the package. The parish had an independent appraisal done, which found that she was asking for far too much money, and offered her less. She balked and moved on. After several more months of being unable to sell the house, she contacted the parish again and proposed a house-swap. She would take the then-current rectory; St. Barnabas would take the Offutt House. When this was presented to the Parish Council, it was said that the parish would write her a “tax letter” for the $200,000 or so difference in additional worth of the Offutt House over the then-rectory, so she could write it off on her taxes. They were told no money would be exchanged. As it turns out, the parish ended up being on the hook to pay that $200,000, which they are still chipping away at.

3) The bus came with the Offutt House.