Sunday, August 31, 2014

Today is "Bishop" (or is it "Pastor"?) Williams's First Mass

at St Mary of the Angels. On reflection, I think there may be less to this than meets the eye. As of today, there has been no change in the Trinity Pro-Cathedral web site, where Williams is still listed as Rector. The clergy page of the St Mary of the Angels web site lists Williams as "Pastor of the parish" (upper case P), while below Williams the absentee incompetent Frederick Rivers (should he be styled The Ab Inc?) is listed as "rector of the parish" (lower case r). Apparently in this particular alternate universe, a Pastor outranks a rector, though a parish has both. And the Pastor is bicoastal, with a parish (actually a pro-cathedral) across the country in Rochester, NH.

Someone might ask, "Well, Mr Bruce, all you have to do is ask them what's going on, and I'm sure they'll be happy to explain it to you, if it's all that hard for you to figure out." The Trinity Pro-Cathedral e-mail is out of order. There is no e-mail listed for "Bishop" (or is it "Pastor"?) Williams. St Mary of the Angels answers neither its phone nor its web contact. The press information officer of the ACA Diocese of the Northeast, a Ms Bonnie Turner, does not reply to requests for staple information, such as the ACA's policy on background checks for priests.

I doubt if there's actually much thought behind this. I can only assume the ACA recognizes at some level that neither Williams nor Rivers has been called by an elected vestry, so neither is correctly styled a Rector (upper case R). This is a tacit acknowledgement that there is in fact no elected vestry in charge of St Mary of the Angels, so they are sorta-kinda inventing a whole new hierarchy, but not exactly. By the same token, Williams is still a Rector (upper case R) back in New Hampshire, so he has something to fall back on when the ACA's legal case finally collapses, and it will make it more difficult to serve him with papers back there when the time comes.

I saw a true crime show on TV the other night where this bigamist had a wife in California and a wife in Florida and had to make up a convincing story that would keep both of them in the dark about what was going on. Seems like something a little like that is going on here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

As Best I Can See, There Are Two Possible Explanations

for the fact that the St Mary's web site says "Bishop" Williams starts August 31, while the Trinity Pro-Cathedral web site has no notice he's leaving there. (Trinity Anglican does have a Facebook page, but the only news there is for a memorial service in 2013.)
  1. As I speculated in my last post, for whatever reason, although Williams is making the move, Trinity Anglican isn't announcing it. The departure of a rector is important news for any parish, so this is hard to imagine. Nevertheless, the possibilities could include:
    • The parish hasn't yet been told he's leaving (hard to believe)
    • The parish doesn't have anyone who is able to update the web page (also hard to believe; the web page does have updates from this summer)
    • The vestry sees no reason to announce it (verges on the credible for this bunch)
    • The parish is so broke it can't bring in a supply priest and is just going to stop holding services (slightly more credible, but only slightly)
    • Williams is persona non grata there, and the less said about his leaving, the better (but in that case, they'd be eager to announce any sort of replacement).
    None of these makes me go "Aaaahh, that's it!" except possibly that the vestry might not see any reason to let anyone know about anything important.
  2. The alternative is that Williams isn't in fact making the move, or at least not permanently. He may or may not turn up at St Mary's on August 31 to celebrate his "first" mass as announced. However, he will be there only sorta-kinda, maybe just that once, with ongoing supply priests filling in for him, while he stays in Rochester.
I'm leaning toward explanation 2. A big factor that leads me there is timing: Williams had been episcopal visitor since August 2013, a year ago, but had made no move out here, even though St Mary of the Angels has got to be the pot of gold for the whole ACA -- a guaranteed income of $250,000 per year has got to be equal to the total for any number of other parishes in the ACA. It'll pay for lots of ecumenical cruises to the Mediterranean for Marsh and his cronies. So why the delay?

The California Court of Appeals ruled against Mrs Bush and the ACA in late July. I don't think this is what they were expecting -- on the contrary, they were expecting that the elected vestry would lose its case, and the control of the parish would be wrapped up so that Williams could come out in September and begin looting the place in earnest. Now his legal ability to do that is still in question -- the poster at the parish is completely correct, within some number of months, the parish could very likely change hands, and the elected vestry would be coming after him and Marsh for money they were never authorized to collect. This would also argue against Williams commuting between the two parishes, since he'd be liable for the huge unauthorized travel expenses as well.

My guess is they're still in denial about that, but hedging their bets, keeping things sorta-kinda, and keeping both Mrs Bush and Trinity Anglican in the dark. We'll have to see more clearly come August 31.

Friday, August 22, 2014

There's More And More That Doesn't Add Up

Here's another question: the St Mary of the Angels web site notes that "Bishop" Williams's first mass is August 31, roughly a week from now. But if you go to the web site of Trinity Pro-Cathedral, Rochester, NH, the parish of which Williams has been Rector, there's not a peep. Wouldn't you expect to see the normal announcement of the reception for Bishop Williams on his last Sunday with us, August 24? The announcement that our old friend Fr Schmidlap will be celebrating with us beginning August 31? Please welcome Fr Schmidlap and his wife next Sunday? Not a peep.

What's going on? This place is not acting like a normal parish. I noted a couple of weeks ago that the parish e-mail seems to be out of order.

Things aren't adding up. Is Trinity Rochester maybe on the verge of closing and can't afford even a supply priest? Who knows? But the more I look into things, the more questions I have, and the more I wonder not just about ordinary incompetence, but about something else.

Poster At St Mary's

A poster, according to the Freedom for St Mary's site, has mysteriously appeared at the parish. I would independently second the sentiments, especially as they relate to Williams's legal and financial liability. This applies equally to Brian Marsh.

As Fr Tom said at mass a few blocks away, better answer that, it might be God.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Denomination of Last Resort

Let's look at Robert Bowman's biography and his activities since 2009. From the 1980s, he had made a career as a Reformed Episcopal Church priest and a headmaster at independent middle schools. He jumped around from state to state: central Florida; Alexandria, VA; Savannah, GA; someplace in Mississippi; Little Rock, AR; then Southern California. Whether he was moving on following some problem in each area we simply don't know. However, there's a credible strain of opinion that people who have disorders like pedophilia persist in behavior that will give them the satisfaction they're after.

"Pedophilia", of course, is preference, not a particular activity. A discussion thread that had posts from people claiming to be students at Trinity Christian School (one of those where Bowman was headmaster) offered the following observations:

Im late to this party but i went to trinity from kindergarden to 6th grade when he was at trinity and he always had something about him, some look in his eye that said the there was something more. Every morning he'd role up in his mid-1990's Jag wearing his cheap suit and red tie smiling but there was just something different.
or
I went to trinity too. when he was there, idk, we all knew something was different about him, don't get me wrong, he was nice guy, but we didn't expect this. so on one level it suprises me and on another level it doesn't.
or
We pulled our kids for CrossRoad two years agoe because my wife and I believed that Bowman was the wrong principal for the school. The prior principal wass equally un-qualified.
It sounds as though throughout his career, parents, students, and possibly colleagues thought something wasn't quite right about the guy. He doesn't appear to have been caught actually touching or molesting children, but pedophilia is a preference, not a particular activity -- and the fact that nothing was discovered doesn't mean nothing happened. Still, every few years, he'd pick up, move, and try the priest-and-middle-school-headmaster routine someplace else.

What do you suppose he did after he was arrested for child pornography in 2009? Look for a different profession? Bartending, computer programming, short order cook, fast food manager, cab driver, freelance writer/editor? Even with an arrest record, there are options, just nothing that involves children. Nope -- in 2013, he finds All Saints Fountain Valley and the ACA. How many places do you think he looked in the four-year period before he found that one?

I've found a number of discussions on the web about how to protect children in church. Many of them stress that the mere knowledge that references and arrest records will be checked is enough to deter the wrong people from applying for such jobs. Something about All Saints Fountain Valley must have told Bowman this place would be different -- and it was.

What's he going to do once he's eased out there? By his account, he's going to go after new church jobs in the ACNA.

Before I heard about Bowman at all, I asked a similar question about James Hiles:

In other words, Hiles had left a sinking ship and hopped jurisdictions -- no doubt, I would guess, shopping around among more than one; the ACA finally offered him the best deal.
Or maybe the only deal? If I were the ACA, I'd be wanting every cleric to re-qualify with a new set of background and reference checks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Mentioned David Moyer The Other Day

Because I became Catholic via RCIA, and because I'm pretty well engrossed with what I'm learning about the mainstream Catholic Christian tradition, with no special need for Anglican-style liturgy, I hadn't been following the usual Anglo-Catholic blogs, which frankly strike me as aimed at the madwomen who wear straw hats and velvet hats to church, rather than adults, like David Moyer, who recognize that the Church is a battleground. However, a visitor brought me up to date on Moyer's status: on August 17, Moyer and his Newman Fellowship group were received into the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.

He and his group have my heartfelt congratulations and very best wishes, and I particularly admire Moyer's integrity, humility, and fortitude in coming to accept laicization in order to go in with his group. But what changed?

In February 2012, after Moyer was denied Archbishop Chaput's votum to come into the Catholic Church as a priest, Steenson is reported to have said,

"I told the people on Sunday that they must follow their conscience on the question of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. Lumen Gentium 14 (the Vatican II constitution on the Church) makes this a matter of salvation: 'Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. So, even if the Fellowship was not ready to make this decision, if an individual was convinced about what the Catholic Church teaches about herself, he or she should not be afraid to move forward.

"Catechumens who, moved by the Holy Spirit, seek with explicit intention to be incorporated into the Church are by that very intention joined with her. With love and solicitude Mother Church already embraces them as her own.'" (LG 14)," Steenson told VOL.

(I was told during RCIA, by the way, that those of us who had already been baptized into the Christian faith were candidates, not catechumens. A double check confirms that catechumens are not yet baptized, and the act of baptism radically changes a Christian's status, whether Catholic or not. I'm puzzled that Steenson, a theologian, would miss this, as the members of the Newman Fellowship, active Anglicans and former Episcopalians, had all certainly been baptized.)

Steenson's remarks were generally interpreted in reports at the time as telling the people of the Newman Fellowship that their group would not be received into the Ordinariate, with or without Moyer, and the clear intent of the remarks above is that their only other option was to come into the Catholic Church as individuals. In other remarks, Steenson at the time was generally reported as offering the Newman group the opportunity to join the other Philadelphia-area Ordinariate group, St Michael Archangel, or nothing:

If the congregation, sans Moyer, truly believes in the faith as Rome sees it, they are jeopardizing their souls not to join St. Michael’s under the Rev. Dr. David Ousley who will be given the nod to enter Rome through the Ordinariate some time down the road.
Vested as they may have been in cloying churchladyspeak, Steenson's remarks above strike me as basically a snotty putdown of what was, by Ordinariate standards, a large, sincere, and prosperous group. Mischaracterizing them as catechumens was tactless and condescending at best. Moyer's laicization does not seem to have been the only issue: it doesn't appear that they were offered any other option but coming in individually or via St Michael Archangel. After all, any group wishing to come in at the start was going to have to have a Catholic priest who served as chaplain while the Anglican priest who served with the group awaited ordination. What was so different with Newman?

It's hard to avoid thinking that something changed. Did Steenson pick up the phone at some point in subsequent years to have someone, divine or mortal, explain to him that, indeed, the Newman Fellowship is a large, sincere, and prosperous group, and, er, Steenson perhaps needed to give a bit more thought to pledges, donations, and bequests? Is this a sign that the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter might have become a little less the Ordinariate of the Diocese of Ft Worth?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"You'd Better Answer That -- It Might Be God."

Despite the usual admonitions to turn off cell phones before mass, a doofus didn't bother, and a ring tone began to sound insistently during Fr Tom's homily on Sunday. Normally a doofus turns it off in short order, but apparently this particular doofus was frozen in panic and just let it keep ringing. Fr Tom finally interrupted his homily and said, "You'd better answer that -- it might be God." After a few moments of further reflection, the doofus finally complied. What God had to say we never learned.

That reminded me of an earlier dialogue with God, reported by none other than Robert William Bowman on the All Saints Fountain Valley Facebook page entry for June 16, 2014:

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Yesterday I informed the Vestry of All Saints Church that I would be concluding my service to the parish on the Lord's Day, August 31, 2014. Over the past several months I began to sense that the LORD was preparing me for a move, as I was contacted by 2 ACNA congregations and one diocese of the ACNA inquiring about my availability for service. One congregation is on the East Coast, one congregation is in a different part of the the state of CA, and the diocese contacting me is in Texas.

When I came to All Saints, I expected to stay for a few weeks until a new priest could be appointed to replace Dr. Morello. A few weeks has turned into 18 months, and by August 31, will be 20 months. It has been a distinct privilege and joy for me to serve this congregation over these many months. I have appreciated everything that everyone has done to serve the LORD here. You cannot possibly know what a tremendous blessing you have been in my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me this privilege. Just as the LORD sent me to be the "supply guy" (as I have styled myself) these many months, so He will again send His man to serve you in the future. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to "trust in the LORD will all your heart and He will direct your paths."

I will continue to serve you until August 31, with the exception of the next 3 Lord's Days when I will be away on my trip to China. Next Lord's Day, June 22, the 10:00 AM service will be Morning Prayer. On the Lord's Day June 29 and July 6 The Reverend Bob Hammond will be the visiting priest. I will return to the pulpit July 13.

I ask your faithful prayer support as I travel to and from China. Please pray for travel mercies as we fly out Tuesday, June 17, and return Monday, July 7. Please pray for the man The LORD has already chosen to serve you. As the LORD supplied in the past, so He will do again in the future.

Kept with you in HIS love,
Robert Bowman
Romans 11:33-36

I didn't need to pick up the phone to figure out what my own response to God's call here would be -- I addressed the following to the public inquiry page on the ACNA main web site:
Robert William Bowman has been interim priest at All Saints Anglican Church in Fountain Valley, CA since 2013. He was formerly rector of St Luke’s REC parish in Santa Ana, CA, but was dismissed from that position following his arrest on child pornography charges in 2009. See http://www.ocregister.com/articles/bowman-168221-home-church.html

On the Facebook page of All Saints Anglican, he posted on June 16 of this year,

“Yesterday I informed the Vestry of All Saints Church that I would be concluding my service to the parish on the Lord's Day, August 31, 2014. Over the past several months I began to sense that the LORD was preparing me for a move, as I was contacted by 2 ACNA congregations and one diocese of the ACNA inquiring about my availability for service. One ...congregation is on the East Coast, one congregation is in a different part of the the state of CA, and the diocese contacting me is in Texas.”

I believe it would be an exceedingly unwise move for the ACNA to hire this man in any capacity. I hope you will warn the parishes and the diocese of this issue.

However, I believe the ACNA is an utterly different sort of organization from the ACA, and it would require written applications, criminal background checks, and full reference checks of all clergy. And since the REC is now part of the ACNA, the ACNA may well be already aware of Bowman.

For that matter, I would assume that Bowman is also fully aware of ACNA policy and understands fully that he will never be hired in the ACNA again. As a result, I can't help but wonder if the Facebook page is intended as a face-saving lie. But whose face is being saved here? I notified Brian Marsh of Bowman's arrest record in early April -- according to Bowman, he began to get calls from God several months before his June announcement, although I very much doubt they were eager inquiries from the ACNA.

I suspect instead that they were highly confidential chats with Frederick Rivers and "Bishop" Owen Williams. "We gotta ease you out," I assume was the basic subject. "Real slow and inconspicuous. Our jobs are on the line just as much as yours. Let's make this all just between us, and make it look like you're just movin' on here, huh?" As of today, Bowman is still on staff.

My only question is why Marsh, Williams, and Rivers thought it would be a good idea to keep the All Saints Fountain Valley parish exposed to a pedophile for almost five months so everyone could save face. I trust that responsible parties in the ACA will address this question, although if I were an ordinary parishioner, I'd be hopping mad and want some good answers myself.