Saturday, December 3, 2016

Court Hearing December 12, 2016

There will be a court hearing on December 12, 2016 at 8:30 am in Dept. 32 at the Stanley Mosk courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. It will be on the combined issues of the motion for summary judgment against the Bush group for lack of standing, as they are not the parish vestry, never have been, and have no standing to bring suit. There will also be a motion to dismiss the "related cases" against Fr Kelley. Mr Lancaster's position has been that the court should wait for the appeals court to rule on the Bush group's appeal of Judge Strobel's 2015 finding, but it appears that this will take a great deal longer than Mr Lancaster's original prediction.

This is an area where I continue to be skeptical of Bp Lopes's intent regarding the Ordinariate -- as I've said before, where there's a will, there's a way. Frankly, I think if he were to raise the issue with Bp Marsh of withdrawing the ACA's participation in the legal action, it would move the matter forward. The ACA's participation has certainly damaged its credibility -- it must certainly be a factor in making the ACA's projected merger with the APA "elusive", in Bp Marsh's own words. In the interests of its survival, the ACA needs to move on and focus on the future.

The St Mary of the Angels issue has also been a major problem for the OCSP's public image -- this blog is read by influential parties. Bp Lopes, as I've said before, you want me on your side.

Friday, December 2, 2016

More On The Bridgeport Parish

Regarding my skepticism over whether the Bridgeport parish fully qualified for its canonical erection, my regular correspondent adds,
I would say that there is no doubt that Fr Ousley is not being paid the designated OCSP stipend, because this does not exist. I assume it is one of the financial details that the OCSP administration is trying to work out. However, Fr Ousley was the full-time parochial administrator of St Michael and All Angels, Philadelphia when it had twenty-five members. Clearly they could not have been providing him significant financial support. Likewise, St Gregory, Stoneham could exist as an independent congregation while Fr Liias, the retired TEC clergyman, was their leader but since he retired it has had to merge with the local diocesan PP parish, St Athanasius.

The purchase of an old building, especially one whose maintenance was probably skimped on in the past as closure loomed, is a risk. The November newsletter hints at some potential structural problems. Caretaking duties are being undertaken by volunteers which may be a false economy. So I agree that things are not rock solid at St John the Baptist.

Perhaps you are right that this step reflects a desire to suggest that there is momentum in the OCSP despite appearances to the contrary. Regarding the demographics, there are children in some of the pictures of the post-service reception at St John Baptist. Furthermore, I recall a line of the art critic Robert Hughes', apropos of the fact that we were told for decades during the Cold War that the Orthodox Church was being stamped out in Russia and no one attended but little old ladies, "Little old ladies are a renewable resource."

Well, little old ladies may be a renewable resource, but disaffected Episcopalians and "continuers", their numbers always exaggerated, are not. TEC membership is steadily declining, and not because they're moving to the OCSP. The hard core TEC Anglo-Catholics, significantly in Philadelphia but elsewhere too, are in "affirming" parishes who disagree with the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality. The "continuers" are disappearing even faster. If they were thought to be a market in 1993 or even 2010, this is no longer the case.

If the current pastor in Bridgeport isn't being paid an amount consistent with normal standards for diocesan secular priests (I occasionally see numbers in the range of $30,000 per year, though this includes paid housing at minimum), this isn't being factored into "stability" as a criterion. Should Fr Ousley retire at age 70 and the parish be unable to pay his successor, this would probably result in the parish's closure, since the diocese had presumably already determined that it wouldn't be sustainable with a diocesan priest, even part time.

The same would apply to parish volunteers serving as housekeepers and gardeners. At some point, this is going to get old. And when the pastor of our previous diocesan parish had to lay off the school custodian, yes, a volunteer took up the slack, but this was one more sign for us that the parish was failing, and it was time to move on.

My regular correspondent followed up,

Starting a new venture is challenging. Some people have special skills in this regard, naturally or as the result of practice. Someone at the beginning of a managerial career who is launching a new initiative will be motivated to acquire expertise on this subject in a hurry and thus demonstrate readiness for greater responsibility.

Msgr Steenson fell into none of these categories. In addition he had one paid employee, his personal assistant, about whose skills I will say nothing except to note that she is no longer with the organisation, and was carrying a significant teaching load at St Mary's Seminary.

He clearly had no ability to identify talent, surrounding himself with incompetent volunteers whose bad decisions, like acquiring the ParishSoft system, are still causing problems for the Ordinariate. I see that his "Letters to the Faithful" have been deleted from the OCSP website, although the heading still remains, which is too bad, because these randomly appearing missives, personally revealing but generally lacking a sense of message, audience, and purpose, offered a lot of insight into the start-up problems of the OCSP.

Now a fresh start has been made. Financial and HR functions are in professional hands. Consistent adherence to canonical requirements is being expected. Common goals are being articulated. Addressing the Ordinariate's fundamental branding problem is a more fundamental problem, of course, and that is the key to its survival.

It's significant that my correspondent is using a corporate-managerial metaphor here. The problem is that there are ways to advance in corporations that don't involve competence, and being a member-in-good-standing of the club is only one of them. Another is to make cosmetic changes in one assignment and, as a rising star, quickly move on, leaving the less visible problems for someone else to clean up. "Pump and dump" could be another way of putting things.

It's getting harder for me to avoid thinking that it's in Bp Lopes's interest to create an appearance of success by glossing over more fundamental issues in places like Scranton and Bridgeport, leaving the inevitable need to address those to a successor.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

OK, Let's Get Real

I've had a couple of interesting reactions to yesterday's post on the sketchy attendance -- or at least, the appearance thereof -- at the institution mass at St John the Baptist Bridgeport, PA. The points my visitors raise boil down to these:
  • I see the glass as half empty, others may see it as half full. The spaces in the pews in fact represent the parish's potential for growth
  • And attendance notwithstanding, the parish is meeting its cathedraticum, as well as a hefty assessment in the Bishop's Appeal. It has paid for, and is maintaining, its building.

My knowledgeable regular correspondent, whose familiarity with the details of the OCSP makes me wonder why neither Bp Lopes nor Msgr Steenson has made greater use of this individual, tells me that my estimate of 100 in the church on November 18 is probably right -- parish bulletins on regular Sundays show attendance considerably lower; 100 would be a really good day.

Nevertheless, my correspondent pointed me to the OCSP's Guide to Parish Development. On Page 5, the minimum size for a parish is listed as 30 families or 100 members. My correspondent feels that this makes the Bridgeport parish eligible to be designated as such, but I think there has to be acknowledgement that it is squeaking by at the bare minimum if it can muster 100 on only the best days.

Stability is another criterion, and naturally, this is especially important if the parish is hovering at the minimum criterion for membership. It's worth pointing out that that capacious nave with so much room for growth must be heated in the winter, and presumably for daily offices. Winter hasn't even started in Philly, and I assume the parking lot has to be plowed as well. What kind of resources are available for emergency organ and furnace repair? My correspondent asks, "The big questions are whether the parish can grow to a size where the disappearance of particular donors will not have a serious impact, and who will be available to replace Fr Ousley."

My correspondent points out as well, "Fr Ousley is a retired TEC clergyman and presumably has pension income. He is 65, the second-oldest of the current OCSP pastors, but he seems to be an active and dynamic leader." This raises two questions. Is the parish getting a bargain in the pastor's salary and benefits if Fr Ousley can rely on his TEC pension and health care? And how does the OCSP plan to replace him five years down the road with its current small crop of seminarians?

Another point neither visitor raised yesterday is the general demographics apparent in the photos of the mass: lots of gray hair, no multigenerational groups. This is a big contrast to my successful diocesan parish, where my wife and I exchange the peace with well-behaved and reverent children and teens every Sunday. And this goes to what I think is a central problem in Anglicanorum coetibus: the account of Bp Pope's and Msgr Steenson's 1993 meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as Fr Barker's account of the Pastoral Provision, both make the point that the market for the constitution was disaffected US Episcopalians and "continuing" Anglicans.

The size of this group has always been overstated, according to its chief historian, Mr Bess. But people familiar with the movement, like David Virtue, have made the point that it is in fact graying, and whatever appeal "continuing" groups had in the late 20th century has been superseded largely by the low-church ACNA, definitely not a Catholic-friendly market. The visible attendance at the Bridgeport institution was, let's face it, overwhelmingly aging baby boomers, a low birthrate group, and nobody was visible there from their progeny. Period. I won't go into vocations.

So let's back up a little and ask what's going on here. Msgr Steenson was summarily "retired" a year ago at 63, a remarkably unusual occurrence in the Church, where the most underperforming bishops frequently last to 75. I think a reasonable explanation (though possibly not the only one) was simply a failure of the OCSP to thrive, although given the factors working against it, often discussed here, this was a predictable result not necessarily Msgr Steenson's fault.

I've got to think the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came to some kind of a tipping point: fix this thing or shut it down, and Bp Lopes, I would assume, has got to be under some amount of pressure. As a result, with his one-year performance review looming, he had to show some visible progress, and the Bridgeport institution, somewhat iffy in my view, was a "success" he could point to.

This may also be an explanation for the very recent St Alban's fiasco, whereby a remarkably optimistic message was clearly drafted with Fr Perkins's cooperation (and I would have to think approval) and then sent out as, effectively, a press release. Also, I betcha, with Perkins's approval, if not at his specific instigation. The problem is that it bubbled over about Bp Matano's state of mind and effectively committed Bp Matano to doing things a year from now.

Bad move would be my guess, which Houston then told Rochester to pull back in a hurry, trying to blame it on the bloggers, even though Houston had to be behind it. (Bp Lopes, you want me on your side.) But why would the OCSP hierarchy feel the need to make such an ill-advised announcement? Pressure to succeed, or at least to create the appearance of success next year maybe, would be my surmise.

This is a marginal thing. Even after churning out its whole first generation of managers, it's still running an amateur night. I don't give it a whole lot of future, frankly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Maybe I'm Spoiled

By going to a diocesan parish, but looking at the photos currently posted at Ordinariate News of the institution mass at St John the Baptist, Bridgeport reminds me more of my days in TEC than as a Catholic.

One memory my wife and I have of being Episcopalians is the common experience of having to lean over two rows of pews to exchange the peace. This mass at St John the Baptist was, admittedly, on a Friday night, although the mean temperature for that day in Philadelphia was 56, with no precipitation.

I have simply never seen such a sparse attendance at our diocesan parish, even at noon mass on holy days of obligation. But this was a special occasion -- presumably the most important in the parish's history. No need, it seems, for ushers to direct traffic to the communion rail. My rough guess here is that the maximum attendance would have been maybe 100, including choir and altar party.

I've mused in the past that pushing too hard to provide visuals of success is likely to result in embarrassment over any medium or long term. But realistically speaking, these photos of what ought to be a very special occasion for the parish are on the borderline of discouraging already.

I'm wondering if Bp Lopes is under heavy pressure to show some kind of success with the OCSP.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Suggestion For Bp Lopes

I've been made aware that certain quarters are unhappy with recent posts here concerning the St Alban's Rochester group. The concern appears to be that the speculation could in fact be a hindrance to the group's progress. I have several observations to make.
  • I have passed on information that appears, wisely or not, to have been released on a fairly wide basis. An item of concern, the most recent e-mail from Mr Smith at the Rochester group, was also posted on the Ordinariate News site. As best I can see, there was no breach of confidence in publishing this e-mail. A quick search brings up 23 posts mentioning the St Alban’s group on my blog over a period of years, nearly all based on public releases from the group's lay leadership, with no previous objection.
  • The speculation on my blog has been clearly identified as speculation. It has been based on previously published information in the public record, including Fr Catania's sudden departure from Rochester last April, Msgr Steenson's 2015 replacement as Ordinary, and Bp Matano's arrival as Bishop of Rochester in 2014, as well as his characterization as a centrist bishop. I can see no calumny in publishing this speculation. My assumption is that both Bp Lopes and Bp Matano are sincerely doing their best.
  • On that basis, although a request was made that I delete the recent posts on the Rochester group, I've got to say that I can't see a reason to do this, especially considering that the same information, often with speculation in the comments, has consistently been published at Ordinariate News over the years.
I'm told that the same request was made of Mr Murphy to delete the announcement from Mr Smith on his blog that was made of me. So far, Mr Murphy hasn't done this. But this indicates the problem is bigger than this blog, or Mr Murphy's blog.

My knowledgeable regular correspondent has often suggested that Houston's press relations function needs work. If Bp Lopes is concerned that bloggers are putting the wrong spin on public information, it would probably be a positive step to find someone who can put the Ordinariate's press relations on a more professional basis. It's worth pointing out that each of the OCSP's parishes and groups puts out individual e-mails and announcements, apparently without central coordination in Houston.

Normally this would be fine -- my diocesan parish bulletins carry lots of announcements covering landscaping projects, school events, and fundraisers that give rise to little speculation. The problem is that events as they apply to Rochester do give rise to speculation. If Houston doesn't like that, it needs to take control of publicity from all parishes and groups, and indeed to take this issue seriously.

I have every good wish for Bp Lopes and the OCSP, but I'm entitled to express my opinion that a good many things still need fixing. My regular correspondent adds,

I suppose if there were obstacles in the past and Fr Perkins is using his skills to remove them he and his Ordinary would not want attention to be drawn to his efforts, lest Bp Matano be reminded of something that would be counterproductive to the OCSP's plan. [We have no reason to think this is the case, except that the concern here may feed such speculation.] But as you say, your role is not to augment the Ordinariate's PR staff. The latter, like that of many other dioceses, exaggerates its ability to control the message, despite the abundant evidence in recent years that this is neither possible nor desirable. It is particularly absurd in the case of the OCSP, whose Communication and Strategic Planning Director's time seems entirely taken up by fund-raising campaigns and attempts to get the membership list, contact information, and other basic matters into some kind of order. The idea that they are trying to get out some kind of coherent message which you are sabotaging is clearly nonsense.
My blogger profile in the sidebar used to include a warning that e-mails are subject to publication here unless there is a specific request to keep the information confidential. (I dropped this when I began two other blogs using the same profile, and I saw no need to adopt this sort of stance there.) Most of my correspondents have understood this precaution, but I want to stress it again here: I definitely keep information confidential when requested, or indeed, without a request if it's clear it shouldn't be public.

However, this particular situation, involving an essentially public announcement, appears to be a policy issue that needed to be better clarified in Houston, and I don't feel a need to correct a problem that should have been addressed there.

More Rochester Comment

A regular visitor notes,
With respect to your recent posts on the situation in Rochester, the web site of the Diocese of Rochester shows that Bishop Matano, previously Coadjutor of the Diocese of Burlington (Vermont), was installed as Bishop of Rochester on 03 January 2014. Here are a few observations.
  1. If there was any "bad blood" between the diocese and the ordinariate, or its congregation there, it probably arose during the tenure of the previous bishop and involved Msgr. Steenson's team. Both of those circumstances have changed, perhaps paving the way for relations between the ordinariate and the diocese to move forward.
  2. It typically takes a new diocesan bishop several months to figure out who is who and where problems exist in the diocesan curia, then to make the appropriate personnel moves to resolve them.
  3. In his former position as Coadjutor of the Diocese of Burlington, Bishop Matano probably had no contact at all with any ordinariate members because the ordinariate did not, and still does not, have a community in that diocese. Upon learning that there was an ordinariate community in his new diocese, which likely did not happen on "day one" of his tenure as bishop, he probably needed some amount of time to understand it. It's also possible that he had concerns about the orthodoxy of clergy coming from an Anglican background. Additionally, if there was previous "bad blood," he probably was getting negative input about it from his inner circle of advisors that he inherited from his predecessor, perhaps including the Bishop Emeritus himself.
  4. On the other hand, his diocese has a serious shortage of clergy -- according to the diocesan web site, a couple dozen of its parishes do not have resident clergy. Thus, he probably would welcome anybody who can help the situation, once he was certain of the potential pastor's theological orthodoxy.
  5. Of course, none of this discounts the possibility that Bishop Matano might have received some, ah, "guidance" from somebody high up in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or perhaps from the Papal Nuncio, that the establishment of an ordinariate community in his new diocese is an important project that he would do well to support....

But in any case, the new-found support of the Diocese of Rochester for St. Alban's Fellowship is certainly welcome news!

With my visitor, I'm inclined to endorse the Scholastic position that entities should not be multiplied, or that we should take the simplest explanation that fits the known facts. The problem for me is that we do have pieces of the puzzle that don't seem to fit. Bp Matano went to Rochester in 2014, but Fr Catania didn't suddenly leave for Omaha until just last April. It's possible that Bp Matano, replacing a very liberal bishop, had so much on his plate that he couldn't get to resolving any conflict (if it existed) with Houston for a couple of years. But there could be other explanations, too.

From my viewpoint as a centrist diocesan Catholic, I would think that bringing in an OCSP priest resolves only one problem for a bishop like Matano, the shortage of parish priests. Unless the new candidate is exceptional, he doesn't address the cultural issues the Church faces, the dropoff in faithful Catholics, the need to revitalize Catholic education, and so forth.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rochester News Reaction

My regular correspondent comments,
This is very good news for the St Alban's group. I recall that Msgr Steenson ran into a complete brick wall trying to line up a similar arrangement for Fr Catania so something has certainly changed. I also recall that back in April 2015 Evan Simington was scheduled to make a visit to the St Alban's group. This didn't come off, but even the tentative plan suggests there might be some Rochester connection which made the community of interest to him. Mr Simington is now a deacon as you probably know and one assumes due for priestly ordination in June 2017.
The news item over Fr Catania's sudden move from Rochester to Omaha appeared here in April 2016. The information at the time suggested that the Rochester diocese's opposition to the St Alban's group dated back as far as Msgr Steenson's tenure. What's puzzling is that Bp Matano is generally seen as a conservative or centrist bishop. Anglicanorum coetibus is seen as, at minimum, a pro-liturgy move from a pope who focused on liturgy, although Msgr Steenson, possibly under the influence of Cardinal Wuerl, dissociated the OCSP from Latin mass or traditionalist tendencies.

A reasonable interpretation of events might be that Bp Lopes was able to change Bp Matano's mind and reassure him that the OCSP was compatible with centrist or conservative tendencies in the Church, whatever his earlier impression may have been. A reservation I've expressed here is that despite appearances, Anglicanism is thoroughly Reformed and congregational, and the differences with Catholicism can't be finessed. In that context, Evangelium isn't especially thorough as catechesis, and the "instant ordinations" of favored Anglican clergy in 2012 weren't reassuring. It appears that Dcn Simington will be more fully formed as a Catholic priest, on the other hand. But we may never know more.