Friday, February 22, 2013

John Hepworth's Case,

where he alleged serial abuse (by his own admission, well into adulthood) by Catholic priests as a mitigating circumstance to his leaving the Catholic priesthood, got enormous attention when it became plain that, in accordance with well-established Vatican policy, once laicized, he couldn't return to the Catholic Church as a priest.

There was also a certain amount of speculation as to his motives in making the overture to Rome via the TAC in the Portsmouth letter: he somehow, in this view, wanted to make things right in bringing a large number of Anglicans back into the fold, not least himself. It was an interesting case: scandal, the Catholic Church, ecumenism, and so forth. The TAC's consistent misrepresentation of its size ("400,000") certainly made the story seem more important than it was.

It may be that the revelation of Louis Falk's own scandal has everyone shell-shocked, and other than here, there's been no public reaction. I still think it's worth drawing reasonable conclusions about Falk's motives before I move farther into the historical record as recounted in Douglas Bess's book.

In fact, there's a lot in Falk's biography that I find puzzling. A scion of a prominent Wisconsin family that had achieved great success in brewing and manufacturing, he should have gone to Yale or the equivalent in the mid 1950s -- that's what the Ivies were there for. Looking at the parallel career of John Danforth, a contemporary whose family background is also similar, is instructive indeed.

Instead, he went to then-Lawrence College in Appleton. Again, as someone who would be expected to take a key role in shepherding the family's fortunes in his generation, he should have been going on to a prestigious law, medical, or business school. Instead, he went to seminary -- at least it was prestigious. But within a few years of ordination, he found himself defrocked, which certainly raises the question of whether he had an authentic vocation.

As we'll see, by the early 1980s, he'd left the business career he'd taken up, returned to a clerical career of sorts, and began a rapid rise in the new "continuing Anglican" movement, which in the view of the chronicler Douglas Bess was initally thought to have great potential, siphoning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of communicants away from The Episcopal Church, which had defrocked him. Might it be reasonable to surmise that his eventual role as "Archbishop" of his tiny splinter denomination was a form of, or at least an attempt at, overcompensation for his earlier failure?

I think that's one explanation for the record we see in Divided We Stand, and which I'll be discussing here.

I'll be happy, by the way, to give Falk the opportunity here to present his own version of events -- I'll be happy to do an interview, by phone or e-mail, questions submitted in advance, answers published here without revision. For that matter, he's free to contact David Virtue with his version -- I'm sure Virtue would go with it in a second. The apologia, after all, is a long-established and well-respected literary form. Well handled, it could make me look small indeed. I'm accepting that risk.