Monday, April 15, 2013

At $1.99, Ms Random's Book Was Worth The Gamble

from Sony's e-book store. I was mostly curious to see what happened to William Martin, though the rest of the book is highly instructive. Following the outcome of the slander trial in June 2007, in which Martin and his parish (though not the diocese) were found liable, Martin's case was referred back to the new Episcopal Bishop of El Camino Real, who in effect suspended Martin for two months in mid-2008 for Conduct Unbecoming a Clergy Person. (This may seem like a slap on the wrist, but I'm told that Episcopal penalties are typically mild, and the bottom line is that at the end of the day, TEC seems to have been able to ease Martin out.)

Although Martin returned to the parish in July 2008, by November of that year, he had accepted the position of Rector of the APA parish All Saints Mills River, NC. Ms Random indicates in her book that in Mills River, Martin had changed his name to make it harder to search on the web, and his official bio made no specific mention of St John's Chapel Monterey. In February 2012, Ms Random published her book; a year later, Martin had resigned from All Saints Mills River, although APA Presiding Bishop Grundorf indicates he is now starting an APA mission.

I think there are many threads in Ms Random's book that cast light on what happened at St Mary of the Angels. She asks in her conclusion why Martin would do what he did to her, and she says that she hasn't been able to figure it out. I think there are a couple of possible reasons in Ms Random's account.

One is something I've sometimes seen in work environments, which is one reason I'm delighted to be retired and have absolutely no intention of ever working again: bosses will sometimes make one subordinate a "problem" in order to distract attention from their own shortcomings. Ms Random says in her account that she feels Martin was able to gain sympathy and attention by claiming she, as a (falsely asserted) transgendered male with fake breasts, was stalking him. Not only would this get him sympathy and attention, but by presenting Ms Random as an ongoing issue at vestry meetings, it would focus the vestry's attention away from any performance shortcomings Martin himself may have had.

Although I feel fairly confident that there must have been performance issues that led Martin to create that distraction, and which would probably have led to his eventual ouster, I would guess that there were personal issues there as well. Ms Random, 71 years old when the story begins, says that a precipitating factor appears to have been that one day, she turned up for a work session with the altar guild dressed in jeans and a sweater. Now, I had a normal (i.e., basically out of control) adolescence, and probably as a result, for me as an adult to see a well-endowed lady dressed in jeans and a sweater does not cause me any great discomfiture.

It appears this was not the case with Martin, who was single and in his late 30s at the time. I can only assume that the experience provoked some sort of crisis over his own sexuality, and fantasies of being stalked by a transgendered male with fake breasts had a real attraction for him. It's worth pointing out that Ms Random made a preliminary effort to stop Martin's slander by forcing him to sign a settlement agreement, in which he promised to stop telling the stories he was telling.

This leads to a parallel instance at St Mary's, wherein several times, members of the dissident minority promised to stop their irrational resistance to the parish's direction and either tolerate it or leave. Instead, something in their resistance turned their cranks, and they simply couldn't stop. By the same token, something in the stories Martin was telling turned his crank -- it went beyond simple perception of self-interest, it was more basic than that.

Another parallel to the St Mary's situation is that the case took place with incompetent or nonexistent bishops in charge. Martin, claiming Ms Random was stalking him, denied her communion at St John's Chapel; she appealed to then-Bishop Richard Schimpfky, who accepted Martin's story and backed him up only days before he resigned under pressure. With no bishop and the diocesan standing committee in charge, the case then drifted without resolution. Only when Ms Random sued Martin, the parish, and the diocese and won the suit did she get the attention of the new bishop, who finally acted properly.

Yet another parallel to the St Mary's situation is simply the power of character assassination. "That lady may just look like a sweet old woman, but she's actually a man with fake breasts, she's come on to me, and she's stalking me" has a powerful and deep-seated appeal. Equivalent stories about Fr Christopher Kelley and his family have clearly had a similar effect.

The late Fr Carroll Barbour, former Rector of St Thomas Episcopal Church Hollywood, who converted to Catholicism after retiring, was fond of saying that the Devil sits in the front pew of every parish. My wife and I have recalled those remarks many times over the situation at St Mary's, and Ms Random's story is another reason to recall them. The parallel themes in both stories are worthy of serious reflection.