Thursday, April 6, 2017

Does St Mary's Still Want To Become Catholic?

A visitor e-mailed:
I've been following your blog with interest for some time, and am wondering if the St. Mary's people still want to be Catholic. The Catholic Church teaches that Anglican orders are "absolutely void and utterly null". So what is the point of gathering every week for the sake of a church building if they aren't receiving the true Bread from Heaven? Isn't this more important than the building, as beautiful as it is?
This is a question with a complicated answer. One answer is that in 2011 and early 2012, a supermajority of the parish, as required in its corporate documents, voted to join the OCSP. As late as August 2012, it was possible to contact the same membership (with designated exceptions) to poll them again, not on the question of joining the OCSP, but on the question of leaving the ACA. But by that time, the parish as legally defined had been turned out of its property and was not even open for Anglican services of any kind for many months. The legal parish could not return to its property for nearly four years. A small core group held mass in different locations but couldn't recruit new members, and it was potentially a risk to publicize their meeting places.

There was an inevitable diaspora. The 2016 general meeting recognized the problem and did not even attempt to hold elections based on whatever membership list could be assembled. I would say that, given the passage of time and the press of events, the "St Mary's people" are simply not the same group as voted to join the OCSP in 2011-12, and to try to say the parish has the same intent now as then, or has deviated from it, involves a reification of something that doesn't really exist in concrete form.

Beyond that, significant numbers in the 2011-12 parish were already Catholic, having completed the sacraments of initiation elsewhere but elected to attend mass at St Mary's. So some were already Catholic and in fact returned to Catholic parishes in the diaspora, presumably after a good confession. Some had become Anglican from non-Christian cults like Scientology (this is Hollywood). Some of these were lost again without the support of an active parish community -- I think some OCSP clergy will be held to account for this.

For those who've come to this blog more recently, I think it's worth giving the 10,000 foot version of early 2012: as of December 2011, the parish was told it would be received by the OCSP at an early Sunday in January 2012. This was felt to be significant, as St Mary's was an even earlier prospect for the Pastoral Provision than Our Lady of the Atonement, and receiving St Mary's would be an indication that the defects of the Pastoral Provision had been addressed.

Houston backtracked on this almost immediately and began imposing additional requirements on the parish that hadn't been outlined as of December, including an additional vote (the results were somewhat more favorable than the first one), an audit, and bylaw revisions. At some point, there appear to have been back-channel discussions with ACA bishops, who seem to have promised Houston that they would take over the parish, correct non-existent financial problems and in the process get rid of Fr Kelley, and turn the parish over to the OCSP when everything had been "fixed". The advantage to Houston appears to have been that Msgr Steenson's fingerprints would not be on any of this, but they would get the parish and put their candidate, Fr Bartus, into the very prestigious preferment. (The actual results would indicate that Steenson was fooled by the ACA.)

It would appear that Houston set up conditions for this to take place by simply ignoring the parish's efforts to meet Houston's new requirements, while by Easter 2012, a parish faction allied with the ACA began efforts physically to seize the parish. These culminated in a short-lived court order that allowed the ACA to move in as of May. Legal efforts to evict the ACA group took nearly four years.

In spite of that, I'm aware of at least five people from the summer 2012 membership, including my wife and me, who became or are becoming Catholic via other routes since then. Depending on developments, others may well take this route.

However, it's important to note that the parish vestry is not just acting "for the sake of a church building". The parish property is currently assessed at several million dollars, and it's located at an excellent spot in an upscale Hollywood neighborhood. The rector and vestry have a fiduciary duty to preserve this asset. Should it be necessary to dissolve the corporation and sell the property, they would have a legal responsibility, as well as a moral one and an obligation to the Almighty, to be sure that those millions would go to the best cause. As I told my visitor, I can give a man my cloak, but I can't give a man someone else's cloak.

From this we can see that "want to be Catholic" is not the same thing as "want to join the OCSP". Indeed, all Anglicans have the other option of simply becoming Catholic without bothering with the OCSP, and the vast majority have done this and do this now. I would guess that when all is said and done, some number, perhaps a dozen or more, of parishioners as of 2012 will have become Catholic via RCIA, which considering the OCSP's role in damaging the parish's ability to continue as a parish, plus the inevitable toll of relocations and deaths over this period, is not a bad total. Certainly Catholics to whom my wife and I have told our story are impressed with the extra trouble we've been to.

As far as I'm aware, Houston has done absolutely nothing to date to mend any bad feelings that may currently exist in the parish. Clearly many in the parish are sincere about wanting to be Catholic, but the OCSP is doing absolutely nothing in its side to make things right if it wants the parish to renew its intent.