Sunday, August 6, 2017

Next Question?

My regular correspondent notes regarding yesterday's post,
You made a very cogent point in your comparison of the transparency of the financial statistics of the Archdiocese of San Antonio with the complete blackout which covers most aspects of OCSP activity and governance. The lack of public accountability is even more worrying than the quality of the decision-making. My only quibble with your analysis of the relatively low performance of OLA is that if its financial contribution was not important enough to be an incentive to hold on to the parish, why did Abp G-S bother? All the evidence that it had deep leadership problems simply adds to the conclusion that he had every motive to say "Yes, by all means go, and let someone else try to sort out this snake pit. Nobody here has been up to the job."
The question of the reportedly long-unresolved personnel issues with Fr Phillips was also at the back of my mind as I reflected on those latest e-mails. My current hypothesis involves Msgr William Stetson, who previously figured in this story as the feckless "mentor" who was assigned to oversee the St Mary's parish transition to the OCSP in 2012. Stetson, a Harvard schoolmate of Cardinal Bernard Law, was closely associated with Law throughout his career. (Abp Hepworth, I believe, sees Law as a baleful figure in this and other sagas.)

According to Wikipedia,

Since 1983 Monsignor Stetson has also served as consultant and later secretary to the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal priests [viz, Cardinal Law], by means of which over a hundred men have been ordained for priestly service in the Roman Catholic Church. He maintained the Pastoral Provision Office at Our Lady of Walsingham parish, an Anglican Use congregation in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston from 2007-2010.
Pastoral Provision priests have a direct report to their diocesan bishop, but they also have a dotted line to the Delegate, who was Bernard Law for much of this period. I assume Fr Phillips, by far the most prominent Pastoral Provision priest, was able to call on Msgr Stetson and Cardinal Law for protection whenever necessary for much of his time at Our Lady of the Atonement. Stetson was also a confidant to Abp José Gómez, who was Archbishop of San Antonio from 2004-2011, which meant that Fr Phillips was blessed with additional friends in high places during this period. However, Cardinal Law had retired to Rome in disgrace by this time.

With the erection of the OCSP, though, he lost that protection, or at least, he would have lost it if OLA had gone in as of 2012. I've heard different stories on what happened between Phillips and Msgr Steenson, but all suggest that Steenson was aware of personnel issues relating to Phillips and intended to act on them in some way, most likely by forcing Phillips into retirement, the action that eventually occurred under Bp Lopes and would de facto have taken place if Phillips had stayed in the archdiocese.

When I researched excardination during the OLA controversies earlier this year, I learned that while requests are routinely granted, if in fact there are outstanding personnel issues, the two bishops meet to discuss them. I'm told there is no reason to believe such a meeting did not take place between Bp Lopes and Abp Garcia-Siller, and I suspect that Msgr Steenson had also become aware of such issues. I think it's reasonable to speculate that the personnel issues relating to Fr Phillips were serious and long-standing, but that Phillips had had friends in high places who protected him until they moved on and aged out. Phillips was also able to manipulate dilettante Anglo-Catholic bloggers to maintain a good public reputation until these also lost interest.

So my current theory is that Abp Garcia-Siller, while he no doubt had other priorities, eventually moved forward to resolve long-standing questions relating to Fr Phillips. (Yesterday's e-mails suggest OLA wasn't all that important as a parish.) Certainly these actions had been under way as of mid-2016. The apparent subsequent move by OLA and Fr Phillips to transfer to the OCSP may well have been driven by the personnel actions taking place within the archdiocese, which of course were and always will be confidential. It appears that Abp Garcia-Siller was moving deliberately and responsibly here, though also with what no doubt was a clear understanding of political sensitivities.

But the issue of the post-2012 construction at OLA and its funding by the archdiocese would also have warranted a thorough review and adjudication by the CDF. Again, though, the exact nature of the deliberations was and always will be confidential.

It's always interested me that the practical result for Fr Phillips, retirement before the canonical age with a face-saving gesture or two, would have been the same no matter who was his ordinary.