Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Would St Mary Of The Angels Fit In The OCSP, If The Move Were Possible?

When I spoke with Abp Hepworth in April, he indicated that he is, at least in a low-key way, pursuing the continuing possibility of St Mary of the Angels entering the OCSP. Among other things, this would require the outstanding legal issues surrounding the parish to be resolved, so at this point, the matter is largely hypothetical.

On the other hand, the parish is rebuilding itself after a series of potentially cataclysmic setbacks. My wife and I visit from time to time, especially for the community outreach programs and concerts it's been providing. These efforts are impressive.

An influential parishioner asked me this past Sunday if I thought the OCSP had a future. My answer was, "Not in its current form." Let me expand on this. I've got to think that if Our Lady of the Atonement's clergy are conducting a new membership campaign so that Houston and the CDF can somehow better recognize its success, this must certainly imply that such recognition has not happened yet and is not a sure thing. And by inference, any recognition of the whole OCSP's success must be uncertain as well, if Houston and the CDF are uncertain about the putatively most successful parish in it. I assume people in the CDF at least, with a new prefect, must be taking this seriously.

So I question whether, by the time the parish and the OCSP reach any point where the prospect of the parish joining the OCSP could realistically be contemplated, the OCSP may well not be the same thing it is now, if in fact it still exists. If I were Abp Hepworth, Fr Kelley, and the vestry, I'd be factoring this into any thinking. At minimum, the OCSP as we see it in 2017 is not the OCSP that was sold to the parish and the Anglo-Catholic blogosphere in 2011. A realistic question might be what form a rationalized structure under Anglicanorum coetibus might take. It seems to me that it could well involve suppressing the smaller communities entirely and devolving others back to dioceses. This is likely to be an unstable canonical environment no mater what.

Here are some questions that won't go away for me.

  • The parish is a small worship space only a few blocks from a diocesan Catholic parish, Our Mother of Good Counsel, that can't fill its much larger worship space despite recent cuts to its mass schedule. The OMGC parish is run by the Augustinians, which complicates its staffing issues. The Augustinians have already had to give up a California parish due to a shortage of their own priests. The current pastor at OMGC is about 77, almost certainly past canonical retirement age, and is probably continuing because the Augustinians don't have an available replacement. Another difficulty is that the parish is very liberal, a few years ago sponsoring a Lenten program by the very strange and very liberal Bp Remi De Roo. This may have some relation to dwindling attendance.
  • The small size of St Mary of the Angels, combined with the surplus capacity at OMGC, means it isn't a credible diocesan supplement. In fact, the Augustinians and some factions in the archdiocese might resist taking in St Mary of the Angels as a diocesan parish if the OCSP were to fold and the ordinariate were no longer an option. But even if the idea of a DW mass as an alternative to flip-flops and halter-tops a few blocks away were to take hold, St Mary of the Angels would be too small to accommodate any significant number coming over from OMGC. (Even if you had half a dozen masses at St Mary's on a Sunday, you'd then have the problem of finding and paying clergy to celebrate them)
  • St Mary of the Angels has a succession problem. Fr Kelley, whose ability to persevere through enormous difficulties and rebuild the parish has been clearly demonstrated, is about 70, which is the canonical retirement age in the OCSP. He is extremely fit and in general good health, but obviously, nothing lasts forever. The OCSP doesn't appear to have any credible replacement. If I were Abp Hepworth and the vestry, I would strongly insist on some type of assurance from Houston or its successor that current or prospective OCSP California clergy would absolutely not be considered for Fr Kelley's replacement. But the overall disappointing quality of OCSP clergy is nearly as big a concern.
  • St Mary of the Angels is unique as a prospective member of the OCSP in several ways. Its physical plant is architecturally significant. The Della Robbia altarpiece has major artistic and financial value. The commercial rental income provides stability. It is a community institution, centrally located in an area with a great deal of sidewalk traffic, something Abp Hepworth noted on his visit in April. It attracts members from the local community, but it also has members who travel from distant suburbs. All of this suggests that it wouldn't fit well into a territorial diocesan model, but the personal prelature model seems currently too shaky to consider as a realistic alternative.
  • Another problem is that the parish has tended to attract people who march to a different drummer. I can certainly think of the original group who surrounded Our Lord as something similar, but this presents its own set of problems -- the dissidents who caused so much trouble in 2011-2012 found the different drummer types a fertile field for recruitment. And let's face it, this is Hollywood, which has pros in the talents it can attract among members as well as cons. But Cardinal Mahony understandably saw the different-drummer factor as a deal-killer for accepting the parish in the Pastoral Provision. It would take a very flexible ordinary to keep all the parish's unique qualities in perspective, but an unstable canonical environment could be a real detriment, as it was in 2010-12.
  • Finally, the parish has for some decades relied mainly on the rental income from its commercial property, rather than pledge income from members. While this would enable it to meet a substantial cathedraticum, a Catholic bishop's appeal could be problematic -- members would be asked to contribute from personal resources amounts consistent with the cathedraticum, a level of giving to which the laity has not been accustomed. A new pastor would need a new set of inspirational fundraising skills, consistent with those I've seen in diocesan parishes. The parish would need to respond to such appeals in a new way.
I think the parish has a dllemma going forward. On one hand, there's no good option in "continuing Anglicanism", which is dying out. Beyond that, the property value of the parish and the value of the Della Robbia altarpiece would continue to be too much of a temptation to a "continuing" hierarchy, which would probably try yet once more to seize the assets. But I think there would be serious obstacles to the parish going into the Archdiocese of Los Angeles under some renewed Pastoral Provision, as there were in the 1980s, assuming this might be the upshot of a dissolved OCSP. But I think it's realistic in trying to think two years out (or whatever) that the OCSP will not continue in its current form, and some type of renewed Pastoral Provision for the small number of surviving communities is one credible outcome.

And finding clergy well suited to the unique parish and its unique requirements is not a trivial problem. I keep the parish in my prayers.