Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Pastor Emeritus Problem

My regular correspondent comments,
Your reference to Fr Phillips as "retired" caused me to explore the significance of the title "Pastor Emeritus" in a Catholic context. While it is fairly widely used in the Church, the holders of that title seem to be retired priests who continue to offer sacramental ministry in their former parish but have no administrative role. But clearly there is the potential for difficulty in making the transition from leadership to this kind of ministry. This document prepared by an American Protestant denomination seems to anticipate these problems and proposes some implementation strategies.

It seems evident that removing Fr Phillips as Pastor of OLA was part of the deal whereby OLA was transferred to the OCSP, and naming him Pastor Emeritus rather than exiling him, as Abp G-S seemed to be proposing, was the face-saving way of doing this. Unfortunately the PE job description does not seem to have been made clear to Fr P.

As you recall, at the time it was announced that he would be travelling extensively to act as a consultant to other parishes and perhaps it was assumed that he would be away a lot and thus would voluntarily start to separate himself from the day-to-day operation of the church and school. If so, this was naive.

Now, as you describe, a year after Abp G-S removed Fr Phillips as OLA Pastor, Fr Lewis is attempting to pry the reins from his hands. The Church Militant spin was to make G-S the bad guy, but of course the current impetus comes from Bp Lopes, or at least has his support. As the UCC document acknowledges, the task is complex, and more difficult in this case because clearly Fr Phillips WAS "included, consulted, or cc'd on... official meetings or decisions regarding the school or parish" up until now, where it should have been clear from the start that this was no longer his role.

I don't believe I've seen the title "Rector Emeritus" used in TEC. I do recall two instances in which a retired rector reappeared at special occasions (like the Christmas Eve midnight mass), although this was often enough a situation where the poor man would lose his place in the prayer book and loop through the prayer of consecration several times.

On the other hand, when the late Fr Carroll Barbour, as effective and beloved a rector as I've ever seen, retired from St Thomas Episcopal Hollywood, he made it absolutely plain that it was his duty to separate himself from the parish completely, and it was the parish's duty to move on, a task with which a capable interim helped enormously. (After he retired, Fr Barbour became Catholic.)

It seems to me that there are two issues with Fr Philips, one being the attempt to continue interfering with parish administration, with which it appears that Fr Lewis is dealing effectively, and the other being taking his disagreements public, especially to Church Militant. This latter strikes me as extremely serious, and I've go to assume that Bp Lopes has remedies available.

Certainly it says less-than-favorable things about Fr Philips that he would wish to damage the OCSP by linking it with public disputes like this.