Tuesday, February 6, 2018

So, What's Really Going On At St Mary's?

My regular correspndent has some reasonable questions in response to my latest couple of posts:
Where does John Hepworth go on a regular Sunday? A home chapel? Does anyone join him? Not my business, really, but his relationship with St Mary's strikes me as an odd note in a situation which already has enough of them. I was re-reading Anthony Chadwick's account here. At one time he and Mrs Gyapong had a (largely amiable) on-line debate about Hepworth's role in the AC process; although she remains a fan and Chadwick is quite over him there were many points of agreement about how he oversold what was on offer and TAC's role therein. Their main disagreement was about his motivation, a subject on which Mrs G puts a charitable spin while Chadwick is ready to entertain terms like psychopath and narcissist. Or perhaps "put." At the time she was confidently predicting that he would be reconciled with the Church sooner rather than later.

The fact that he attracted, indeed mesmerised, two such highly influential people as Chadwick and Christian Campbell, only to be equally strongly repudiated, says a lot to me. They are, of course, both crazy, and Mrs G, a not uninfluential figure herself, only seems sane by contrast. Even if he were an obviously benign and uncontroversial figure I have problems with the idea of being under the episcopal oversight of a man with no other constituency whatsoever. But the fact that this person is John Hepworth really puts the icing on the cake. Of course St Mary's is in a terrible situation, with good outcomes hard to identify at this point. As you have pointed out, the seeds were sown in its protracted legal battle to leave TEC and the harvest was probably inevitable.

At one time I did a lot of online research on episcopi vagantes. There was a site which gathered a lot of links and I used to marvel at the many pictures of men in their basement cathedrals, mitres scraping the low ceilings. Pre-selfie days, but the same aesthetic. But at least their jurisdictions were pretty much confined to the basement. No one was inviting them to travel halfway round the world to preside at anything. It's a funny old world.

On the most serious question, whether Abp Hepworth is a narcissist or psychopath, I don't think so. Characteristics that would make one think someone is a psychopath would include a solid history of reckless, even criminal, behavior, lying, drug or alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, cruelty to animals, and the like. The most I can see with Abp Hepworth is sometimes seriously flawed judgment, but this is something that he often admits to. "Narcissist" is a more difficult term that I try to avoid, simply because it's imprecise but has a certain "scientific"-sounding validity. But if pressed, I would call James Pike a "narcissist", and that would be due to a clear history of hamartically abusive and manipulative behavior, to the point that he drove both his son and a mistress to suicide. This is a question of degree, and while all people are sinners, I don't see Hepworth rising to an egregious or notorious level. (Where does "sumbitch" leave off and "narcissist" begin anyhow?)

Having met with and listened to him a few times by now, I can say that he's very engaging, charming, and even gifted with blarney, although these are also Australian qualities not necessarily indicative of any sort of abnormality. If you dress someone like this in clericals and call him "his grace", it will have an effect. I would say that it's incumbent on everyone to make independent analyses of character. I don't get a sense that Abp Hepworth has any intention of misleading people, but by his own admission he himself tends to give optimistic interpretations. He's a glass-half-full sort of guy, but in his case, the glass may not necessarily be all the way half full. I think people need to factor this in, but I don't see it as pathology.

I think it's also important to put Hepworth, the St Mary of the Angels parish, the TAC, and the "continuing" movement in context. Anglo-Catholicism simply attracts eccentrics and outliers, as does "continuing" Anglicanism. This has been an issue with more than a few leaders in the movement, as well as a good many followers. Somewhere in the mix are also very sincere people like Fr Kelley, but others, sincere or not, strike me as driven by unhappy forces and not necessarily stable. This probably applies as well to the fringes of the "traditionalist" Catholic movement, people who aren't going to be happy anywhere but who will move from place to place in hopes something might change.

I actually wonder what Abp Hepworth might say if pressed on questions like this. That he so willingly describes his outlook as optimistic suggests his actual answers might be surprisingly down-to-earth. He seems sincerely motivated, not just to play archbishop, but to give real counsel to those at the St Mary of the Angels parish who seek him out on a one-on-one basis during his visits. Even ousted or retired, he's still an Anglican bishop, and he can do things like confirmations if they're needed. I can't imagine this is harmful. I like the guy -- in my book, anyone who likes trains isn't all bad anyhow -- and considering the cards he's been dealt over his lifetime, he's playing them well. He seems to have been treated with courtesy by Catholic authorities throughout this story, especially in the events surrounding the Portsmouth Letter.

I'm not really optimistic about the outcome for St Mary of the Angels, and I question how suitable any Anglo-Catholic parish is for transition to Catholicism, but in my view, he's providing sincere leadership that's certainly better than they might otherwise expect to have.