Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reflections On An Amateur Show

I haven't dwelt on this constantly, but posts over the last few weeks have brought me to reexamine the events of 2012 as they applied to St Mary of the Angels. Let's look at some of the facts as we now know them, based on the education I've had over a six-year period:
  • Msgr Steenson appointed Mrs Chalmers, a canon lawyer without corporate experience as far as I can tell, as "chancellor" of the OCSP. Apparently Steenson didn't understand the difference between a chancellor in an Anglican diocese, who is the general counsel, and a Catholic chancellor, who is not a lawyer but is a notary and archivist -- or maybe he thought Mrs Chalmers could be both.
  • Nobody, at least not among the St Mary's vestry or Houston, seems to have understood the actual value of the St Mary's property. Various chats I've had with vestry members indicate they relied on assessed property value in the early years of the story, usually talking in the range of $8 million. It's likely that if the property were to sell for redevelopment as luxury condos, the value would be considerably more. It wasn't until Abp Hepworth got involved that anyone began to factor in the value of the Della Robbia altarpiece, which puts the total value of the property in the high eight figures.
  • I simply don't know what sort of resources the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has put into the acquisition and remodeling of the former Crystal Cathedral property. It's worth more, but the value of the St Mary of the Angels property required something much more like the attention the Diocese of Orange has put into their project. One assumes the legal work wasn't done by a canon lawyer married to a member of the Houston clique.
  • The reason Houston put the admission of the St Mary's parish into the OCSP on hold in early 2012 has never been completely clear. Statements from Canon Morello of the ACA at the time suggest he had been in communication with Houston. Other statements suggest that at least a tacit arrangement had been reached with Msgr Steenson that the ACA would get rid of Fr Kelley, solve non-existent financial irregularities, and at some later date turn the parish over to Houston with Msgr Steenson's fingerprints kept off the purge of Fr Kelley. The priorites here couldn't be more confused.
  • I can't imagine a competent attorney experienced in high-value real estate transfers allowing this kind of amateur game-playing, and the result was only to be expected. Msgr Steenson, apparently without competent advice, allowed himself to be had by Canon Morello, himself a rank amateur.
What I'm coming to see is that there's been a continuity in Houston between Msgr Steenson and Bp Lopes. When I look at what I'm learning of how things are done in a Catholic diocese, I recognize that the dioceses have institutional knowledge, as well as the ability to rely on specialists, including specialists in fields like art and real estate law. Msgr Steenson had zero experience in a Catholic diocese, and he didn't have staff with institutional knowledge to give him any sort of useful advice.

Houston belatedly recognized that the ParishSoft implementation failed because the OCSP somehow assumed that lay leadership in vestries, as well as competent lay staff, that could be taken for granted in TEC, would l also be available to the OCSP, but it wasn't. (For that matter, most OCSP clergy weren't experienced top-tier TEC clergy -- they were also-rans in TEC or "continuers" with tiny groups.) Even now in Houston, there doesn't appear to be staff with experience and institutional knowledge of how things like vocations are handled in Catholic dioceses.

I haven't carefully reviewed Bp Lopes's vita, and I don't have the experienced Catholic's ability to read signs in these cases. But I have the impression that he got his parish ticket punched as a diocesan associate but moved pretty quickly into the Vatican bureaucracy. As a result, I question how much diocesan experence he's had -- in looking at more typical bishop careers, they seem to cycle first into assistant bishop positions, where I would think they're exposed to a wide variety of practical situations that occur in dioceses.

Instead, Bp Lopes seems to have made his career primarily as a liturgist, and a specialist in one of the more esoteric fields of liturgy at that. This is probably one reason why we don't see a whole lot of change between the Steenson and Lopes regimes -- both men are amatuers at running Catholic dioceses. Things might be better if you put a real bishop in the job -- but what real bishop, looking at a situation where no seriouis resources are available, would want to get involved?