Monday, May 7, 2018

St Mary of the Angels Parish Meeting May 6, 2018

No sooner did I speculate that Bp Hewett's announcement that the "continuers" had no long-term viability might cool Bp Marsh's jets than I was flatly contradicted by events. Fr Kelley and the vestry called a parish meeting for May 6, yesterday, for the purpose of updating four sections of the 2011 parish bylaws to omit any remaining reference to the ACA. This was on advice of the vestry's counsel.

I believe this was a response to the December 2017 decision by the Appellate Division of the LA Superior Court that the August 2012 parish vote to leave the ACA was invalid. At the time, I speculated that this might be well and good, but nothing prevented the parish from holding another vote to leave the ACA at any time, since the 2014 finding by the California Court of Appeals that the vestry elected in February 2012 was the valid parish vestry remained in place. Without any special knowledge of counsel's advice, I assume the meeting was called to accomplish essentially this.

Mrs Bush and the ACA were notified of this meeting as a courtesy and to prevent any grounds for legal objection on their part, although none of the Bush group is any longer a qualified voter in the parish. On May 5, parish counsel and Fr Kelley received a FedEx Saturday Delivery from ACA Bp Owen Williams, Presiding Bp Marsh, and Mrs Bush's counsel, Tyler Andrews. The letter from Andrews said,

While we have so far allowed your clients time to amicably wind down their current practices and vacate, your clients appear to be continuing to fight a battle that has already been decided in the ACA's favor. If your clients move forward, we will have no choice but to seek immeidate court intervention, enjoin any further purported corporate action, and request the forcible detainer and eviction of y9ur clients from all St Mary property.
This was dated May 3, the Thursday before the meeting; the letter from Marsh was dated April 29, and the letter from Owen Williams was dated May 2. One thing that puzzles me as a lay observer is that the threat from Andrews would have been most credible as an intent to go to a judge and get an ex parte injunction against holding the May 6 meeting at all. This was the strategy used by Mr Lancaster and the Bush group six years prior in May 2012, which successfully forestalled a similar meeting. I'm not sure what sort of injunction Andrews will now pursue, since the parish has in fact done the thing he threatened action against, and which now seems to complicate his position.

Five representatives of the Bush group and the ACA Diocese of the West attended the May 6 meeting. Before the meeting, Mr John Cothran of the Bush group distributed a packet of documents containing the letters from Marsh, Williams, and Andrews, with a cover sheet saying "This meeting is illegal". The letters from Williams and Marsh simply reiterated the ACA's arguments from 2012, including that the Patrimony of the Primate had been dissolved.

Mrs Bush, as shown at left, rose at the start of the meeting to raise her objections. She had not been recognized by the chair, and several members of the parish, as well as the security guard engaged by the parish, surrounded her. She insisted she had been invited to the meeting, but the parish members explained to her that she had not been invited to disrupt the meeting, and she was strongly urged to leave with her group.

The photo at right shows the Bush group in the process of being escorted from the premises; the figure at center is the security guard. To be sure there is no misunderstanding, there was no physical altercation, and no physical contact took place in the process of escorting the group from the premises.

The meeting continued with a straightforward discussion and a unanimous vote from the membership to revise the bylaws as proposed, to remove remaining references to the ACA and insert clarifying language reiterating the parish's intent in belonging to the Patrimony of the Primate until it can be received into the OCSP. This is an indication of the touching sincerity and good faith of Fr Kelley and the parish, which has not been, and quite possibly will never be, reciprocated in Houston.

I inquired after the meeting from knowledgeable parties whether any of the bylaw revisions or expressions of parish intent had been coordinated with Houston at all -- which, it seems to me, prudent adults would wish to do, on both sides. The answer I got was that there was "unofficial" coordination, but not direct discussion with Houston. I take "unofficial" to mean that Msgr William Stetson continues to serve as an intermediary. My own view is that as far as I can determine, Fr Kelley and the parish have no alternative but to go through Stetson, but I do not trust Stetson.

Let's recall once again that we're talking about a property, if nothing else, worth somewhere in eight figures, with the Della Robbia putting it at the high end of that range. That Houston has played games over this, dealing with the parish though an unreliable intermediary and pretending it has no interest in the proceedings, is an indication of how unserious this whole process has been. Once again, the parish voted twice in 2011-12 to join the OCSP. It was Houston that put a hold on the process in early 2012. It was not until May 2012 that the first lawsuit was filed.

It isn't just Msgr Steenson who bungled this process. The whole situation reflects the fact that all involved on the Houston side were, and continue to be, in well over their heads. This in turn gives me little confidence in the future of the enterprise.