Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two Movies On The Same Screen

I had an e-mail in response to the post on Fr Kelley's letter that I need to respond to here, because it's from someone who spends a great deal of time commenting on other blogs that don't approve my comments when I occasionally submit them. So I may as well get things clear here.
The letter from Fr. Kelley clearly is sad, but I think that it reflects what has been the policy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter from the beginning, formally stated on Page 6 of the ordinariate’s Guide to Parish Development: “Recognized ordinariate communities cannot be involved in civil litigation in their ecclesial community of origin.” Soon after the canonical erection of the ordinariate, Msgr. Steenson told Fr. Kelley and the congregation of St. Mary of the Angels that the Catholic Church would provide facilities for them if they abandoned the property. They could have done what they are doing now back in 2012. Instead, they have lost six years and spent a considerable sum on legal costs that they could have put toward acquisition of another parcel of land and construction of new facilities. In the end, this case clearly shows the wisdom of the ordinariate’s policy.
My visitor says the letter "clearly is sad", when in my post I called it "really wonderful news", so I think this is a case of what humorist Scott Adams calls people seeing two entirely different movies on the same screen.

Let's back up and look at chronology. In December 2011, Houston's representative to the parish, Msgr William Stetson, who had been closely associated with Cardinal Law and his efforts to establish the Pastoral Provision throughout Law's career, told the parish in a public meeting that it would be received into the OCSP during the first weeks of January 2012. Indeed, it would be the first parish to be received. At the time, there was no litigation pending against the parish from any quarter. The parish had voted to enter the OCSP earlier in the year by the requisite supermajority.

Repeat. No litigation. Parish to be received in early 2012. Period.

However, for reasons that have never been clear, Lucy in effect pulled away the football at the last minute. Two weeks into January, the announcement was made that Houston wanted another vote, which was promptly held, and which resulted in an even larger supermajority in favor of entering the OCSP. At that point, the process simply stalled. Again, the reasons why nothing happened after that have never been entirely clear. I've speculated on them here now and then, but in the spirit of Fr Kelley's letter, there's no sense rubbing that sore again.

The Monday after Easter 2012, the Bush group and the ACA made their first effort to seize the parish physically. However, no litigation was filed, and the police removed the Bush group from the property after it was established that they had no right to be present at that time. At that point, it should have been clear to Houston that delaying their intention of receiving the parish posed greater risks than they may have thought.

It's worth stressing that when I was briefly parish treasurer in 2011, I developed a proposed 2012 parish budget that included a 10% tithe to the Ordinariate, which would have been in the range of $25,000 per year. This would have been possible due to the rental from the commercial space on the parish property. For Houston to have ignored this as a factor in its internal deliberations, which as far as I can see it did, was beyond stupid. I have no other way to characterize it.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the vestry's attorney argued to Judge Murphy that the ACA let every other parish that was headed for the OCSP, including Holy Nativity Payson, go in without trouble. The difference in the St Mary of the Angels case was the income from the commercial property. If Houston was ignoring this factor, the ACA definitely wasn't. I keep referring to Houston's strange behavior in this period as bungling, and I see no reason to change it.

(By the way, if Msgr Steenson urged the parish to abandon its property, this is the first I've heard of it. Houston would thereby be giving up a $25,000 a year tithe, which it would have preferred to have.)

No litigation was filed over the St Mary's property until May 2012. If the OCSP had followed through with its intention in January 2012, or at any time between January and May of that year, the move would have been unencumbered by any current litigation. Houston had between January and May 2012 to resolve any issues they may have had, and I can only conclude that the individuals involved, from Msgrs Stetson and Steenson, to then-Fr Hurd, to Mrs Chalmers, a canon lawyer acting as Houston's attorney, were not equal to fairly simple tasks. All are no longer in the picture.

The visitor's comments above remind me a little of the arguments from the secularists who challenge people like Bp Barron: if the laws of physics explain everything, why do we need God? Bp Barron would ask in reply why we have the laws of physics. By the same token, if Houston's policies retroactively explain what happened in 2012, how did the events of 2012 get started?

There's a very good answer here: Fr Barker and the St Mary of the Angels vestry revised the parish Articles of Incorporation in January 1977 to remove the parish from The Episcopal Church. This ensured that every subsequent event would be driven by the idea that extra-ecclesial actions could supersede any other effort to govern the parish. More than 40 years of litigation were the result. Demons are real. The question I have, which will probably never be adequately answered, is what role then-Bp Law and Msgr Stetson played in this event, because by Fr Barker's own account, they were talking to him at the time. The bungling started much earlier than 2012.

On the other hand, I think it's significant that, at least in the account we have via Fr Kelley and Abp Hepworth, Fr Perkins, and by implication Bp Lopes, are moving quickly to receive the parish even without its once-substantial tithe. This is generous and, if things follow through, good news. Nothing sad about it.

Unless, of course, Lucy pulls the football away once again.