Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Fr Gonzalez y Perez Ordination

My regular correspondent reports,
Fr Gonzalez y Perez was a Evangelical Lutheran Church of America clergyman working as head of pastoral care at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn Heights and licensed to assist at a nearby TEC church (the two denominations have been in full communion since 2001). Here is an account of his ordination as a Catholic priest for the OCSP.

LICH had closed by that point, but Fr Gonzalez y Perez owns a house in Brooklyn and his wife is a professor at Brooklyn College so relocating would not have been an attractive option.

Widespread commentary at the time of the full communion agreement between ELCA and TEC said that it reflected the shrinking market for main line Protestantism, which we can see reflected in the loss of Protestant job opportunities for Fr Gonzalez y Perez. On the other hand, I worked in a highly unstable tech job market; especially in the 1970s and 80s, as companies like Apple and Microsoft grew, other tech companies shrank or were acquired. So tech workers migrated from company A to company B freely.

But this assumes programming and analytical skills are fully transferable among tech companies, and by and large, this is true. On the other hand, theological understanding and pastoral skills don't seem to be as transferable between Protestants and Catholics. (In fact, I started out in the IBM mainframe environment; when that faded, I had to transfer my skills to Windows and Unix, which wasn't easy, so there's some parallel even there.)

At some point, there seems to have been some sort of unspoken assumption, reflected in the clear willingness to ordain just about anyone with an arguably Anglican background into the OCSP, that these skills were transferable, and the Church can act like a secular corporation and hire from a general employment pool. I think experience has begun to show that, despite some success stories, often pastoral skills aren't transferable from Protestant to Catholic. This probably reflects both ignorance of Protestantism and wishful thinking in the Catholic Church.

Formation as a Catholic priest generally requires an authentic vocation that begins to manifest in adolescence, which is tested and evaluated by multiple parties over a period of years. On the other hand, the decision to become an Episcopal priest appears in many cases to be something arrived at in adulthood, often after trying and failing at various other careers. It's something of a last resort in and of itself. For a TEC or Anglican priest then to have to scramble for yet another career opportunity is even more of a last resort.

Back to Fr Gonzalez y Perez's career move:

However, just at this point a group of about 50 Spanish-speaking Episcopalians in Flushing, NY lost their former TEC clergyman who was preparing them to enter the Catholic church. By OCSP standards this was a huge group and Msgr Steenson made a flying visit as you can read here. But in the event they were received at a diocesan parish and absorbed into its Spanish-speaking congregation. Fr G y P was slightly involved in the preparation, but did not assume leadership of the group and when last heard of was doing supply work for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
It's worth noting that although Houston has made a policy statement that it does not ordain men principally for diocesan work, this policy, like others, is very flexible, to say the least. At the same time, it looks like many of the OCSP ordinands haven't distinguished themselves in dioceses and wind up as chaplains or supply priests.