The dog chasing a bus

John Bruce, who comments on some of the other blogs, has an interesting piece on David Virtue’s site that was posted on Aug. 26 but that I haven’t seen picked up anywhere else because, well, if you’re like me, you don’t regularly read him anymore.

I am posting a link to it here because it might shed some light into the ongoing controversy at Our Lady of the Angels in Hollywood.  The opinions below belong to Mr. Bruce.   I do not know enough about what’s going on there to assess how accurate they are or not, but I think he makes an interesting point about the ACA being like a dog chasing a bus. It’s caught the bus.  Now what?   My hope is that this parish that had hoped to be part of the Pastoral Provision and then the Ordinariate will find it’s dream come true and that all the turmoil and fighting will cease and people will allow the best in themselves to come out.

Here’s his post.  Interesting comments ensue over at Virtue.


The St Mary of the Angels Controversy: What’s the Dog Going To Do?

By John Bruce
August 26, 2012

As a rank-and-file parishioner at St Mary of the Angels Hollywood, I’ve thought of many stories and analogies, Biblical and otherwise, to help me understand the complicated and unhappy situation there. One that came to mind just today is the old joke about the dog that chases cars: OK, great, if the dog ever catches one, what’s it going to do with it? It seems to me that in the recent court decision, the result is that the Anglican Church in America, having chased the St Mary’s car, has caught it.

What’s it going to do now? Much of the controversy has focused on the rector, Fr Christopher Kelley, but even before the court decision, the vestry had accepted a proposal from Msgr Steenson that as part of its entry to the Ordinariate, the parish award Fr Kelley a lengthy sabbatical that would in effect amount to a severance package.

In the wake of the court’s decision last week, attorneys are in the process of working out an agreement of some sort that, I’m sure most people hope, will be equitable and fair to Fr Kelley. Under almost any circumstance, the controversy is no longer about Fr Kelley, even though most of the discussion to date has (unfairly, in my own view) focused on him.

All rectors pass away, retire, move on. Fr Kelley is 65; if the parish and the applicable hierarchy didn’t have a succession problem now, it would have to face it in the foreseeable future no matter what. The ACA, in a situation where its authority has been at best unclear, has now specifically said it wants the pastoral responsibility for this parish.

Fine – what’s it going to do now? In an e-mail to the parish regarding the court’s decision, Bp Strawn and Canon Morello of the ACA said It is hoped that all of the divisive disputes that have so unfortunately affected the Parish can be resolved so the Parish can move forward, putting this turmoil behind us, and work to renew itself in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please know we continue to hold all the people of St. Mary’s in our thoughts and prayers.

We remain in God’s service.

Bishop Stephen D. Strawn
Canon Anthony J. Morello

…but said nothing about when the parish, which has been locked with no masses said since June, will be reopened. Platitudes go only so far here.

Now that the dog has caught the car, the ACA needs to face up to its pastoral obligations: be sure weekly masses are said, be sure a genuine process of reconciliation begins, and start the long and difficult task of rebuilding the parish. It’s a serious question whether the ACA, a small and shrinking denomination with only two diocesan bishops and parishes that number only in the dozens, has the talent pool even to consider doing this – Hollywood ain’t Podunk. If Strawn and Morello haven’t already learned this, they will.

Canon Morello, who has been the official ACA priest in charge since April, has not endeared himself to parishioners – in response to innocuous questions regarding issues like whether anyone but the parish in an election can designate a vestry, Morello tends to lose his temper and threaten to call police. He was present at an incident in July when two parishioners, apparently with his tacit approval, violently shoved other parishioners out of the parish basement, pushing one into a doorway and spraining his wrist. At minimum, Morello did nothing to stop this.

I have repeatedly raised this incident with ACA Presiding Bishop Marsh, asking that he investigate Morello’s role, and received no answer. At minimum, Morello is not a good candidate to begin the process of reconciliation, identified as he clearly has been with one parish faction and even a violent incident. The reconciliation process will not proceed, in fact, until this incident is addressed and those involved held in some way accountable.

Whether the ACA has any spare clergy (Morello is rector of his own parish) to serve on even an interim basis in getting St Mary’s back onto its feet is a serious question – what’s the dog in fact going to do with the car, now that it’s caught it? But the question of accountability goes beyond the ACA. I believe Msgr Steenson, the US Ordinary, needs to reflect on whether he’s lived up to his own pastoral obligations to the parish, which first voted in favor of joining the Ordinariate in May 2011, and whose vestry formally requested it be received in December 2011.

Let’s take a closer look at the history here: The parish was told by Msgr Steenson’s representative, Msgr William Stetson, that it would in fact be received into the Ordinariate during the first weeks of January 2012. However, this promise almost immediately was rendered inoperative, and the Ordinariate asked for a second vote. This vote was held January 22, with a result almost identical to the first, over 80% in favor.

In the meantime, the ACA House of Bishops announced the dissolution of the Patrimony of the Primate on its website, creating a highly ambiguous situation for the parish, which had been in the Patrimony with other ACA parishes intending to go into the Ordinariate. A letter on the ACA website read:

Given that the American Ordinariate was erected on January 1, 2012, the term of the Patrimony of the Primate has thus lapsed. Those who were formerly part of the Patrimony of the Primate must now make a decision regarding their future jurisdiction. Anyone, whether clergy or laity, who may now wish to return to the Anglican Church in America, should do so by contacting the diocesan bishop in their area.

While the ACA has since claimed that this wording was “misunderstood”, St Mary’s did not reapply to join the ACA, because it was expecting to be received into the Ordinariate momentarily.

The ACA took no active interest in St Mary’s for some months – although it was invited to send an observer for the second Ordinariate vote on January 22, it didn’t do so. No bishop made an episcopal visit, and the parish wasn’t invited to the diocesan synod that spring. The parish certainly had every reason to believe the ACA was no longer in charge.

To complicate matters, once the parish had satisfied the requirement of a second vote, the Ordinariate kept moving the goalposts. Where Msgr Stetson had assured us that no revision to the bylaws would be needed before reception, that somehow changed, and the Ordinariate now wanted revised bylaws and a financial audit of the parish as well.

These took time – they were both completed by May; one can claim this was too long, but both tasks required the time and attention of professionals, and nothing was going to happen with a snap of the fingers. The problem here is that from January, the parish was at best left hanging between two jurisdictions, at worst simply unaffiliated, and the Ordinariate increasingly took the position that it had nothing to do with, and no responsibility for, what was going on.

The ACA stepped into the vacuum to begin the process of seizing back the parish in April. For the Ordinariate to claim it had no responsibility for what happened neglects the fact that the parish acted in good faith, expecting to get the pastoral protection of the Ordinariate in early 2012 – and given events, protection is what was needed.

One might raise the excuse that the Ordinariate didn’t know quite what to do about Fr Kelley – but the Ordinariate’s own policy from the start had been that the Anglican rectors of Ordinariate parishes would be at least temporarily replaced by Catholic chaplains until their own Catholic ordinations were complete. Surely there would have been no obstacle to following the normal procedure in this case, appointing a Catholic chaplain and dealing with concerns about Fr Kelley in due course.

In addition, the ACA has been formally excommunicating some parishioners, and this raises at least in appearance the question of whether it’s taking retaliatory measures against parishioners who’d simply been trying in good faith to facilitate the move. I believe Msgr Steenson, Msgr Stetson, and Abp Gomez need to focus on the fact that the parish had effectively been promised pastoral protection that wasn’t given, and still hasn’t been.

The situation has been careening out of control for some months due in large part to dithering by the Ordinary. I believe the parties connected with the Ordinariate have a moral and pastoral responsibility to help bring this situation back under control, for the benefit of those parishioners who’d been expecting their help all along.

Bishop Marsh, Bishop Strawn, and Canon Morello need to take a serious look at whether they’re in any position to provide reconciliation, or even basic pastoral care, to the parish. I believe they should announce immediately when the parish will be reopened, and name a suitable priest in charge to begin the process of reconciliation who will not be Anthony Morello.

They need to recognize that the parish will require more than a few platitudes about forgiving and forgetting to move ahead; the process will require serious pastoral skills, time, and attention. If they can’t provide these, then I believe they have an obligation to work with Msgr Steenson, Msgr Stetson, and Abp Gomez to provide pastoral and sacramental care to parishioners who’ve acted only in good faith and who have every reason to expect this care.

John Bruce has been a parishioner at St Mary of the Angels Hollywood since January 2011. Before that, he was an Episcopalian for 30 years. He’s retired from the computer industry

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3 Responses to The dog chasing a bus

  1. Pingback: The dog chasing a bus | Catholic Canada

  2. Brian Taber says:

    Since this would have been the ordinariate parish closest to my home and my prayer is that it still will be, I had planned on making a pilgrimage there upon its entry into the ordinariate. May God give wisdom to those in authority to work to resolve the legal issues and bring this Parish in communion with the Catholic Church. May all the rancor that humans are capable of be put aside to further Christs kingdom and not let this situation be used by the devil more than it already has.

  3. Rev22:17 says:


    The first thing that we need to remember is that courts often issue preliminary injunctions and restraining orders based upon filings by only one side in a dispute. When the other side has an opportunity to present its case, it often becomes clear that the facts are not as stated in the initial filings and the court then lifts the preliminary injunctions or restraining orders. Thus, an initial injunction or restraining order is not a reliable indication of the final verdict. This is also the type of case that is apt to have at least two rounds of appeals, if the parties can afford the associated costs.

    That said, suppose that the court does award title to the building to the Anglican Church in America ACA). It is very likely that nearly all of the parishionners who favor the ordinariate will leave the ACA and will be looking for new spiritual home, especially if the ACA is excommunicating as many of their number as the letter suggests.

    Now, let’s backtrack to Msgr. Steenson’s statement of 05 May about this parish. The statement said that it is not possible for the parish to join the ordinariate due to unresolved issues, but went on to say that individual parishionners may do so. Thus, the door is open for those who leave St. Mary of the Angels, whether by choice or otherwise, to join the ordinariate. Perhaps there is a Catholic parish with a friendly pastor nearby who will provide a space where those who are leaving St. Mary of the Angels can meet to discern their way forward together to become ordinariate community. Such individuals also can contact Fr. Andrew Bartus in nearby Orange County, who currently appears to be the nearest cleric of the ordinariate, for assistance. Many of those who were in favor of joining the ordinariate probably would join such a group, once it gets organized.

    Now, if about 75% of the parish leave for the ordinariate, it is quite likely that the remnant will not have the financial and other resources required to maintain its buildings, etc. Thus, they probably will have to sell the buildings at some point anyway.

    Of course, this scenario also presumes that the ACA actually will get its act together and provide a pastor who can minister effectively to those who remain. If not, they also will be looking for a new church home and the property will be on the market.

    Now, the curious paragraph in the letter is this one.

    Much of the controversy has focused on the rector, Fr Christopher Kelley, but even before the court decision, the vestry had accepted a proposal from Msgr Steenson that as part of its entry to the Ordinariate, the parish award Fr Kelley a lengthy sabbatical that would in effect amount to a severance package.

    This implies that Msgr. Steenson believes Fr. Christopner Kelly not to be a suitable pastor, in which case he probably will be accepted into the ordinariate as a layman and not as a candidate for orders — and it also means that the ordinary would have to supply clergy for them in one way or another.


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