Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Appraisal Time?

On November 24, 2015, the announcement was made that Msgr Steenson was retiring effective from the date of the announcement, and Msgr Lopes of the CDF would be replacing him as bishop. On February 2, 2016, he was consecrated bishop, although he had been making the decisions since his designation on November 24. Since Msgr Steenson's "retirement" at age 63 was most unusual for a Catholic prelate, we must assume that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had expectations for the OCSP that Msgr Steenson wasn't meeting.

This implies as well that whatever expectations are in the air from the CDF must still be active, and after a year, it's likely that Bp Lopes will be given some sort of formal review. This explains, it seems to me, the remarkable recent activity of Mr Jesserer Smith, staff writer for the Fishwrap, on Bp Lopes's behalf. Not only did we get the interview I linked yesterday, but he drafted two press releases, almost certainly composed at Houston's behest but sent out on Rochester's account. The fact that I went so far as to speculate about one of these (rather than, apparently, just reprint it without comment) clearly got someone in Houston upset. Pressure?

So what has Bp Lopes accomplished? He began a Bishop's Appeal, and he seems to have put the cathedraticum on a sounder footing. He's made it a priority to visit the groups and parishes, but as my regular correspondent puts it,

His assertion that he has made 37 episcopal visits this year is I'm sure accurate but also somewhat misleading. Many of the full parishes and conveniently placed quasi-parishes have been visited more than once but a significant number of the 40+ groups have not yet been visited at all, including most of the marginal ones.
And a more troublesome issue is that many of the marginal groups are marginal indeed. I raised the question of just how many groups have closed or gone dormant in the past year, and my correspondent replied,
St Gilbert's, formerly in Boerne TX was supposed to follow Fr Wagner, now pastor of a diocesan parish in Kerrville, and begin worshipping at St Peter upon the Water Retreat Center in Ingram. However, I check the SPutW site frequently and while mass times are posted regularly there is never any mention of Fr Wagner or St Gilbert's. Nothing in the Notre Dame, Kerrville bulletin either. So I would regard it as defunct. The former parochial administrator of St Gregory the Great, Mobile has had to retire completely from active ministry owing to ill health. Mass is now offered by a local priest; I am unclear as to whether this takes place once or twice a month. Conflicting information on websites of host parish, Ordinariate group, and Facebook page. St Margaret's, Katy has [disappeared from the web and reappeared] but hasn't been upgraded or updated, although Fr Sellers is still President of the school which hosts it. Perhaps just an internet reboot. Fr Sellers' Facebook page also off.
It's worth pointing out that even if these groups are celebrating BDW mass without advertising it, no potential new members would be able to find them. So this makes a practical three, to which we add St Gregory Stoneham, MA, for four. But then we have St Alban's Rochester, which at best will resume activity sometime next year, although this could possibly be just Mr Jesserer Smith's somewhat gushy reading of the situation and not necessarily Bp Matano's. But then we have St Edmund's, Kitchener. My correspondent says, "I think they went out of business at the end of November 2015, so contemporaneous with Bp Lopes. He was certainly part of the decision to pull the plug, i.e. tell them that Fr Catania would not be replaced."

So this makes, as best my correspondent and I can put things together, six quasi-parishes or groups in formation that have at best gone dormant or ceased activity in the year since Bp Lopes's designation. If we say there are roughly 40 OCSP entities, this is 15% disappearing in a year.

One issue I've been working on as well is trying to get a picture of how many OCSP priests are actually available to replace those who retire or can't continue with their groups for other reasons -- again, looking only at 2016, this has become a serious problem. My correspondent says,

I note that the NCR article mentioned "10 or 11" married former Anglican clergy now in formation. There was a week-long gathering of them in Houston last month, although it was not publicised, for some reason. It will be interesting to see if these men are attached to groups (Jonathan Erdman in Louisville is at least one in this situation) or if they are free to relocate to look after currently leaderless OCSP communities. I hope there will be no further ordinations of men who then become Ordinariate clergy in name only, unconnected to any OCSP community. This simply bolsters the idea that the Ordinariate has "more priests than people."

Will 10 priests be ordained next year but so committed to their present locations that they can't move to bolster additional failing groups?

But so far, this neglects the big issue that discouraged the friends of Anglican ecumenism since mid-2012: St Mary of the Angels and Our Lady of the Atonement. I've got to think that the bungling of these key admissions at the start of the OCSP has been a sore point with the CDF ever since. Whatever may be going on behind the scenes, there's been no visible result.

Perhaps we'll yet see some gushy piece from Mr Jesserer Smith about how maybe someday something will happen!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

WTH?

This is an acronym for "what the heck", if anyone is interested. Last week there was a kerfuffle after Prof Jordan of the dormant Rochester group sent out an e-mail that had been written by one Peter Jesserer Smith. I wasn't familiar with the name, and I simply assumed Mr Smith was a lay member of the Rochester group who'd written the piece. But today someone sent me a link to an interview at the National Catholic Register with Bp Lopes that was conducted by none other than Peter Jesserer Smith, who is identified as a Register staff reporter.

On November 28, Prof Jordan sent me the following e-mail:

Hello Mr. Bruce,

My attention was drawn to your blog posts about our group's email update. Generally, these news items are meant to inform the group and our friends and supporters of our progress. They are not meant to be for public debate or speculation. It could be possible that your posts may further hinder our progress.

I would appreciate it if you would remove the posts.

thanks,
Andrew Jordan

Excuse me? A professional writer for the NCR drafts your press release (which is what it could only have been), and you claim it's "not meant to be for public debate or speculation"? I don't get it. Mr Jesserer Smith, as I understand these things, is not defining a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. Even the most devout Catholics, it seems to me, are entitled to debate and speculate over his utterances -- especially when speaking from the Fishwrap. And maybe, as a full professor, Prof Jordan has mistaken me for a cringing graduate assistant. I fear at age 69 I don't need his influence to get me any new academic job.

I assume Prof Jordan was told to send this e-mail by Houston -- though if I were Houston, I'd be on Jesserer Smith's case, as well as Jordan's, for not running things by Bp Matano. Otherwise, if Matano in fact approved it, I'm not sure what the problem is.

Smith's interview with Bp Lopes, by the way, is nothing special.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Strong Leadership?

I attended an advent festival of lessons and carols, a uniquely Anglican event, at St Mary of the Angels yesterday afternoon. I made a rough count of about 35 people there including choir and altar party, which isn't too bad, since it wasn't Sunday mass. I noted a number of new faces and a good mix of ages. Fr Kelley and the parish are clearly making every effort to rebuild, and it was plain that friends of the parish were there as well, keeping it in their prayers and good wishes.

In fact, revisiting the truly beautiful nave, I got a sense of potential, if not optimism, equivalent to what I felt with others across North America in 2011 as we awaited the erection of the Ordinariate. The bungling of the St Mary's attempt to enter -- which had originally been intended as a hallmark event -- was, with the reversal at Our Lady of the Atonement, a major factor in the discouragement that overtook the Anglican ecumenical movement by mid-2012.

In the US, it's plain that the country is beginning to see a restoration of optimism following the presidential election -- if nothing else, the stock market's gains should be concrete evidence of this. It stems, it seems to me, from strong leadership. The US-Canadian Ordinariate could benefit from a dose of strong leadership as well, and if it gets it, it could produce renewed optimism like what we felt in 2011.

But happy-talk about maybe starting things up again in Rochester, or declaring that a marginal startup is really a parish, isn't that kind of leadership. One thing that would actually reflect strong leadership would be a genuine effort by Bp Lopes to bring the St Mary of the Angels parish into the OCSP.

A regular visitor cautioned me that a group intending to enter must not have ongoing litigation. The problem, though, is that the litigation for all intents and purposes is resolved. The strategy of the Bush group and the ACA has been simply delay -- Mr Lancaster told the judge almost a year ago that the outcome of the Bush appeal of the 2015 finding would be dispositive, and that they had requested it be expedited. By July, it had become plain that they hadn't requested this (in fact, they'd lied to the judge). At this point, they're simply trying to prolong the agony, and it's hard to see any motive for this other than simple spite.

I can only think that some involvement by Bp Lopes could facilitate resolving the issue. A simple request for a phone chat with Bp Marsh, in which Bp Lopes asks Marsh to outline what he means to accomplish by prolonging the legal action and what Lopes might do to resolve outstanding issues, might well move things forward. An informal visit to the St Mary's parish by Bp Lopes could also be a worthwhile gesture, and it might help him to get a better picture of the contribution the parish could make.

I have a feeling that up to now, Houston has been unwilling to open the can of worms that the events of 2012 represent. Not least of these would be a serious investigation of Fr Bartus's involvement in the division of the parish and the campaign of character assassination against Fr Kelley. The problem for Bp Lopes is that maybe putting someone new in Rochester or declaring that Bridgeport is a parish whether or not it can pay pastors' or sextons' salaries is small potatoes. Accomplishing what the OCSP actually set out to do in early 2012 is something else.

The OCSP doesn't have a chance of success unless its leadership is strong enough to undertake this task.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Court Hearing December 12, 2016

There will be a court hearing on December 12, 2016 at 8:30 am in Dept. 32 at the Stanley Mosk courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. It will be on the combined issues of the motion for summary judgment against the Bush group for lack of standing, as they are not the parish vestry, never have been, and have no standing to bring suit. There will also be a motion to dismiss the "related cases" against Fr Kelley. Mr Lancaster's position has been that the court should wait for the appeals court to rule on the Bush group's appeal of Judge Strobel's 2015 finding, but it appears that this will take a great deal longer than Mr Lancaster's original prediction.

This is an area where I continue to be skeptical of Bp Lopes's intent regarding the Ordinariate -- as I've said before, where there's a will, there's a way. Frankly, I think if he were to raise the issue with Bp Marsh of withdrawing the ACA's participation in the legal action, it would move the matter forward. The ACA's participation has certainly damaged its credibility -- it must certainly be a factor in making the ACA's projected merger with the APA "elusive", in Bp Marsh's own words. In the interests of its survival, the ACA needs to move on and focus on the future.

The St Mary of the Angels issue has also been a major problem for the OCSP's public image -- this blog is read by influential parties. Bp Lopes, as I've said before, you want me on your side.

Friday, December 2, 2016

More On The Bridgeport Parish

Regarding my skepticism over whether the Bridgeport parish fully qualified for its canonical erection, my regular correspondent adds,
I would say that there is no doubt that Fr Ousley is not being paid the designated OCSP stipend, because this does not exist. I assume it is one of the financial details that the OCSP administration is trying to work out. However, Fr Ousley was the full-time parochial administrator of St Michael and All Angels, Philadelphia when it had twenty-five members. Clearly they could not have been providing him significant financial support. Likewise, St Gregory, Stoneham could exist as an independent congregation while Fr Liias, the retired TEC clergyman, was their leader but since he retired it has had to merge with the local diocesan PP parish, St Athanasius.

The purchase of an old building, especially one whose maintenance was probably skimped on in the past as closure loomed, is a risk. The November newsletter hints at some potential structural problems. Caretaking duties are being undertaken by volunteers which may be a false economy. So I agree that things are not rock solid at St John the Baptist.

Perhaps you are right that this step reflects a desire to suggest that there is momentum in the OCSP despite appearances to the contrary. Regarding the demographics, there are children in some of the pictures of the post-service reception at St John Baptist. Furthermore, I recall a line of the art critic Robert Hughes', apropos of the fact that we were told for decades during the Cold War that the Orthodox Church was being stamped out in Russia and no one attended but little old ladies, "Little old ladies are a renewable resource."

Well, little old ladies may be a renewable resource, but disaffected Episcopalians and "continuers", their numbers always exaggerated, are not. TEC membership is steadily declining, and not because they're moving to the OCSP. The hard core TEC Anglo-Catholics, significantly in Philadelphia but elsewhere too, are in "affirming" parishes who disagree with the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality. The "continuers" are disappearing even faster. If they were thought to be a market in 1993 or even 2010, this is no longer the case.

If the current pastor in Bridgeport isn't being paid an amount consistent with normal standards for diocesan secular priests (I occasionally see numbers in the range of $30,000 per year, though this includes paid housing at minimum), this isn't being factored into "stability" as a criterion. Should Fr Ousley retire at age 70 and the parish be unable to pay his successor, this would probably result in the parish's closure, since the diocese had presumably already determined that it wouldn't be sustainable with a diocesan priest, even part time.

The same would apply to parish volunteers serving as housekeepers and gardeners. At some point, this is going to get old. And when the pastor of our previous diocesan parish had to lay off the school custodian, yes, a volunteer took up the slack, but this was one more sign for us that the parish was failing, and it was time to move on.

My regular correspondent followed up,

Starting a new venture is challenging. Some people have special skills in this regard, naturally or as the result of practice. Someone at the beginning of a managerial career who is launching a new initiative will be motivated to acquire expertise on this subject in a hurry and thus demonstrate readiness for greater responsibility.

Msgr Steenson fell into none of these categories. In addition he had one paid employee, his personal assistant, about whose skills I will say nothing except to note that she is no longer with the organisation, and was carrying a significant teaching load at St Mary's Seminary.

He clearly had no ability to identify talent, surrounding himself with incompetent volunteers whose bad decisions, like acquiring the ParishSoft system, are still causing problems for the Ordinariate. I see that his "Letters to the Faithful" have been deleted from the OCSP website, although the heading still remains, which is too bad, because these randomly appearing missives, personally revealing but generally lacking a sense of message, audience, and purpose, offered a lot of insight into the start-up problems of the OCSP.

Now a fresh start has been made. Financial and HR functions are in professional hands. Consistent adherence to canonical requirements is being expected. Common goals are being articulated. Addressing the Ordinariate's fundamental branding problem is a more fundamental problem, of course, and that is the key to its survival.

It's significant that my correspondent is using a corporate-managerial metaphor here. The problem is that there are ways to advance in corporations that don't involve competence, and being a member-in-good-standing of the club is only one of them. Another is to make cosmetic changes in one assignment and, as a rising star, quickly move on, leaving the less visible problems for someone else to clean up. "Pump and dump" could be another way of putting things.

It's getting harder for me to avoid thinking that it's in Bp Lopes's interest to create an appearance of success by glossing over more fundamental issues in places like Scranton and Bridgeport, leaving the inevitable need to address those to a successor.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

OK, Let's Get Real

I've had a couple of interesting reactions to yesterday's post on the sketchy attendance -- or at least, the appearance thereof -- at the institution mass at St John the Baptist Bridgeport, PA. The points my visitors raise boil down to these:
  • I see the glass as half empty, others may see it as half full. The spaces in the pews in fact represent the parish's potential for growth
  • And attendance notwithstanding, the parish is meeting its cathedraticum, as well as a hefty assessment in the Bishop's Appeal. It has paid for, and is maintaining, its building.

My knowledgeable regular correspondent, whose familiarity with the details of the OCSP makes me wonder why neither Bp Lopes nor Msgr Steenson has made greater use of this individual, tells me that my estimate of 100 in the church on November 18 is probably right -- parish bulletins on regular Sundays show attendance considerably lower; 100 would be a really good day.

Nevertheless, my correspondent pointed me to the OCSP's Guide to Parish Development. On Page 5, the minimum size for a parish is listed as 30 families or 100 members. My correspondent feels that this makes the Bridgeport parish eligible to be designated as such, but I think there has to be acknowledgement that it is squeaking by at the bare minimum if it can muster 100 on only the best days.

Stability is another criterion, and naturally, this is especially important if the parish is hovering at the minimum criterion for membership. It's worth pointing out that that capacious nave with so much room for growth must be heated in the winter, and presumably for daily offices. Winter hasn't even started in Philly, and I assume the parking lot has to be plowed as well. What kind of resources are available for emergency organ and furnace repair? My correspondent asks, "The big questions are whether the parish can grow to a size where the disappearance of particular donors will not have a serious impact, and who will be available to replace Fr Ousley."

My correspondent points out as well, "Fr Ousley is a retired TEC clergyman and presumably has pension income. He is 65, the second-oldest of the current OCSP pastors, but he seems to be an active and dynamic leader." This raises two questions. Is the parish getting a bargain in the pastor's salary and benefits if Fr Ousley can rely on his TEC pension and health care? And how does the OCSP plan to replace him five years down the road with its current small crop of seminarians?

Another point neither visitor raised yesterday is the general demographics apparent in the photos of the mass: lots of gray hair, no multigenerational groups. This is a big contrast to my successful diocesan parish, where my wife and I exchange the peace with well-behaved and reverent children and teens every Sunday. And this goes to what I think is a central problem in Anglicanorum coetibus: the account of Bp Pope's and Msgr Steenson's 1993 meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as Fr Barker's account of the Pastoral Provision, both make the point that the market for the constitution was disaffected US Episcopalians and "continuing" Anglicans.

The size of this group has always been overstated, according to its chief historian, Mr Bess. But people familiar with the movement, like David Virtue, have made the point that it is in fact graying, and whatever appeal "continuing" groups had in the late 20th century has been superseded largely by the low-church ACNA, definitely not a Catholic-friendly market. The visible attendance at the Bridgeport institution was, let's face it, overwhelmingly aging baby boomers, a low birthrate group, and nobody was visible there from their progeny. Period. I won't go into vocations.

So let's back up a little and ask what's going on here. Msgr Steenson was summarily "retired" a year ago at 63, a remarkably unusual occurrence in the Church, where the most underperforming bishops frequently last to 75. I think a reasonable explanation (though possibly not the only one) was simply a failure of the OCSP to thrive, although given the factors working against it, often discussed here, this was a predictable result not necessarily Msgr Steenson's fault.

I've got to think the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came to some kind of a tipping point: fix this thing or shut it down, and Bp Lopes, I would assume, has got to be under some amount of pressure. As a result, with his one-year performance review looming, he had to show some visible progress, and the Bridgeport institution, somewhat iffy in my view, was a "success" he could point to.

This may also be an explanation for the very recent St Alban's fiasco, whereby a remarkably optimistic message was clearly drafted with Fr Perkins's cooperation (and I would have to think approval) and then sent out as, effectively, a press release. Also, I betcha, with Perkins's approval, if not at his specific instigation. The problem is that it bubbled over about Bp Matano's state of mind and effectively committed Bp Matano to doing things a year from now.

Bad move would be my guess, which Houston then told Rochester to pull back in a hurry, trying to blame it on the bloggers, even though Houston had to be behind it. (Bp Lopes, you want me on your side.) But why would the OCSP hierarchy feel the need to make such an ill-advised announcement? Pressure to succeed, or at least to create the appearance of success next year maybe, would be my surmise.

This is a marginal thing. Even after churning out its whole first generation of managers, it's still running an amateur night. I don't give it a whole lot of future, frankly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Maybe I'm Spoiled

By going to a diocesan parish, but looking at the photos currently posted at Ordinariate News of the institution mass at St John the Baptist, Bridgeport reminds me more of my days in TEC than as a Catholic.

One memory my wife and I have of being Episcopalians is the common experience of having to lean over two rows of pews to exchange the peace. This mass at St John the Baptist was, admittedly, on a Friday night, although the mean temperature for that day in Philadelphia was 56, with no precipitation.

I have simply never seen such a sparse attendance at our diocesan parish, even at noon mass on holy days of obligation. But this was a special occasion -- presumably the most important in the parish's history. No need, it seems, for ushers to direct traffic to the communion rail. My rough guess here is that the maximum attendance would have been maybe 100, including choir and altar party.

I've mused in the past that pushing too hard to provide visuals of success is likely to result in embarrassment over any medium or long term. But realistically speaking, these photos of what ought to be a very special occasion for the parish are on the borderline of discouraging already.

I'm wondering if Bp Lopes is under heavy pressure to show some kind of success with the OCSP.