More from the Rear End

My old friend in California, John Bruce, is having another go in So, What’s Really Going On At St Mary’s?

He doesn’t allow comments on his blog, so I will exercise my right to a response here.

His “regular correspondent” tried to conjecture how Mrs Deborah Gyapong, Christian Campbell and I tried to understand the problem of Archbishop Hepworth, especially when the endgame was over – by about 2012. I have discovered that one can become quite unstuck by trying to attach psychological labels to people. Perhaps all I would say of my former Ordinary whom I had esteemed and treated with gratitude is that he had traits suggesting lack of empathy, manipulativeness, total lack of practical judgement and the characteristics of a bully. I discussed these issues with someone who knew him intimately, and he was more hurt than I was for other reasons which I will not discuss here.

Mrs Gyapong wanted to see the best and noblest motives in him. The trouble is that the evidence slapped me in the face every time. I do agree that the Archbishop might have found more respect had he retired from the TAC, reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church as a laicised priest and disappeared for several years. A stay in a monastery is the usual way, something I have done myself. Having the responsibilities of his second wife and home, perhaps he would have taken the time to write a book and settle down as a lay Roman Catholic. After that, there are two sides to any agreement… The fact he continued to style himself as an Anglican archbishop, have priests under his “jurisdiction”, exercise some form of independent ministry in Australia – all are suspect for someone who believes in unconditional surrender to the Roman Catholic Church as he advocated at the bishops’ meeting in October 2007. Perhaps I am crazy in deducing such a possibility. Perhaps Winston’s torturer from 1984 is holding four fingers up at me and telling me there are five…

I am flattered to be considered as “highly influential” whilst being “crazy” at the same time. So much water off a duck’s back! I am strangely independent from affirmation coming from other people. I have learned to compare myself with myself as I was yesterday, and not with other people. That comes from bitter experience of life.

The “correspondent” speaks of his uneasiness about being under Hepworth’s oversight on account of his no longer being the primate of an institutional ecclesial body. St Mary’s is not my problem. Even lovely ships like the Titanic had to be abandoned when they were sinking. A building, however beautiful, is not worth that amount of litigation. The caricature of episcopi vagantes is nothing new. Some are self-aggrandising and perhaps have narcissistic traits in some cases. Others ask fundamental questions and go completely quiet after finding that their idea of a new type of ministry was an illusion. I have been down that path – never again.

I think I was excessive in applying the words narcissist and psychopath. They would be the result of a rigorous diagnostic by a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. I am neither. All I can do is observe a few traits and compare my own findings with those of others who suffered more than I did in their particular circumstances of life. I am in possession of some documents which I have promised never to divulge. There is the “seriously flawed judgement” but there are other traits too. I became weary with the discussion long ago and I have moved on.

John Bruce has decided to be an ordinary mainstream Roman Catholic. I think he could do better by adopting the casual indifferent chatty and happy attitude of most cradle Roman Catholics or commit himself to some spiritual or humanitarian work in his parish. There are many homeless people in California, and I’m sure the parishes are doing a lot of good work. This is his vocation, his chosen way, not mine. He and I are both limited by the places in this world where we live. Why get involved in some plan involving former Archbishop John Hepworth flying half way round the world to ingratiate himself with the passengers and crew of a sinking ship?

In many respects, rationally speaking, John Bruce isn’t wrong. The small groups of counter-cultural and committed clergy and faithful are eccentric, proving ourselves, justifying ourselves, doing the best we can with little money or resources. I correspond with one or two people in the English Ordinariate and learn of their issues with the mainstream RC Church in England. The general notion is one of inconclusiveness and lack of resolution. For me to return to the RC Church would be a step of nihilism, more so than twenty years ago. The challenge he implies is quite bleak: the darkness before the light or the darkness with nothing beyond. The problem with getting rid of Christianity is knowing what comes next. I believe that materialism is wrong! Only transcendence gives meaning to life.

In my own “crazy” thought and my current projects, I try to find a way to live Christianity differently and to present it to others in a new way. It is my conviction that Christianity is not for all, but only accessible to those who are prepared in philosophical and spiritual terms. Christianity is esoteric and exoteric. The Mystery was taught to Christ’s inner circle, and the ordinary people heard parables, which sometimes were explained, sometimes not. The idea of “being saved” by accepting Jesus as your “personal Saviour” is complete and absolute bunk. It is all analogy and symbol for a reality of which very few have knowledge. The political notion of Christianity as the “social kingship of Christ” is also bunk. The teaching and Mystery of Christ can only be real and true in a very precise set of dispositions and state of readiness to receive Revelation. That is why most church Christianity is discredited.

I am no more holy than anyone else, but the gap is brief between belief and commitment, and unbelief. I am a priest in a Continuing Anglican Church, the ACC, which has made some remarkable efforts to clean out the stables, become stable and improve the quality of the clergy. Several priests in the ACC in England are university educated, and some have been mainstream Anglican – and do great work in their little parishes. I carry my head high and am proud to serve our little Diocese. We may be eccentric in some ways, but we are doing the work of the Catholic Church. That is not to be poofed out of the way by the smug of this earth.

I feel sorry for former Abp John Hepworth. I have good memories of meeting him in Paris back in 2005 and spending a day with him in Senlis to discuss my entering the TAC as a priest. I was impressed by the bishops’ meeting in Portsmouth in October 2007 and relativised the total incompetence of some of the bishops in simply celebrating Mass. There seemed to be something powerful and hopeful, but it was all illusion. Some TAC clergy joined the Ordinariates, and now the TAC is little more than a name, and the viable component Churches are forming new alliances like the big Synod last October in America. Things have changed. John Hepworth could have found his happiness through a long retreat and discernment of his vocation in the context of his canonical irregularities. He could have made his peace with his own clergy and faithful, and trodden another path. The important things are lucidity and truth, humility and self-knowledge. I still pray for him and hope in some way that God will unravel the tangled mess.

Perhaps he might do something for St Mary of the Angels, but I think the Roman Catholic authorities would find him an obstacle. They don’t need him, but a relationship with the Ordinariate or the local Archdiocese if they really want to become Roman Catholic. There is no sense in that community being led by someone who is perceived by the RC bureaucracy as a toxic apostate priest. John Bruce’s inclination to go this way makes no sense. I wouldn’t call him raca or fool, but I would simply question his own judgement.

Finally it isn’t my problem, and it is puzzling to imagine how my insignificant ideas could change anything in this grand plan.

Now back to my Blue Flower – and a substantial translating order for next week…

* * *

Update: See Abp Hepworth And The Titanic

I have little to add, since I don’t know how I could be more “consistent” about St Mary of the Angels parish. I have never been there, only seen photos and read a few bits and pieces. Most of what I know comes from John Bruce, leaving me with an impression of such an amount of litigation that it might be better to sell off the church to the highest bidder, pay off the attorneys and call it quits. But, I might be wrong. Should I care?

Likewise, given the turning of events around 2011 to 2012, my impression of Abp Hepworth is that I had not know him or his true personality. It took me a while to suspect that there was an abundance of bullshit, and that I would never unravel things well enough to get a good understanding. Various other people filled me in on the most disturbing traits and facts, and I had no reason to distrust them. I stayed formally a member of the TAC until there was no Patrimony of the Primate anymore. Archbishop Prakash put me into the English diocese (Traditional Anglican Church), and I had no certitude there was still very much going on. I honourably resigned for the reason that the ACC was ready to accept me and give me a canonical title as a priest. That was in Eastertide 2013.

Perhaps there is little comparison between an ocean liner on its way to the bottom of the Atlantic and a church mired in litigation between the ACA and an independent priest and congregation. I have no side to take in this affair. However, many things are compared with sinking ships even if they are not ships at sea and containing human persons in danger of death from drowning or hypothermia.

From my scant information, I am given to believe that John Bruce and his wife were badly hurt by these comings and going of St Mary’s parish. That is understandable.

The argument of Abp Hepworth having the right to hear confessions in the name of the Roman Catholic Church in the case of the congregation at St Mary’s does not hold water (excuse the pun). He is an independent bishop in Anglican orders (ie: considered as invalid by the RC Church) and irregular as a priest having committed the delict of schism and getting married without a dispensation from Rome following a rescript of laicisation. These are just facts without any judgement on my part, and are the reasons why he could not hope to be accepted by Rome and allowed to minister as a priest, let alone as a bishop. I have done the same thing, but there is a difference: I have not applied to Rome to ask for anything and have no intention of going back to that Church. He was telling us that he had friends in the Vatican and everything was going to be “all right”, even for the canonically irregular. That was a pile of crap, evidenced by the cold manner in which he was treated by Cardinal Levada. He cannot act as a Roman Catholic priest, and there is no way that will change even if he is at the head of some Rome-bound community. It won’t work. It won’t wash. Anything associated with Hepworth, from Rome’s point of view, is tainted and in bad faith. I may be “crazy” but I know my canon law!

Perhaps in John’s place, I would have removed myself from St Mary’s and would have worshipped at various churches (or just one) without asking to be received into anything or receiving the Sacraments. I would probably have spent several years like that, leaving St Mary’s in the past and moving on spiritually and in terms of my own health and that of my family. There are plenty of churches in Los Angeles. Then, perhaps after a couple of years, I would have become Orthodox or Roman Catholic, gone back to the ECUSA or a more stable and peaceful continuing Church. I would have taken the time to read and study, and make the right decision for me in peace and prayer.

Yes, there are plenty of converts to the RC Church and loads of RC priests who become Evangelicals, Anglican bishops or join another religion. The ticket is one-way. Abp Hepworth is ipso facto laicised as far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned. He cannot use the absence of a rescript of laicisation to pretend to have any legitimacy as a Roman Catholic priest. He might have done had he gone to the traditionalist movement, remained celibate and not become Anglican. That’s just the way it works, not any opinion from me. The TAC has rid itself of him and he is not a Roman Catholic cleric. He is not Archbishop of anything nor does he have a canonical title as a priest, even by epikeia.

St Mary’s is not an Anglican parish, unless it is under the local diocese of the ACA or some other mainstream or continuing jurisdiction – at least identifying with Anglican traditions. If those who have left the ACA are in charge, then it isn’t an Anglican parish. It is completely independent. Abp Hepworth changes nothing. He changes nothing for Rome except perhaps demonstrating that the community isn’t ready to be received into the Ordinariate or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They would be better off as a community with a priest, uncanonical but in good faith. The, perhaps, with the litigation sorted out, something might be envisaged.

Might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb… One justification for having Abp Hepworth would be remaining as an independent community, perhaps in view to rebuilding and joining another Anglican jurisdiction (as I don’t think the ACA would have him!), but that doesn’t seem to be the idea.

I’m not sure what the problems are in seeing Abp Hepworth functioning as a bishop.

Is he not? Then I’ll enlighten him. The problems would be putting Rome right off the whole idea of receiving St Mary’s parish even if they were sympathetic with the priest. Would ECUSA be better disposed, or any Continuing Church, given the reputation Hepworth has earned for himself? The problem is ruining their own chances with anyone. That’s what the problems are.

If St Mary’s doesn’t have a “long term”, then why bother? Split the congregation up into individuals, and then they will be none of John Bruce’s business. Each will decide according to his or her conscience, and conscience is supreme. No story – nothing to report. Perhaps those people don’t need “leadership and spiritual counsel” but to stand on their own two feet as adults. One problem with a lot of Christians is that they want to be children! Let them sort themselves out. They might decide to pack it in with Christianity and become atheists or Buddhists. If that is what they think is right, then they should get on with it and live their lives. If Christianity is true, then they’ll get their “tweak on the thread” without any need for a guru.

It might sound unpastoral coming from me, a priest, but that is the tough reality. We all have to face tough realities and have to make our own decisions.

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