Skip to comments.Orthodox, Moderate, Liberal, Revisionist approaches to property disputes
Posted on 11/22/2006 2:59:18 PM PST by sionnsar
As the Culture Wars in The Episcopal Church heat up, a variety of approaches as to how bishops handle property disputes is now beginning to emerge.
My central premise is, that the more orthodox the bishop, the more kindler and gentler will be his approach when it comes to priests and parishes who wish to up and leave.
Ironically these traditionalist bishops don't believe in inclusion or pansexuality and one or two believe that the Vagina Monologues should be best kept out of pulpits and that such gender-specific persons not be permitted to perform Eucharistically.
Moderate, liberal and revisionist bishops, on the other hand, who do breathe the pure air of inclusion, diversity, claim niceness, while decrying ageism, sexism and demand anti-racism training; chase fleeing parish priests with Samurai swords, demanding properties, compensation, trust funds, endowments and then, as an act of total compassion, inhibit and depose said priest(s).
Basically all Episcopal bishops fall into four categories.
The first category we shall call orthodox/traditionalist. At the top of this sublime mountaintop sits the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin. The bachelor bishop is orthodox in faith and morals and does not believe women should be ordained to the priesthood. He is not in the least bit self-loathing about anything and he does not hate women or liberals. He is a very gracious bishop.
In fact he is so gracious that he recently told his diocese that if anybody wanted to leave, on either side of the ecclesiastical aisle they could so with his blessing and they could keep their properties, endowments and transfer medical and health benefits with his help. Their pensions would not be affected. They would be free to choose another diocese or province as they chose. If the good bishop wasn't fighting a weight problem he would probably help them pack.
Bishop John-David has shown the greatest amount of largess towards his priests, most of whom are orthodox, but he knows that there are those who disagree with him, and he does, by all accounts, treat them in exactly the same way. And this bishop just got hit with presentment charges from four fellow bishops, a charge he beat, and he wasn't the slightest bit vengeful or angry at them for doing so. (He may now face new charges.)
Other orthodox bishops who have shown a remarkable degree of compassion include the Rt. Rev. James Stanton (Dallas) who allowed Canon David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church, Plano to leave the diocese (the largest attended parish in the TEC) with his church for a mere $1.2 million, well below market value. Everyone was happy. Other parishes are cutting similar deals.
The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe (Central Florida) also allowed a parish - New Covenant in Winter Springs - to depart, leasing the property back and then allowing them a year later to purchase the property at fair market value. While this situation got off to a rocky start with lawyers and all, it was resolved amicably enough with mediation. This was in 2004 when no one had any real idea what bishops should do or how the situation would erupt over time. The bishop graciously agreed to write letters dimissory for the Rev. Carl Buffington to whatever Anglican Province or diocese he wanted to affiliate with. Probably no one was entirely happy with the deal and Bishop Howe took most of the flack. But at the end of the day, there were no lawsuits or inhibitions. Life went on.
Another Bishop, Robert Duncan (Pittsburgh), came up with a novel idea. He suggested to Pennsylvania bishop Charles E. Bennison that they swap parishes. He would give them his liberal parishes like Calvary Episcopal in Pittsburgh under the Rev. Harold T. Lewis in exchange he would take parishes like the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont and possibly Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli. Bennison naturally nixed the idea. It didn't quite come up to his high definition of diversity.
The second group of bishops we might describe as "moderate". These are Windsor bishops but not Network bishops. So far most of them have not been severely tested with fleeing parishes, but the general thinking is that they will not be nearly so generous as the orthodox bishops, fearing perhaps the wrath of their own chancellors and national church chancellor David Booth Beers. Lawsuits give them the willies.
At least one bishop falls into this category. Bishop Peter James Lee (Virginia) recently allowed All Saints' Church to end its affiliation with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia. Though details of the agreement were not made public, the general provisions provided for the transfer of title to a consecrated property with the diocese leasing the property back to the congregation for five years at $1 rent per year. It was messy but in the end lawsuits were avoided, and everybody got something. Bishop Lee found a face saving device that avoided censure by his fellow bishops. All parties to the agreement were satisfied with the result.
"While honoring our responsibility as stewards of property in the Diocese of Virginia, this agreement provides a faithful way forward for this particular situation.," said the bishop. Amen to that.
Now how all that will all play out with two multi-million dollar properties (Falls Church and Truro) over the next few months, is anybody's guess. Bishop Lee might not be so amenable to letting them go so amicably, but we shall see. In any event Lee has not shown himself ready to play total hard ball. A protocol is on the table. Time will tell.
Another moderate bishop is Dean Wolfe (Kansas) who cut a deal allowing the evangelical Christ Church in Overland Park, the largest parish in the diocese, to keep their property for a cool $1 million spread over ten years. He cut the deal more out of economic necessity than ecclesiastical conviction, largely because the diocesan balance sheet wasn't looking so hot and he needed the money. He did, however inhibit and depose the priests.
The third category are liberal bishops lead by Don Wimberly of Texas, who claim the high moral ground of being a Windsor bishop, but would not allow a parish to leave without a major fight. He has yet to be fully tested and most of the orthodox parishes are too wimpy to try and generally they stay under his radar screen.
Liberal bishops are only liberal about doctrine and morals, but not when it comes to properties and who owns them.
The last and most vociferously fundamentalist about properties and who owns them, are revisionist bishops.
This group includes bishops like J. Jon Bruno (Los Angeles), James R. Mathes (San Diego), John Howard (Florida), Gladstone "Skip" Adams (Central New York), Tom Shaw (Massachusetts), Orris Walker (Long Island) and Charles E. Bennison (Pennsylvania) to name but a few.
Now we reach into the heart of revisionist darkness for ecclesiastical road rage.
This group represents the most litigious, hateful, hurtful group of bishops in the history of the Episcopal Church, and quite possibly the whole of church history.
No group of bishops has done more harm, caused more sleepless nights; inflicted more pain than this group of bottom-feeding parasites. Priests have been known to have heart attacks after years of confrontation with revisionist bishops, while orthodox bishops see doctors for sleep disorders they never knew they had. There are more anti-depressants being swallowed by faithful priests and bishops to keep pharmacies in business for the next 20 years.
Consider the following:
Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno goes after three parishes in his diocese who say they want to leave. No deals are permitted. They leave. He sues. He loses. He sues again. He loses. He sues again. And all the indications are he will lose again.
Bruno, who runs around with a big happy-go-lucky smile wants to be your buddy, except of course if you step on his sacred cows and wants to keep the property the church parishioners bought and paid for. Here the buddy-buddy stuff dries up fast.. Lawyers are called, the national church chancellor is pulled in, hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised and it's off to court we go, again and again and again.
Ditto for Bishop Mathes. He is even nastier, invoking almost princely, theocratic powers unto himself. The bishop said in the legal papers filed by the Diocese of San Diego that the diocese and the people of St. John's (a parish that left his domain) were "SUBSERVIENT" to himself! That's the word he used. The bishop is not a king and the people of St. John's are not his personal servants. Thankfully we have a court system that enforces corporate law rather than these kinds of self-serving declarations, said the parish attorney.
But Bishop Mathes is by no means the worst offender. Take the case of John Howard, who smarmed his way into the diocese pleading he was really orthodox (if you just get to know me), but once in power has demonstrated a papal like authority with the result that his 16 largest parishes have all had to walk away from their properties, rather than spend their money on lawyers. He cut not a single deal with any of them, using the lame argument that he wanted to preserve the parishes for future generations. This mantra is repeated often and frequently by revisionist bishops. Within a year or two most of those parishes will be sold to independent evangelical churches, art galleries, restaurants and, if big enough, to furniture outlets.
Tom Shaw is another ecclesiastically predator bishop. He has busted two parishes out of the diocese, and being gay himself (though he says he is celibate) his hatred of orthodoxy can only be described as pathological. He ripped one parish apart, St. Paul's, Brockton leaving several generations of Episcopalians crying in their cupcakes over his actions.
But the out and out two worst offending bishops of this group, who must take the highest award for venality and bottom feeding, are Orris Walker of Long Island and Charles E. Bennison of Pennsylvania.
Walker has made it his life time mission to excoriate and run out of town every Anglo-Catholic priest in his diocese. He has preferred to close orthodox parishes down rather than find new priests. He is more than happy to swell his coffers by selling off parishes, schools and nunneries to whomever, to keep his coffers full. I have sat in restaurants on Long Island with fearful priests who were too fearful to be seen with me in daylight hours in case it got back to the bishop, all the while, while getting rid of orthodox priests he promoted a vile sodomite priest who "married" his Brazilian lover and much more.
But the No. 1 award surely goes to Charles E. Bennison Jr., of Pennsylvania. To paraphrase St. John 21: 25 "...Charles did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the library of Philadelphia would not have room for the books that would be written." This writer has written the equivalent of several books of stories on the ten-year reign of Charles Bennison.
From his earliest days when he lied to the "seven sisters" about saying he would permit a flying bishop arrangement to the latest revelations about the cover-up of his brother's sexual abuse of a minor, Bennison has litigated against one parish, St. James the Less and has threatened to litigate against two others, and is selling off dead parishes to pursue his "dream" of total ownership. He will sue and is being sued over properties, fraud and emotional distress. He has been called just about everything in the book, even by his fellow liberals (who woke up one day and discovered he was raiding the till) and still he refuses to resign. Psych wards are filled with people like him. But he has kept his job till now, and while facing presentment charges, he plans to litigate against both the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont and All Saints, Wynnewood. He has already "inhibited" and deposed Fr. David Moyer and who's to say he won't go after the remnant orthodox parishes and their priests on any pretext. The answer is: none at all.
Judgment begins first with the household of God, Scripture says. It can't come soon enough for the likes of Charles E. Bennison and the revisionist bishops of The Episcopal Church USA.
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