Saturday, August 12, 2017

I Never Met the Man

"Choose your acquaintances wisely. If a priest gives scandal you want to be able to say 'I never met
the man.'" This was a saying of Fr. Donald Curry. And it is one that has stuck with me. He was speaking about clergy in the Autocephalous Catholic Movement. I have noted in my posts what because there is a lack of quality control and because we are so much smaller than mainstream groups, our eccentrics are given the spotlight. Yet, we have to exercise our own discretion in who we take in to our churches as well as who we meet.

This is problematic for me. As an extreme extrovert I love to meet new people. But this quote pops into my head every now and again and provides me with caution. Sometimes meeting problematic people is unavoidable. However, it seems prudent to evaluate people's ministry and even sanity before rushing off to meet them. If they are a difficult person they can cause real problems to our ministries by their bad behavior.

This becomes a larger problem when we validate them. For instance, in our movement there is a desire to want to participate in everyone's ordinations. For some it's a change to dress up and participate. For others they see themselves as genuinely ordaining someone to minister to the People of God. Regardless, it's harmful to do unless we know the content of their character. The worst thing that can happen (and I have seen it happen) is to take someone in and discover they have a disreputable background. I've even seen the bishop be contacted by the media and put his name front and center for the crimes of his priest.

The result is a tapeworm like affect. A person with a past of abuse or fraud then affects our reputation, our church, our family, etc. Even if you depose them they are forever attached to your credibility. And now, thanks to the internet, nothing ever really goes away. How much better to be able to say "I never met the man."

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Measure Twice, Cut Once

One of the issues in the autocephalous Catholic movement that can be troublesome is constant change. True, a large benefit of our movement is that we can be nimble. As we feel called to a particular lifestyle or charism we can adopt and adapt it at will. This is advantageous as compared to larger, more mainstream groups. The rule of St. Francis, for example, was proposed in 1209 but took until 1223 to receive official written approval.

The downside of this, however, is that things can start and stop at someone's whim. This can give the impression that things are unstable. I will admit that I have been susceptible to these rapid changes in the past. Something sounds effective or good, so why not do it? I'm offering this advice so you can learn from my mistakes. The problem is, however, when it affects the faithful. Too often we have seen examples of religious orders or parishes which have started only to stop abruptly at the decision of the priest. In some cases they begin again anew later, only to stop yet again. The same is true when we pick jurisdictions to join, only to leave them shortly thereafter. The key to building is consistency and a steady pace. Something may not take fruit immediately but it needs time to build awareness and trust. That does not mean that we can never try anything new. Or that our efforts won't be frustrated and we need to re-chart the course. But we have to think very carefully about doing it rapidly or without some type of plan. Beginning the parish of St. Patrick, then starting St. Romulus, then starting St. Agatha only allows our detractors to say "see--they don't know what they're doing." And that benefits no one.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish."

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Quality Control

One of the greatest problems of the autocephalous Catholic movement is the quality control of clergy. The movement as a whole typically attracts people for a variety of reasons. Some legitimately feel their beliefs do not fit with the Roman Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican churches, some wish to be married or in same-sex relationships, some are of another gender, and some could not have been ordained in another church.

I focus here on the last category. There are people who get ordained but have various psychological issues which should have prevented their ordination. I am not being hard on the movement as a whole, because we well know there are many more "mainstream" clergy who also should not have been ordained. The problem here with our movement is quality control. In the Roman Catholic church, for example, there is the requirement of excardination of clergy move dioceses. Generally, bishops will get permission from other bishops to accept a priest and will also receive a dossier of their suitability.

There is, unfortunately, no such process in the movement. It allows unsuitable clerics to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction causing havoc on each one. Bishops often do not ask for letters of incardination because 1) they believe the story of the cleric about their supposed abusive bishop, 2) they really want to grow their church and it doesn't matter if the cleric is properly vetted, 3) they believe (perhaps like a forlorn lover) that they can "change" the cleric. I can honestly say that having a cleric who is psychologically unsuitable is a hardship that is absolutely not worth the time and effort. Like energetic vampires they draw out energy which could be used building up the Kingdom. Moreover, many of them should not be in positions of authority over unsuspecting laity.

I do believe that there is a legitimate issue with clergy who have unsuspectingly found themselves under problematic bishops. Because of the lack of general ordination standards persons can be elevated past their mental or psychological ability. This is a continuation of the discussion above, because problematic priests can become problematic bishops. However, I think it behooves us to at least reach out to a cleric's former bishop and hear their side of the story. Then, weigh the evidence and try to make some reasonable determination if the cleric is fit. If the bishop is abusive, combative, or downright crazy then maybe there is a reason the cleric left! References can also be helpful as can psychological evaluations. It takes a multitude of sources to determine if a person is suitable. And that, for bishops, is the most important part of your job. You have the power to ordain and license people who are entrusted with the souls of others. This is a tremendously frightening and sobering responsibility. It can't be taken lightly.

"The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

You're a Pal and a Confidant

I have found that in the autocephalous Catholic world the bond that is stronger than anything else is friendship. It overrides so-called "communion agreements," distance, liturgics, even sometimes complex (but not generally not basic) doctrine. I think there is a good reason--because we all want to connect with each other on a human level. We want to find others out there, like us, who want to belong. A close friend was recently consecrated a bishop, and I wish I could have attended but travel plans prevented my attendance. The event brought together people of differing views and even some whose official policy is cautious towards interjurisdictional participation. It happened because of common friendship and care for the consecrated, who is an exceptional person.

The modern ecumenical movement hinged on the 1925 Wold Conference of Life and Work in Stockholm, Sweden. During this event, members of churches from around the world (with the exception of Roman Catholics) came together. They shared stories, experiences, and wisdom. Events such as these often serve as a springboard for further efforts to work together, because people simply get to know each other.

It can be common in the movement to attempt replicate the model of larger churches. That is, to say "we're different so we will have nothing do with them." This can be done out of fear, out of the desire to maintain purity, out of a sense of control, out of concern of being affected by a negative image, and out of many other reasons (both good and bad). But, I have found that as people get to know each other organically these arguments often fall apart. Relationships form and people come together--just as is happening with mainstream Christianity in the USA.

What this means for the larger movement, I don't quite know. As I said, there can be legitimate reasons to be wary of a person or group. This largely because the movement does not have the resources of institutional churches, so cannot control for clergy who may be ordained where they really should not have been in the first place. I think we need to control for people who can be emotionally and spiritually damaging. But, I think we have to realize on some level that our attempt at building walls will see them crumble when people meet, speak, and share a meal.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Orthodox Challenges

For quite a long time I have felt a draw to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox view on theology are very appealing to me for their sense of mystery as well as lack of rigid dogmatism. So, too, is the idea of theosis and the spirituality of Orthodoxy. It seems to offer the ability to become truly close to God without the strictness of the West. For the East, economy heals a multitude of problems. Their liturgy and sacramental forms are equally beautiful, although I will confess that their length and complexity seem daunting to me! For this reason, Western Orthodoxy seems to be an ideal draw. Here is the very best of Orthodox theology with Western prayers and a familiarity that feels "like home." It would also take a bit of work to get used to the extensive fasts!

This view towards Western Orthodoxy is the first of three challenges I see for people who are reluctant to "swim the Dnieper." In America, there has been a great interest in Western Orthodoxy. This is often from former Episcopalians, who are upset with the idea of LGBT inclusion as well as women priests. Often attracted, as well, are Roman Catholic traditionalists who are unenthusiastic about the Novus Ordo liturgy. Despite Westerners willingness to become Orthodox it is apparent that the welcome is not always warm. The Antiochians and ROCOR have set up Western Rite Vicariates, but they appear segregated from the rest of Orthodoxy. I would imagine that a Western Orthodox lay person who shows up at a Bulgarian Orthodox Church will likely receive a confused welcome. The truth is, I don't think Orthodoxy quite knows what to do with this little part of the Body of Christ. I suspect that many secretly (or openly) wish they would just adapt to the Eastern Rite. Also challenging is the politics of some of the converts, who can come from traditions that are much more involved in culture wars than many Orthodox. Like the Ordinariate, they seem to be frozen in a place that is neither miserable nor truly welcomed.

The second challenge is the issue of ethnicity. This is not to say that other churches do not experience challenges with ethnicity. In fact, at the turn of the century it was animus towards the Poles which spurred the growth of the Polish National Catholic Church. Not to mention the establishment of buildings like "St. Anthony Italian Catholic parish" and "St. Patrick Irish Catholic parish." But the Orthodox seem to dislike each other with a glee that is unparalleled in other parts of Christianity. Sometimes, it is over power. The case to which I am referring is when one Church ceases to commemorate the leader of another because they have encroached into their (missionary) territory. There are numerous examples of this occurring. Other times, it seems to be just plain ethnocentrism. With territorial boundaries constantly changing in Eastern Europe people built an identity based on a common history, faith, etc. Flecks of nationalism crept into Orthodoxy so extensively that it had to be condemned (phyletism). It has (and continues to) reached a boiling point in America, where multiple jurisdictions overlap. This produces things like the Bulgarian Diocese of the Bulgarian Church as well as the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America. It also can produce hurt feelings at a local level, as numerous articles have detailed instances where people were not welcomed because of their backgrounds. It can seem perplexing to Greek Orthodox Church members why a John Smith or a Mary Jones would want to join their Church. This can, perhaps, be addressed by constant vigilance.

The last challenge is more specific to certain groups. It is the challenge of extremism. This largely seems to escape many "mainstream" Orthodox jurisdictions, except among converts. It seems to be frequently demonstrated in so-called Old Calendarist or resisting groups. Perusing the Facebook profiles and blog posts of clergy of these groups, it is evident that there is something disturbing about their outlook. There can be a promotion of secrecy, conspiracy, and contrarianism. To the average convert these can seem quite off putting. Again, the West is not exempt from these things either. There are numerous Roman Catholic traditionalist groups who believe the "real pope is locked in the basement of the Vatican" or subscribe to elaborate conspiracy theories about those who aim to hurt them, their beloved church, and their nation. In Orthodoxy, however, it seems to be condoned at the highest levels and even promoted. Attempts at rational debate or providing facts can be met with downright hostility. The idea of "everyone is out to get us" promotes insularity as well as fear wrapped in mistrust. Equally challenging is the close tie of religious authorities to political leaders in many countries, where the Church can be seen as an extension of the state. This is a dangerous precedent and, I would venture to say, is entirely foreign to Americans.

For these reasons, I have resisted any closer link to Orthodoxy. In the vagante world, Orthodox infusions can be promoted. Blending Western liturgies with Eastern views is quite popular. It also has the appearance of being exotic, as the average American is unfamiliar with Orthodoxy except when it's been on the Simpsons. This may be a landing point for many people who seek to avoid the above pitfalls.

"With respect to the attitudes of others towards us: We are not responsible for what other people are or what they may do, but we are responsible for our sins against them." - Elder Sergei of Vanves

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What's In a Name?

Well, folks, I'm back. The world has become so crazy that I feel compelled to write again. In 3 years I have abandoned some things, though, and I thought you should hear about it.

I have largely stopped using the phrase "Independent Sacramental Movement." This term was largely popularized by my friend Bishop John Plummer. I have long felt it was useful but, to be honest, I have come to a point where I feel it might be too inclusive. Is there such a thing? Yes, Virginia, there is...! 

I have largely come to realize that such a large tent creates chaos. I personally believe that for there to be validity of sacraments there must be something equivalent to the scholastic phrases of matter, form, and intent. To intend is to "intend to do what the church does." But, for many people this is not clear. If they are Baptists disguised as Catholics, as noted in a previous post, are they "intending" to create sacrificing priests? Or, if esoterically inclined, are they intending to create sacrificing priests who adhere to the Nicene Creed and the tradition of the Church? These are, I believe, important questions. We can form bonds with each other but if we disagree on basic, established dogmas there can be a challenge to the relationship.

There is a bit of discomfort for me with the term "Independent Catholic" as well. After all, our groups were among the first to acknowledge that the divisions of Christianity were largely created by politics rather than faith. Therefore we have often offered the sacraments to various members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are never truly independent because we are united with each other by a common Baptism and a common faith.

Then there's Old Catholic. My own jurisdiction uses a derivative of this term because we believe in the premise and ideals of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland. But, it also causes a hell of a problem. I've had so many people who are "in the know" ask me if I am a SSPX-type priest in the past. Still others are wary of our liturgies because they are concerned they are only in Latin (not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I think I've settled on Autocephalous Catholic. Or maybe Self-Ruling Catholic. Calling myself Catholic but Not Roman sets up a relationship where I define everything I do in relation to Rome. And we have seen how well that works for Continuing Anglicanism! But Autocephalous Catholic insinuates that we control our own destiny. That we are Catholic but not controlled by a foreign patriarch or power. This is, to me, how the Church was envisioned. 

Now I just have to pass out dictionaries so people I meet can look up "Autocephalous."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mental Illness in the ISM

This is, perhaps, a bit more of a serious post than my lighthearted usual posts. It deals with the topic of mental illness. I have been fortunate to have many friends in the psychiatric profession and done significant personal research into this issue. Clergy with mental illness are nothing new. There are numerous examples, in the past, of clergy who have suffered some type of infirmity. For example, modern psychiatric professionals regard Pope Pius IX to have possibly suffered from extreme narcissism or bipolar mania (grandiosity). An example of this is his ring, displayed at the right, which he had set with a cameo image of himself in diamonds.

There were also various saints who, while often displaying holiness of life, had what we now identify as a mental illness. In fact, there can often be a fine line between mental illness and holiness. One man's hallucination is another's vision! This is precisely why it is so important to test the spirit as directed in the Gospel of John ("Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God..".)

Mental illness among clergy is now being addressed. With 500,000 clergy persons in the United States alone (between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy) it is statistically impossible not to have a segment who are mentally ill. Some are able to receive appropriate treatment, while others are asked to leave. This does not have to manifest itself so visibly as sexual misconduct--it can be inappropriate displays of anger, inability to feel empathy, delusions, paranoia, phantom illness, etc.

The ISM is complicated because we do not have a unilateral system for psychological testing. I cannot beg and implore jurisdictions enough to REQUIRE PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING. It can be relatively inexpensive and is absolutely essential to not opening up the jurisdiction the ordaining bishop to lawsuits. It must complement a criminal background check. Even if it can't be universally implemented for all candidates, if there is any question about a candidate from the bishop he should reserve the right to request testing.

I have believed and continued to believe in the goodness of sincere, good people who have been prevented ordination in other churches finding somewhere to minister in the ISM. Because I may not agree with their candidacy does not mean that they cannot share God's love with others. However, there are some people who either cannot be ordained because it is dangerous to the general public or who need treatment from medicine or therapy to manage their illness before they are able to minister. Unfortunately, so much stigma surrounds mental illness that they may not be comfortable being honest about their issues.

People of faith and clergy should be vigilant about issues of mental illness. There are certain warning signs that are evident. Studies have pointed to the hypothesis that gay men and women may be more susceptible to borderline personality disorder. This can be apparent in intense personal relationships, addictions, frequent created illnesses, abandonment fears, etc. Men in general may be more susceptible to antisocial personality disorder and may display a lack of remorse, aggressiveness, deception, etc. Narcissism and other personality disorders may present themselves as well.

The more we can be open about the issue of mental illness the better we can understand clergy we know or who may seek ordination. Again, it is not a shameful issue but one which presents in every profession, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.