In what could prove to be a made for TV miniseries, an inhibited Anglo-Catholic priest has broken into and illegally occupied his former church, defied a court order, allegedly taken tens of thousands of dollars of church funds, been accused of stealing parish financial records, lying, deception, gossip, character assassination and dividing his small congregation by wanting to join the Roman Catholic Church through the Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate.
It is being described by onlookers and observers as a “bizarre drama” involving a bishop, a Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in America (ACA), the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Los Angeles Police Department, a frustrated woman judge and a priest, Fr. Christopher P. Kelley who along with his family and a handful of followers, has taken over the lower portion (downstairs area) of the church, covered the windows refusing to leave the parish and rectory, rejecting an inhibition and must now face a trial and possible defrocking.
The end of the siege, now its fifth day, seems nowhere in sight, with no court order demanding his removal currently in effect and a reluctant Los Angeles Police Department to cross church/state lines.
The history of this parish and its priest began in April when VOL first broke the story http://tinyurl.com/d74o6vp that Fr. Kelley had been inhibited. Financial improprieties were alleged and the IRS threatened to seize the church’s property. Kelley was inhibited by Bishop Stephen D. Strawn of the Anglican Church of America (ACA) Diocese of the West on multiple charges of financial mismanagement and “conduct unbecoming a priest.” Kelley said he would not comply with the inhibition “because God told me” and because he did not recognize Bishop Strawn as his bishop. He said Archbishop Louis Falk was his bishop. Bishop Falk later stated he was not asked nor did he offer Episcopal oversight to Fr. Kelley or St. Mary of the Angels. However, St Mary’s appealed to Falk but was never under Falk, as Falk merely facilitated St. Mary’s to go to the Patrimony under then TAC Bishop David L. Moyer. Kelley has not just claimed the Patrimony continues on under Moyer, but another time before has claimed that St. Mary’s was under Archbishop Falk…
At the heart of the matter is the issue of who has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over St. Mary of the Angels at the time this all began with the inhibition…
… On Saturday, June 16, just before 2am, Fr. Kelley’s, former senior warden Alan Trimpi, and others engineered a break in at St. Mary of the Angels, they contacted a locksmith whom they were able to convince they had a right to access the building. The locksmith cut out a lock on the external door leading to the downstairs parish library, directly adjacent from the small cottage in which Kelley and family have been living since he took over as rector. (The reason the removal of the lock was necessary on their part was because all external and a few internal locks were changed by vestry members the day after the temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Ann Jones against Fr. Kelley on 25 May.)
Kelley and company then made their way through the library and into the rest of the downstairs parish hall. They made their way upstairs and were headed towards the parish office when they were confronted by both a private security guard (hired by the vestry) and a parishioner who had voluntarily been sleeping on site to help provide additional security. The police were called but reportedly did not arrive for nearly three hours. In the meantime, the guard, parishioner, and a vestry member who was also on site prevented Kelley and company from taking over the parish office.
The Police eventually arrived…
At some point it was announced that Brian Marsh, presiding bishop of the ACA, had agreed to come to St. Mary’s from his home in Massachusetts and was due to arrive later that evening around 9pm. The reason Marsh was asked and agreed to travel cross-country to be physically present at St. Mary’s was because one of the reasons cited by LAPD officers just after they arrived in response the break in was to verify Kelley’s letter of inhibition as well as Marsh’s letter explicitly firing/removing him from St. Mary’s. Following verification the LAPD still declined to forcibly remove Kelley from the property citing their department’s policy not to intervene internal religious disputes…
It was decided the night before that given the occupation of the downstairs parish hall by Kelley and his supporters that it would be too great a risk to hold Mass in the church on Sunday morning. The church was closed on Sunday. Despite this, Kelley invited several of his supporters and other parishioners to attend services down in the occupied parish hall…
On Monday June 18, Kelley and lawyers appeared in court on an Ex Parte Application to “restore the status quo” that existed before the TRO was granted on 25 May…
Kelley has publicly stated that the issue is his and the majority of St. Mary’s who want to go to Rome through the Pope’s offer of Anglicanorum Coetibus an Ordinariate under the purview of Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson a former Episcopal Presiding Bishop. They had written to him asking for such spiritual sanctuary.
On May 3rd Steenson wrote to St. Mary’s expressing some misgivings over unresolved disciplinary charges against him and them. “Until these internal issues have been resolved, Fr. Kelley’s candidacy for ordination under the terms of Anglicanorum Coetibus and the particular law of the Ordinariate cannot move forward.
“We are not in a position to make determinations regarding the authority of the canons of the ACA, the status of the Patrimony of the Primate, or determining who has canonical oversight of St. Mary’s. We have no jurisdiction in this matter and no authority over the rector or the parish. This issue must be determined within the jurisdiction and structures of the ACA before Saint Mary’s can move forward as a parish,” wrote Steenson, the Ordinariate’s delegate to supervise the transition process. The issue of the parish’s move to Rome came to a grinding halt…
On May 3 the Rector of Saint Mary of the Angels, wrote an “Open Response” to Msgr. Steenson’s admitting there have indeed “been obstacles in our path, and these are being overcome.”
They said that all Vestry members signed the letter to Cardinal Wuerl on December 11, 2011, expressing the stated will of the Parish (by over 80%) to join the Ordinariate soon after its formal erection in 2012. This was also acknowledged by the Cardinal’s office. Ironically it was December 2011 when the vestry voted 5 to 4 in vote of ‘no confidence’ in Kelley. They demanded his resignation then. He refused, and Bp. Moyer refused to inhibit and remove him as he had promised.
They also said the nine points in Bishop Steven Strawn’s April 2 “Notice OF Inhibition” (sic) were all falsehoods. “They rest only on slander, gossip, or speculation. Some of them are actually impossible, as does appear to any careful examiner. Bishop Strawn has never had legitimate jurisdiction over St .Mary of the Angels,” they concluded.
ACA Presiding Bishop Brian Marsh
Concerned that the parish temperature was reaching an incendiary level, now that the courts and police were involved and the priest and his family had taken over the church basement, ACA Presiding Bishop Brian Marsh dropped everything and travelled last Saturday from his home in Massachusetts, arriving late in the evening and went straight to the church.
“I saw a parish in considerable conflict, a church under siege. I went immediately downstairs where Father Kelley, his family members and a few supporters were holed up. I wanted to talk with him, but he talked on his cell phone the entire time. I waited approximately 20 minutes, then left. I was concerned that he refused to speak to me. All I wished to do was get his perspective and see what could be done to defuse the situation. Some priests, and indeed some congregations, create conflict between people. I have asked that the Los Angeles Police Department implement its conflict resolution program. I have also asked the police department to ensure that church services may be held without disruption.”
Bishop Marsh noted that the issues underlying this conflict appear to be about money and the control of church property. St. Mary’s is an extremely wealthy congregation. The rental income from outside sources alone is reported to be $20,000 a month. According to ACA procedures, a parish priest may not control parish funds other than a discretionary account. Father Kelley has reportedly taken money from church funds.
Marsh said that the Ordinariate was a complicated issue for this parish. Some parishioners stated that they wanted it in order to get rid of Kelley, as the Roman Catholic Church would assign a priest and Kelley would be replaced. “Some members have backtracked because the Roman Catholic Church would take the property and the rental income.” The Ordinariate now seems to be off the table.
Following Monday’s court appearance, Kelley requested to receive the property, but the court dismissed the claim. Kelley then purportedly called the Roman Catholic Church archbishop and told him: “we are ready to join the Ordinariate.” The majority of the parish seems to be in favor of removing Kelley. A source said he took $75,000 from the church, but he has a law firm working for him pro bono, though it is suspected by some that the firm was retained under false pretenses when Kelley misrepresented the nature of the legal action against him. There is a level of desperation in the man. The threat is about control. There is only a small cult left that have basically glommed on to Kelley and they have seized the church. The majority of the parish seems to be in favor of removing Kelley.
Kelley does have his supporters. The Rev. Fr. Lawrence B. Wheeler, priest-in-charge, Holy Cross Church, Honolulu who is under the ACA, Diocese of the West, waiting to go into the Ordinariate said the attempt to oust Fr. Kelley and the vestry by taking them to court was “lawless”. He wrote an ‘Open Appeal’ to Bishop Marsh urging him to be magnanimous and just let St. Mary’s go before there is even more suffering from divisions in the body of Christ. Layman John Bruce is also a vigorous supporter of Kelley as is Susan Aldrich.
VOL was told that a canonical presentment may soon be brought against Fr. Kelley and that an ecclesiastical court will likely be convened to decide on possible defrocking.