Continuing Church Experience in Canada and South Africa

Wrote (Fr) Michael Shier:

WHAT CAN I TELL you from the Pacific Rim? We had a great Christmas, zipping from church to church, staying with different families. We finally got to open our presents on Holy Innocents day. It sounds wonderfully energetic, and it was. However, it’s easy to get over inflated. We are still a skeletal existence. There are still not enough pieces of the jigsaw on the table to persuade `impaired’ Anglican stragglers of our viability. The truth is that Continuing churches have to bide their time. We sow seed etc. It’s an honourable calling. The new ice age of ‘impaired’ Anglicanism will crack one day. The ice is enormously thick. But it won’t resist African volatility.

In 1992 the ordination of women went through in South Africa. In all the resulting confusion some of our people looked to England for leadership. A `divine’ of some venerability came to address them. The meetings were fraught, turbulent and inconclusive. In desperation, someone asked about the continuing churches. Our eminence said, by way of discouragement, that continuing Churchmen were `pathetic people who worship in garages’

That was the breaking point for Traditionalists in South Africa. From now on the leadership of England was in doubt. For we all know that the basic instruction is `Keep the Faith’. You just do it. Wherever you are. This is obvious to Africans missionised by Mirfield and Cowley fathers.

So our people turned to Bishop Mercer, a Mirfield father and their one time neighbour in Zimbabwe. Bishop Mercer, running a fragile church that spans Canada. the second largest country in the world, provided immediate help. and still does. The largest African parish [was] run by Fr Ball, a Canadian priest.

But let us go back. The people of this parish had fallen foul of their Bishop in about 1987. They had refused to accept the ministrations of the charismatic priest who bad been foisted upon them despite repeated appeals to the Bishop to provide someone with a sense of church order. As a result of the impasse there were no baptisms, confirmations, masses or authorised burials for 5 years. But they would not be intimidated.

Now, with a treasurer who runs a chain of liquor stores, a warden known as Big Bertha, a people addicted both to partying and the Catholic religion, they have built our first church in South Africa. On Nov 2, 1997, this church, built to seat 350 people, was inundated with over 700 at the first mass.

And just in case the 12 other outlets in S. Africa be thought to be pathetic, take note that the next church is planned for Johannesburg.

The sheer vitality of it all provides an answer to the question that has been on my mind for the last few years. Are we just peddling some cranky form of fin de siecle `Englishness’ ?

Now that Anglicanism has surrendered its catholicity, is `Englishness’ all that is left? I can remember feeling, rather pathetically, when I arrived in Vancouver that whatever happens ‘there is some corner in a foreign field which is for ever’ Anglican. Well, there is more to all this than some pathetic form of sentimentality. Sentimentality does not win converts. Sentimentality has no vitality. Sentimentality does not produce a superb new version of the Liturgy in Afrikaans.

Yes, there are lots of ghettos. Where else do you start? The Chief Rabbi made an apposite comment in his response to ‘Faith in the City’. No one in their right mind intends to stay in the ghetto. You must have the guts to transform it or to work your way out of it.

But it is the fact that anything existed at all that has now led the Anglicans of the Torres Strait Islands to petition for membership of the Traditional Anglican Communion. My Bishop rang one night to say that Bishop Haley was at that moment hearing the confessions of 17 priests and 10 deacons prior to their admission to the Traditional Anglican Communion. A later report told us that the ensuing dancing went on till midnight. Sounds like the catholic religion to me.

What have they done? They have done precisely what we were encouraged to do while I was still in England – made an exodus. This, of course. is more difficult than it sounds. Even if you can get out, you then have to face the wilderness. And the wilderness is hardly an ideal world. Those who would have joined you if it was an ideal world tell you that the wilderness is not for then. `No buildings, Father, no money and we are too old to start again’

Well tough. More important than all this is the fact that the wilderness is the place of judgement. The Israelites were called into the wilderness, into exile into the place of separation. That is where life under Cod properly is. Judgement begins at the house of God. If we are not living under judgement, we are not living the Christian life. So however difficult it may be and however much we may be reviled, that is just too bad.

At least, in the wilderness you are not living on enemy territory. You do not feel the duress of alien power. The fear of the Bishop’s guillotine hanging over one’s pension, the pressure to write essays expressing opinions one disagrees with and radical lack of confidence in what is going on.

The question remains: “How happeneth it, Israel. that thou art in thine enemies’ land, that thou art waxen old in a strange country?” [Baruch 3:10]

Now there is more on (Fr) Michael Shier and his group in Canada here.

HT:  Charles Coulombe




Groups in Canada Waiting to Be Received

Deborah Gyapong writes:

I heard that two weeks ago or so, two more groups formerly of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC) were received into the Catholic Church — a group led by (Fr.) Michael Shier in Vancouver, and a group led by (Fr.) David Skelton in Edmonton.

I have not heard for sure whether this happened — anyone from Vancouver want to get in touch with us? And I hear Edmonton is still waiting. Here’s a link to a story about the Edmonton group in Western Catholic Reporter:

EDMONTON – Six Anglicans from Edmonton want to join the Roman Catholic Church under special provisions handed down by the pope two years ago.

In 1976, about 700 Anglicans met in St. Louis, Mo., and decided to establish a new church that would uphold the traditional teachings of the Anglican Church, particularly in regards to apostolic succession. The new church adopted the name, “Anglican Catholic Church.”

The Rev. David Skelton, a local Anglican priest, said those with “Catholic leanings” wanted to eventually seek full communion with the See of Peter. He referred to this long process as one of “prayerful waiting.”

I believe there is still a group in formation to be received in Montreal.



Australia: Priests Could be Ordered to Report Crime Confessions

The prospect of government forcing priests to report what was said in confession is the sign of a “police state mentality”, says a priest and law professor.

Hundreds of years of Catholic tradition in the confessional could be overturned by Victoria’s inquiry into child sex abuse.

Priests would be ordered to reveal crimes told to them in private confessions under one proposal before the inquiry.

But priests say they will resist being forced to reveal secrets of the confessional.

Priest and law professor Father Frank Brennan said the move would be a restriction on religious freedom.

“If a parliamentary inquiry were to recommend a law by parliament saying that priests were forced to disclose anything revealed to them in the sacrament of confession I think that would be a serious interference with the right of religious freedom,” Father Brennan said today. 

“Indeed it would be a very sad day if we moved to a police state mentality, it’s almost of Russian dimensions to suggest Catholic priests would have to reveal to state authorities what went on under the seal of the confessional.

“I am one of the priests who, if such a law were enacted, would disobey it and if need be I would go to jail.”

Father Brennan said disclosures to priests in the confessional were different to those made to doctors or counsellors, or even when a priest was acting in a counsellor role.

“If it were in the sacred realm of the sacrament of confession which in Catholic theology is akin to the penitent being in conversation with God, where the priest is simply an agent, then definitely the state has no role of interference in that.”

Father Brennan said he expected police would have other more important leads when investigating crime than what was said in the confessional.

“They probably don’t have much of an idea about what people confess in confessions anyway, I think most of it, if not all of it would be of no interest to police.”

A parliamentary committee also will look at radical new laws that would see bishops face criminal charges for the misconduct of their priests.

Founder and coordinator of Melbourne Victims Collective, Helen Last, welcomed the proposal.

“I think it’s great, I think it’s very important,” Ms Last said today.

The Melbourne Collective works with survivors of clergy and/or religious abuse and Ms Last said she had recently spoken with a survivor of alleged abuse by a Catholic priest who had reported it in confessions over a 10-year period.

“She spoke to them, while the abuse was happening, in the confessional … many of the priests just told her to stay away from him, one priest fell asleep while she was telling him and others basically said ‘go away and change your behaviour’,” Ms Last said.

“Priests need to be mandated to report from within the confessional and without the confessional and they urgently need to be trained about appropriately referring victims.”

Submissions are being accepted for the inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups.

Ms Last said the collective was working with 100 people to help them complete submissions.

The inquiry was set up by the Baillieu Government in April.

The inquiry is being conducted by State Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee, chaired by Liberal MP Georgie Crozier, with Labor MP Frank McGuire as deputy.

A guide released by the committee asks those making submissions to consider whether mandatory reporting rules should be imposed on the confessional.

“Should the sacrament of the Catholic confessional remain sacrosanct in these circumstances?” the paper says.

It also asks whether tough new laws should be imposed on the church hierarchy.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne declined to comment on the guide, saying it do not want to pre-empt the work of the inquiry.

“The Catholic Church will co-operate with the inquiry,” archdiocese spokesman James O’Farrell said.

But the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has previously said the confessional must remain sacrosanct.

In Ireland, where similar laws have been introduced, priests have vowed to defy the orders, which could see them jailed for up to 10 years.

The Reverend Father John Walshe, chairman of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, said the confessional was not a place of counselling.

“The universal response of priests to any attempt to demand they pass on information they have received in the confessional will be absolutely negative,” said Fr Walshe, parish priest of St Patrick’s, Mentone.

“Priests have in the past history of the church been martyred for refusing to break the seal of the confessional andI believe that priests today would continue to do the same.”

A spokesman for the Baillieu Government said the committee had sought submissions on a wide range of issues.

The sex abuse inquiry is due to present its report to State Parliament by April.

Australia’s cardinal George Pell has been approached for comment.



New York’s Oldest Working Priest: 92-year-old Fr Gerald Ryan

A tribute to enduring faith and steadfast love, in (of all places) the New York Times:

It was the bell that first called to him. It was a Sunday afternoon in the mid-1920s, and his family was living in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx. When his priest rang the bell during Mass, Gerald Ryan, then about 4, thought the beautiful sound was coming from the monstrance that held the host.

At age 7, he was hit by a car, and lost his hearing in one ear. The bell remained in his memory, as if Jesus were calling him in stereo.

Now, he is a monsignor, and he has been a priest for 67 years. He still runs a parish, St. Luke’s in Mott Haven, and he is 92, making him the oldest working priest in New York City.

“Maybe in the country,” Father Ryan said recently in his broad, courtly accent that is part Bronx, part Fred Astaire. “Maybe anywhere! I’ve been here forever.”

The priesthood is graying: the average age of Roman Catholic priests in the United States rose to 63 in 2009 from 35 in 1970, according to a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And with fewer young men entering seminaries, more priests are working past 75, the formal retirement age under canon law. In the New York Archdiocese, for example, where only one man was ordained into the priesthood this year, about 25 men over age 75 are still working as priests, and several are older than 85.

In Father Ryan’s tiny office, shaded by a burgundy roll-down shade held up with a paper clip, he reflected recently on his nearly 70 years in service. He has been at St. Luke’s since 1966; a certificate from Pope Benedict XVI, awarded on the occasion of 40 years in the parish, was propped up on a brown-painted radiator. An award from Father Ryan’s previous parish, where he started in 1945, was tucked behind a photograph of him with Pope John Paul II.

Father Ryan lives simply, with no air-conditioning, or even a fan, in his rectory quarters. For breakfast, he has toast, except on Thursdays, when he eats an egg. He buys quarts of soup, which he freezes and defrosts for lunch. A housekeeper fixes dinner.

His journey as a priest, he said, has been away from the formalities, trappings and titles of the church, in search of a deeper meaning of the Gospel.

“I think I have come a long, long way from when I was ordained,” he said. As a seminarian, he said, he liked the idea of saying Mass, hearing confession and being addressed as “father,” but that was “like a fairy tale.”

“It isn’t about serving the church in the way you have envisioned, from the altar, and from the position of authority and power,” he said. “But it is learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is.”

Father Ryan was born in 1920 in Upper Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents; two years later, the family moved to Pelham Bay, after his father became a motorman for the IRT subway line. As a boy, Gerald Ryan was an altar server; he began seminary studies in high school.

“I never made a decision that I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “I just grew up with the idea.”

In the 1960s, he joined the March on Washington, and stood with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala. In the 1970s, he grew his thick reddish hair down to his shoulders and helped to build low-income housing for Spanish-speaking immigrants in the South Bronx.

His first assignment as a priest — at St. Anthony of Padua on East 166th Street in the Bronx — shocked him. The neighborhood was predominantly black, and he had grown up, he said, “with the idea, being white, that Roman Catholics were white people that went to church and kept the Commandments.” But, he said, he soon fell in love with the parish, with its sense of solidarity, brotherhood and faith. And when the civil rights movement started, he joined it.

Read the rest.

Below, Fr. Ryan’s breviary, held together with tape.




St Mary of the Angels, Hollywood (ACA – TAC) in the LA Times

[For a background to the situation, on this blog, go here, here, here, or here.]

Loz Feliz Anglican parish has been embroiled in an odd sort of holy war since some of the 60 members voted to join the Catholic Church. How it will end, God only knows.

The Los Angeles Times:

Under the glimmer of a fingernail moon, Christopher Kelley tiptoed toward a two-story, Spanish Mission-style building in Los Feliz. He and his crew were jittery. What if a security guard spotted them?

A few blocks away, late-night revelers mingled in trendy bars. But Kelley’s target was dark and hushed — exactly as he wanted.

The building’s front door was protected by a padlocked, wrought-iron gate. So the crew crept around back, sidestepping a few jugs of rainwater and a tomato plant. They strained to hear whether anyone had followed them.


Then a locksmith pried open the door.

Motion-sensitive lights flickered on. Kelley felt a rush of joy. For the first time in weeks, the priest was back inside his church.

St. Mary of the Angels is an Anglican parish embroiled in an odd sort of holy war.

On one side are the Rev. Kelley and his supporters, who say their rivals are resisting the parish’s efforts to join the Roman Catholic Church. On the other: parishioners and Anglican authorities who accused Kelley of wrongdoing, took him to court, ran him out of the church and changed the locks.

Church quarrels are frequently decided in courtrooms, particularly when property is involved. A few years back, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles took a dispute with a breakaway parish all the way to the California Supreme Court.

But the St. Mary’s saga is notable for its viciousness. The church has perhaps 60 members, and the bickering among them has been marked by incendiary accusations and screaming matches that often end with “God is on our side!” The parish itself became such a battleground that for a time community groups were shooed out and services canceled.

“Never in the annals of church history has it gone down quite like this,” said Canon Anthony Morello of the Anglican Church in America, which has sided with the group trying to oust Kelley.

Kelley arrived as parish priest in 2007, having been chosen by St. Mary’s elected board of directors. Now 65, he is white-haired, blue-eyed, slight in build. He speaks in a soft, somewhat grandfatherly tone.

“He was just so pleasant,” said former board member Keith Kang, now a leader of the rival faction.

Kelley and his family — the Anglican church allows married priests — had been living in Michigan, where he worked as an archivist. They relished the summery feel of Los Angeles and the parish’s only-in-Hollywood history. (Its founding priest, Neal Dodd, had bit parts in dozens of films. He usually played a clergyman.)

Kelley and his wife, Mary Alice, moved into the church cottage with two of their children. They embraced the eclectic mix of congregants, many of them converts from other faiths, and the church’s black cat, Vesper.

Somewhere along the way, the goodwill crumbled. The two sides can’t even agree on how.

Kelley says the troubles stem from his enthusiasm for joining the Roman Catholic Church, a door that Pope Benedict XVI recently opened for Anglican parishes. At Kelley’s urging, St. Mary’s members have twice voted to head down that path.

“We can see the dispiritedness of the Anglican movement,” Kelley said. “Pope Benedict’s offer was a sanctuary for us.”

Such a step would sever their ties to the Anglican Church in America, a group of conservative parishes that long ago broke with the larger and better-known Episcopal Church. Kelley portrayed the effort to remove him as a last-ditch attempt to remain in the Anglican fold.

Kelley’s adversaries said the dispute has little to do with faith. Instead, in court papers they described him as a tyrant who mishandled church money — allegedly paying a dental bill with parish funds — and who threatened to excommunicate those who crossed him. Kelley denied the allegations.

Several longtime parishioners had begged Anglican authorities to discipline him. Langley Brandt said in an email to a church official that Kelley was prone to “violent temper tantrums” in which “his face goes red, his hands stiffen and become like a skeleton, and he screams at you with eyes budging.”

In December, a majority of the parish board asked the priest to leave. He didn’t. In April, Anglican officials said they, too, tried to push him out.

Kelley said the bishop who wrote the letter suspending him had no authority to do so, and he continued leading church services.

Kelley’s last Sunday Mass in the sanctuary, on May 20, included a reading from the Gospel of John. It began “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

His rivals did not attend. In court papers, they alleged that Kelley staffed church services with security guards, forcing his adversaries to worship at a condominium complex. (He said that wasn’t the case.)

Soon after, they secured a temporary restraining order against the priest. It barred Kelley from acting as St. Mary’s rector, pending a hearing on the allegations. Church authorities also asked the court to do what they had been unable to: kick Kelley out for good.

HT:  John Bruce