Saturday, October 6, 2012

California Bishops: A Classic He-Said, He-Said

You'll be seated shortly, Bishop Andrus.
Crusty Old Dean found himself pondering the situation in San Francisco over the supposed seating or non-seating of the Episcopal Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, at the installation of new Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Luca Brasi -- I mean Salvator Cordileone. (OK, I know the whole Italian-American stereotype is a cheap shot -- but come on, doesn't that sound like someone who got started in the olive oil business with Vito?)   

Before getting COD's take on things, let's allow those involved to tell their versions of what happened.

From Bishop Andrus' blog:  "I was dropped off at the cathedral at 1:30PM by my assistant...I was in the lower level area to which I was directed by 1:40. The instructions the Archdiocese had given my assistant were that I should be at St. Mary's by 1:45. The service was scheduled to begin at 2.

"I identified myself to an assistant to the archbishop, who spoke to someone through a headset, saying, 'Bishop Andrus is here.' An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself. This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me.

"At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed.

"At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, 'I think I understand, and feel I should leave.' Her response was, 'Thank you for being understanding.' I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun."

From the Facebook page of the archdiocese of California:
"First, we apologize to Bishop Andrus, and meant no disrespect to him or the Episcopal Church. He was an invited guest to the Installation, and we regret any misunderstandings that occurred. Bishop Andrus was part of the Interfaith Procession, which had been seated as one of the first groups invited to the Installation near the front of Cathedral. He was brought into a waiting area, and the Cathedral staff 
were waiting for the best moment to usher him into his assigned seating without disrupting the proceedings. However when the staff returned to bring Bishop Andrus to his seat, as indicated in his blog, the Bishop had already left. Again we sincerely offer our apology to Bishop Andrus for this unfortunate incident, and look forward to working him, and with the rest of the ecumenical interfaith community in helping to re-build and restore the House of God."

Crusty Old Dean is not really interested in determining who is correct in this He-Said, He-Said issue.   Like many things, he suspects both are right to some degree but the reality of the situation is more complex and somewhere in the middle. Rather, he would like to begin with a story, then make two reflections.

In 2003, COD was ADPBEIR (Associate Deputy for the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations; I know, it doesn't pop! like COD does as an acronym, so he will only use ADPBEIR to set the stage), sitting in Minneapolis, MN, while the House of Deputies voted on whether to give its consent to the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay man to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Communion.  FYI, he was not the first gay bishop by a longshot, nor the first openly gay bishop -- Otis Charles had come out over a decade earlier, after retiring as bishop of Utah.  But COD digresses, as he often does.
Future COD was sitting next to a prior archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop William Levada.  At that time, Archbishop Levada was co-chair of ARCUSA (the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the USA -- and that's a real acronym, not one of my made-up ones!) and an invited guest.  COD was explaining to him the intricacies of Episcopal Church polity: telling the Archbishop that if the secretary of the House stood up and began to read the results and only announced "no" votes in the vote by orders, it doesn't mean it was unanimous against, it means it passed, consent was given. (Because if a vote by orders doesn't pass or fail by a certain threshold, rather than reading all the votes, they only read the smaller number.  Thus if they announce a "no" vote, it means the measure passed.)  At the first "no" Archbishop Levada looked at COD and I said to him, "Archbishop, this still needs to go to the House of Bishops for consent.  If they also give consent, in some ways this changes nothing -- the Episcopal Church has openly gay clergy, and this election took place perfectly within the bound of our polity. I also am not pollyannish [yes:  COD did use this word to Levada] enough not to realize in some ways this changes a lot."  Levada said, "We will need to prepare a statement, which we will release if the House of Bishops also gives consent.  Can you come with me to the hotel?"  So COD walked out of the Convention Center, down the block, and the Archbishop asked me to wait while he went up, called the chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and discussed a statement.  It wouldn't take long, he said, they already had a couple of rough drafts.

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.
While waiting, COD took the advice of one of his heroes:  Bill Lee started Game 7 of the 1975 World Series for the Red Sox (COD has met him twice and has two autographs from him) .  He was asked what he was going to do if the Sox won.  He replied, "Win or lose, I'm going to the Eliot Lounge."  (COD actually got to go just before it closed in 1996; what a magical place.)  No matter what statement was brought down, COD was going to the hotel bar for some Scotch.

Archbishop Levada came down with the statement, COD invited him for a drink while COD read through it.  It wasn't long; it said the Catholic Church was committed to dialogue while restating the Catholic understanding on homosexuality.  I thanked him for it.  He then said, "This consecration will have implications for how our churches understand morality and sexual ethics.  We have some serious concerns about what the Episcopal Church's understandings of moral theology and sexual ethics are in light of this action."  I replied, as calmly as I could, "Archbishop, I also hope you understand many Episcopalians have concerns about the Roman Catholic Church's ethics and morality, in light of recent events."  I was, of course, referring to the scandal that exploded in 2002, and still reverberates across the Catholic Church, over handling priests who committed sexual misconduct.  He looked momentarily surprised; I don't think he expected any push back.  Then I said, "I am going to walk this over to the Presiding Bishop."  He nodded, we shook hands, and I left.

Several years later Archbishop Levada was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest ranking American in the Vatican and watchdog of Catholic doctrine and practice.

I thought of this story as I read through events of the past days.  Why is that? It's not that Episcopalians and Catholics don't have real similarities and profound differences.  We do.  It's how we discuss them, not the differences or similarities, which matter. Archbishop Levada had some hard words for me.  I had some hard words for him:  I was not about to be lectured about ethics and morality by an institution that spent the better part of a generation covering up widespread sexual misconduct.  [And, before anyone gets too sanctimonious, the Episcopal Church is guilty of its own myriad of sins in this regard.  As recently as the mid-1990s, Presiding Bishop Browning knowingly covered up the sexual misconduct allegations against Bishop Donald Davis, retired bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania. The authorities were not contacted. Nothing was made public. Bishop Davis was asked to "resign" from the House of Bishops, seek counseling, and refrain from episcopal actions. This sexual abuse apparently involved abuse of minors. Yet none of this seems to dim the lionization and ceaseless praise heaped upon Bishop Browning.  Talk to any Episcopalian in a position of diocesan or national authority in the 1970s and 1980s, and they could tell you stories, whether they choose to or not, that will may your hair curl about coverups in the Episcopal Church.]

We had hard words for one another, but we said them to one another, in private.  Later, we did so in the context of our formal discussions: ARCUSA chose specifically to take on the topic of human sexuality and address these questions head-on.  

All of this came to COD after reading this set of exchanges.  COD would like to make two points:

1)  Is this He-Said, He-Said a reflection of our social media age?  Look at how this situation is being discussed: on a blog and a Facebook posting. Back in 2003, what I eventually walked over to the Presiding Bishop was a signed copy of a fax sent to Archbishop Levada by the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Seems almost quaint, and from another world, what Archbishop Levada and COD did all those years ago.  A fax and a drink in the bar.

COD is not some dinosaur; he thinks social media is a fantastic thing which is connecting people in new ways, and reshaping our understanding of community with profound and long-lasting implications.  However, it is simply inadequate for some things.  These exchanges reveals its inadequacies, as both sides have used social media solely to present their side of events.

2)  And, in doing so, reveals another unfortunate aspect:  Neither side took the opportunity to take the high road.  Had Gene Robinson been elected in 2012 instead of 2003, it's quite likely that the concerns which Archbishop Levada and I shared with one another privately would have been bellowed from social media: with people in the Episcopal Church pre-emptively saying we won't be lectured by those Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholics accusing Episcopalians of blessing an abomination.

Neither side took the high road here.  Bishop Andrus could have expressed his deep and profound disappointment and reaffirmed his commitment to conversation and dialogue.   Instead, if his version is absolutely correct, in his zeal to ensure his victimhood Bishop Andrus quite possibly put a low-ranking female employee of the archdiocese in a very difficult position with his blog post, since it is this person who confirms the intentional exclusion.  

On the other hand, the archdiocese could simply have apologized for what was an oversight and misunderstanding.  Instead, the archdiocese's facebook posting reads like a back-handed apology to someone they portray as a diva who arrived late and stormed out.

Perhaps this is a parable for the limits of social media, which, instead of bridging gaps, can often serve as an echo chamber for what we want to be true, and create as many boundaries as it seeks to overcome.


  1. Yep - you nailed it.

    If anybody's wondering why people are leaving the church in droves, they need look no further than this story....

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Nice article, thanks for the information.
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  4. I was wondering what went on! Thanks for the reporting and for the background.

  5. Perhaps you are not aware, but a few days before the installation, Bishop Andrus wrote to our diocese to welcome the new archbishop. In this letter, Bishop Andrus walked the middle path, explaining that despite disagreeing with the new archbishop on many points as Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of California he would work with the new archbishop on areas where they agreed. In this letter Bishop Andrus reaffirmed his commitment to including LGBT people in our church. Perhaps most important, he called on us to be gracious and welcoming should any Roman Catholics visit our congregations.

    There were some among our diocese who felt that Bishop Andrus should have refused to attend the installation as a protest against the new archbishop’s support of Prop 8, his statement that same sex marriage is the work of the devil, and his pronouncement that Roman Catholics who support gay marriage should not receive communion. Other Bay Area Episcopalians applauded our bishop’s willingness to be clear on areas of disagreement, publicly affirm the place of LGBT people in our church, and cooperate on areas of common concern.

    In recent years, a cottage industry has developed centered on publicly pillaging anyone in San Francisco who deviates from an ultra conservative view of Roman Catholic theology. These self-appointed guardians of their faith have even railed against Bay Area groups that have no affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church. These watchdogs took great umbrage at Bishop Andrus’ letter, and they expressed their disdain for our bishop online.

    Within this context, it is naive to assume that the absence of Bishop Andrus at the installation would not be noticed and commented up in social media. Rather than encourage a spate of rumor and innuendo, Bishop Marc explained why he was not able to participle in the service. If he had not, others would have reported and commented on his absence. Even back in the “good old days” of the fax machine, we still knew that in a situation like this one either is open with the public or is savaged by the public.

    Initially I thought Bishop Marc’s experience could well have been explained by the difficulty some in the archdiocese seem to have in communicating with each other. This is an archdiocese where, a few weeks ago, an LGBT group was initially denied rental use a of parish hall in the Castro because “we have a new archbishop.” That “misunderstanding” has since been clarified. So it is quite possible the current debacle could have grown out of a failure to communicate to Bishop Andrus (a) what time the interfaith procession was to start; (b) why he had been asked not to process with other interfaith leaders; (c) that the archdiocesan staff was planning to seat him in just a few minutes, etc. But if, as the diocesan spokesman claimed, this was all a misunderstanding then it is one that the new archbishop could have easily resolved. His failure to do that makes it clear that reconciliation and interfaith cooperation is not highly valued in the new order.

  6. Hello Fr Thomas: Thanks for your thoughtful post. Yes, I'm well aware of the local dynamics, including Bishop Andrus' letter. I did my PhD at CDSP, still have many good friends in the area, and like Bishop Andrus quite a bit, I was thrilled when he was elected.

    As I mentioned in my post, I do not deny that there are profound and significant differences between the two communions, and I happen to agree with Bishop Andrus on pretty much everything when it comes to those differences. I also think both sides could have better handled communication around the matter itself, which continues the dynamic of talking about one rather than to one another.


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