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FLORIDA: Priest Tells Horror Story of Abandonment, Rejection and Neglect

FLORIDA: Priest Tells Horror Story of Abandonment, Rejection and Neglect
Abandonment is a two way street, says orthodox Anglican priest

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The Rev. Harald Haugan, or Whitey as he is known to his friends, was a priest in The Episcopal Church for nearly 50 years, 20 of those years he spent as the founding rector of All Souls' in Jacksonville, Florida, a church he served with distinction and honor, making it one of the most successful Evangelical Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Florida.

His parish was named after All Souls Langham Place in London where the legendary John R.W. Stott, a pillar of 20th Century evangelical Anglicanism, kept the faith alive even as spiritual darkness descended over the Church of England.

When Whitey retired in 1999, he left behind a thriving congregation, one of the largest in the diocese. He was 67 then. Now he's 76, a survivor of heart and other surgeries, but still, until the first of this year, vigorously involved with three unattached groups doing Bible studies and Communion. (They are now under other jurisdictions and clergy their members refusing to compromise their faith.) As a result of the treatment he received from Bishop Howard and the intimidated leadership in the Diocese of Florida, he has been welcomed to continue his genuine Anglican commitment as a priest with the Anglican Mission in the Americas.

When he saw his name among those officially deposed by the liberal Bishop of Florida, the Rt. Rev John Howard, this week, the pain of it all came back to him with a rush.

He wrote VOL saying that it would have been nice to have received a personal letter to the effect that he had been "fired" and not have to read it first from "outside sources"; so he agreed to tell of his encounter with Howard "the coldest and most angry attacker I've had in my 48 years of ordained ministry."

"On September 20, 2007, I sent a letter to the Standing Committee after I had received my letter of inhibition in the Fall of 2007. This was the first of three. (He sent a third by certified mail after not receiving any response to the first two.) This is just to let you in on how a lawyer turned clergyman (Bishop Howard) still operates as though he were in a courtroom."

The letter was sent to the Rev. George Young III head of the Standing Committee, who has openly stated his hostility for so-called "fundamentalists" from his pulpit, according to some of his former parishioners.

Dear Mr. Young,

"I have neither refused nor been asked to be an active clergyman in the Diocese. I have neither been contacted by the Chief Pastor and Bishop, nor has he written, phoned nor sought me out in any personal way to make his determination. I have never rejected communion with him. He has never asked. I am retired. I have not been contacted by any congregation, clergy or lay person associated with the Diocese of Florida to teach, preside, help, counsel, be on a committee, participate in Diocesan life or even had anyone express to me any personal desire for such contact.

"My last requested action in the Diocese as priest was the reconciliation and restoration of St. Gabriel's (under Bishop Jecko) which lasted for a period of fifteen months at the end of which they were received back at Diocesan Convention with standing ovation. At that time I returned to retirement and have not been asked to do any more by any official of the Diocese. As far as the Diocese of Florida is concerned it seems to me I have ceased to exist and find myself in a state of having been abandoned by the Bishop, officialdom and the overall diocesan structure."

Haugan said he underwent surgery and was homebound for several months. Not once during his heart procedure in 2005 was any concern shown for his well being by any diocesan official from the Bishop to Dean to Chairman of the Standing Committee to clergy in the Diocese. "No one came to pray, lay on hands, anoint me with oil or bring Communion. Abandonment is a two way street. Your claim is institutional abandonment, which I have not done. My claim is personal abandonment by the clerical leaders of the Diocese. At age 75 I must ask, which is the greater, the untrue one or the true one? You tell me. I believe an apology is forthcoming."

No apology was ever forthcoming. Haugan felt abandoned.

In October 22, 2007, he wrote a painful letter to Bishop Howard:

"Dear Bishop,

"Since no one has chosen to respond to my letter, I write a second note to request some kind of response from the Standing Committee or you. It is commonly considered polite, courteous and consistent with church manners for someone in authority to reply. You are undertaking a procedure to cut me and my family out of the Body of Christ, as expressed in the Episcopal Church. Does it not weigh on your heart and the hearts of your Committee that this clergyman or any clergyman is dealt with so impersonally? I have been in this Diocese since 1950, served as an acolyte and sponsored to seminary by St. John's Cathedral and Bishop Juhan and ordained by Bishop West in 1959. Before my heart surgery, I was asked by Bishop Stephen Jecko (now deceased) to help in the reconciliation of three parishes. A bishop in Yorkshire requested my help with the similar issues in a parish there. In all four we were successful.

"I have poured over the Scriptures, my ordination vows and your canons and can find no grounds for the non-specific points and date you have given me in your signed affirmation of the Standing Committee's recommendation for inhibition and ultimately being deposed. What have I done that offends Scripture and the Body of Christ?

"It seems to me that the Standing Committee has violated its own governing documents.

"First, Scripture tells us in Matthew 18:15, 'If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.' That is the first of three steps. No one from the Standing Committee has been obedient to that Scripture. This is by far the most important of all steps since it is from God's Word which takes precedent over and governs all other authority according to Article VI and XX of the 39 Articles and the Lambeth Resolutions.

"Second, my experience of the four prior bishops in the Diocese of Florida, Juhan, West, Cerveny and Jecko, was that they always approached any issue with individual clergy on a personal level. It was always a positive experience. I do not understand the Committee's or your reluctance in calling, writing or even delegating someone to contact me. I find it disheartening that not even one of the clergy on the Committee considered it important enough to call.

"Third, even the canons have been violated by the Standing Committee in that, canonically, no specifics were given, no offenses defined, no complaints explained, no acts described in detail (Sec.2,iii,iv.v.) and more especially in (a) no "sufficient facts" were given.

"Fourth, two of the Committee were absent. One has been on a sabbatical and the other does not even reside in the Diocese. How does the latter function in this Diocese while living in Pensacola? That leaves four. So did ¾ of the four remaining make the decision? How did they decide on their recommendation?

"If I were in a secular corporation and had a committee I trusted to recommend the firing of one of my employees and found that they had handled it the way this committee handled it, all of them would have been fired.

"If the Committee had handled this biblically they would have never even approached you at all to sign this kind of hurtful, distressing and heart wrenching missive.

"Finally, what purpose is achieved, what goal is met, what is ultimately accomplished by deposing a 75 year old retired clergyman with failing health?"

Haugan signed the letter "perplexed."

When Bishop Howard did finally reply to Haugan, it was not in writing (Bp.Howard never responds in writing to me), but in a phone call and revealed nothing of the issues raised by the orthodox priest. So Haugen wrote back to the bishop, referring to the initial letter of inhibition:

"Dear Bishop,

"I am responding to your letter. It concerns me that your letter indicates little or no personal knowledge of my life and ministry before and in retirement. This letter is presently not being distributed and is to you alone.

"The counsel you have received from the Standing Committee is totally uninformed and not arrived at through any personal contact with me so it must be based on speculative and presumed activity. In fact it was shocking to say the least. If you would be so kind as to be patient as you read the following with an open heart, I believe you might understand.

"First, I am following the counsel and attitude of all my former bishops who encouraged me to go anywhere and be part of interdenominational clergy meetings (the larger Body of Christ), use my teaching gifts wherever I can (teach workshops and seminars), exercise evangelism (use creative methods to reach the unchurched) and speak in other churches (try to bridge the gap ecumenically).

"After an extensive ministry with youth and churches across the U.S., Haugan returned to Florida. In his letter to Howard he said that under Bishop West, he did evangelistic training with Campus Crusade, later chaired the Evangelism Committee and went on trips to the First National Episcopal Conference on Evangelism in 1973 in Memphis.

"I was a supervisor at the last Billy Graham crusade in Jacksonville in the Gator Bowl and part of the work of the Promise Keepers in the Gator Bowl attended by 55,000 men. I spent each Spring for two weeks for 15 years studying under John Stott at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and later served the Anglican Church in Norway conducting conferences in Yorkshire in both ecumenical settings and parish churches."

Haugan said Bishop West used to send him a card each year thanking him for being, in his words, "a pied piper to young people in the Diocese and a voice for the Lord."

"Coming from Bishop West I was humbled and blessed by that approval."

Then Haugan ripped the bishop: "Never has my integrity as a Christian been questioned by any Bishop of any church until I received this insulting letter from the Standing Committee out of the blue, vindictively enshrined in generalized, third hand, falsely informed legalese, as to what I have been doing in my retirement. No specifics or names or spelled out concerns. No one in any official position in the Diocese of Florida or even unofficial capacity has ever contacted me personally to express any sort of question, criticism or instruction."

"My experience of retired clergy in the many places I have been is that they are retired, 'out of the loop,' isolated and unused except for those who retain interest in having some sort of official recognition or fraternal bonding. My further experience of some of those clergy is that people who are in need call them on the phone, seek counsel and want to start a service, a prayer group or have a group meeting to learn about the Bible, spiritual gifts, evangelism and to have Communion services. In my experience no bishop I know has ever questioned answering these concerns regardless of where and when they took place."

"I remember clearly how you, at the May Camp Weed Diocesan Convention, just after I was able to travel a bit after bypass surgery, told the assembled delegates that if there were those who could not for any reason stay in the Episcopal Church, you would not only pray for them but also help them in their transition. To me that meant your concern was that they be pastorally cared for. I am a pastor at heart and able to occasionally do just that as long as they understand my health limitations.

"So taking your lead I have responded to the people out there who are in need since no one in the Diocese seems to care whether I live or die. And what about those who have called me for help? They claim no contact or support has been offered them by the Diocese and that, too, is evidence of the same avoidance I have experienced. Even with this kind of rejection, I have not sought outside authority, joined any organization, planted any churches, 'fled' to another province. I have gone nowhere. I am retired.

"Why is this harassment and undue emotional stress thrown at me at this very difficult time? What is the purpose and point of attacking the reputation of a retired 75-year-old retired clergyman with health issues involving the heart, internal surgery and a recent diagnosis of macular degeneration? No one from the Diocese knows any of this. Still no one, and I mean no one in the Diocese of Florida, has reached out pastorally to inquire about my health situation or contacted me since the onset of my health problems even though Diocesan staff knew them."

Haugan said no one in the Diocese has called on him for anything even though the needs around him were and are enormous. He said old people are neglected spiritually even as they age and die.

Haugan said those in institutional authority need to see the larger picture. "The Lord is doing a great thing (in the Anglican Communion). Let it happen. What is the fear all about? Our Gospel is not about institutional unity and power, about money, titles or land as it was in Jesus' day. It is not about canon law or who has the right orthodoxy. It is much, much larger. It is about Jesus Christ and letting Him be the Lord and Savior. Why not let Him happen? Of what is everyone so afraid that they allow canon law to rise above the Scripture to determine how people are dealt with?"

"Bishop, I am ready to sit down with you at any time preferably in some less ominous place than an office for more interpersonal exchange. This has always been my past experience. It is my hope you now understand some of the historical, ecclesiastical and spiritual influences that have led me to be where I am.

"If invited, I am quite willing to receive Holy Communion from you or with you and I offer the same to you by my hand."

Haugan concluded saying, "All the bishops I have had the pleasure of serving under have trusted me as I have trusted them."

Haugan had a meeting with the Bishop, at the Bishop's request, on November 13th, 2007, which will be reported on, later. He described it as demeaning, insulting and carried out in a most hostile fashion with no possibility given for "dialogue", the word of choice in TEC. He has never heard from the bishop since that degrading meeting of November 13th, 2007, nor does he think he ever will. Howard has never responded to Haugan's request for the specifics of his alleged violations nor has he been willing to list the stipulations for lifting the inhibition. Haughen, like many orthodox priests across the country, is being vilified, sued and abandoned by bishops more concerned with the Church's Canons and Constitution than with the gospel. It is how the Episcopal Church will end, not with a bang but with a whimper.


FOOTNOTE: As of July 15, 2007, All Soul's Jacksonville is an empty and abandoned church. The property and five acres are valued at over $2 million. The entire parish has fled TEC. The diocese has not been able to keep it open.

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