HOLLYWOOD, CA: The Siege of St. Mary of the Angels. Inhibited Priest Occupies Divided Parish
Fired Anglo-Catholic rector breaks locks into church. Building now occupied by two factions
By David W. Virtue
June 20, 2012
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 at St. Mary of the Angels, now in 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." Kelly refused to allow the accountant, Mark Silvers, to talk to the legitimate leaders of the church and divulge what he found in his audit of SMA financials or turn over the books. Silvers indicated he very much wanted to talk to us but was being intimidated by Kelley not to talk or cooperate. It was at this time Kelley asked the Archdiocese of Los Angeles if they knew a criminal defense attorney that would take his case pro bono.
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. Kelley claims that when the parish joined the Patrimony of the Primate (a transitional body set up for those parishes planning or hoping to join the Ordinariate) it ceased to be under the Diocese of the West's or the ACA's jurisdiction. Kelley also claims that the Patrimony still exists and that he and the parish are under its jurisdiction and that of Philadelphia-based Bishop David L. Moyer, now suspended from both the ACA and TAC. He claims Bishop Strawn's inhibition of him is invalid and therefore refuses to acknowledge Marsh's letter explicitly firing and removing him as priest at St. Mary's.
The contention that St. Mary's is still in the Patrimony of the Primate and that the Patrimony is not a part of the ACA is patently and demonstrably false. There exist two documents, among them a vestry resolution, dated November 2010 and January 2011 wherein it was specifically acknowledged that the Patrimony was a part of the ACA and that by joining the Patrimony the parish was not leaving the ACA. Even if the Patrimony were still in existence (it is not, the ACA maintains it lapsed/expired on 1 January 2012 when the Ordinariate in the U.S. was canonically erected) it would still be a part of and subject to the ACA. It is this jurisdictional issue which the court has thus far been reluctant to rule upon. It should be pointed out that this present controversy is nothing new for Fr. Kelley. A source told VOL that he has left a trail of controversy and scandal in his wake at least three previous parishes. Those opposing him at St. Mary's are keen that he not be in a position to do this sort of thing to another parish ever again.
The understanding was that the Patrimony was both within the TAC and the ACA by both St Mary's who voted on it, and the TAC/ACA. The Patrimony was essentially a gentlemen's agreement intended to provide pastoral oversight for those congregations on their way into the Ordinariate. It was never a separate jurisdiction distinct from the TAC/ACA (a claim now being made in some quarters). Bp. Marsh's letter to Kelley dated June 13 explains in great detail how the Patrimony ceased to exist as of January 1, 2012, and only before that time were parishes who wanted to return to their local ACA diocese from the Patrimony required to petition for re-admittance. After January 1, they were defaulted back into their local diocese unless they voted specifically to leave the ACA. St Mary's never undertook such a vote. The TAC House of Bishops in their February 2012 meeting in South Africa affirmed that the Patrimony no longer existed. Since then Moyer has been suspended from the ACA and TAC. The ACA House of Bishops support Bishop Strawn's inhibition of Fr Kelley. Furthermore, St Mary's Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws specifically state it is a parish affiliated with the ACA. For Kelley to claim that the parish is now outside the ACA would have required a parish-wide vote to leave the ACA, as the previous January 2011 resolution made it clear that the move into the Patrimony (out of the Diocese of the West) was not intended to leave the ACA at all.
THE SEIGE BEGINS
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 and were apprised of the situation. They were requested to remove Kelley and Trimpi from the property given that they had broken in. Kelley and Trimpi maintained that they had a right to access the property because the judge had dissolved the TRO. The senior officer in situ advised that it was the policy of the LAPD not to intervene in internal religious disputes unless an actual crime had been committed. Kelley and Trimpi were asked by the vestry member present to leave the property; they refused and ultimately returned to the downstairs area. A locksmith was called by the two vestry members now present, and he began to install additional locks and bolts on the upstairs doors. The downstairs doors could not be similarly secured as Kelley and company were by then occupying the downstairs area. Once the upstairs areas (which include the sacristy and sanctuary) were secured and the downstairs portion of the parish was effectively occupied, the siege began in earnest. Additional vestry members and anti-Kelley parishioners were contacted throughout the small hours of the morning and asked to come to the parish in order to observe and possibly provide additional security should Kelley and company once again attempt to take the rest of the building. Similarly, Kelley had apparently put out a call to his supporters who began to trickle in and joined the occupation downstairs (they all entered through the same door Kelley had broken into at the rear of the church).
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.
THE SIEGE - Day 2
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. Fewer than 20 people showed up. An observer said his sermon was "full of distortions and some outright lies about the progress of the legal challenges against him and about some of the judge's own rulings. His spin machine was in full effect."
THE SIEGE - Day 3
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 and company wanted the court to order that the keys, parish seal, and certain financial records be turned over to his control). The parties once again appeared before Judge Ann Jones. The Court dismissed the request citing, once again, its lack of "subject matter jurisdiction". The siege and occupation of parish by Kelley's faction continues.
The first hearing took place on May 25 after several members of the legitimate vestry of St. Mary's, in conjunction with and on behalf of the ACA, retained an attorney out of concern for apparent financial improprieties and mismanagement of assets on the part of Fr. Kelley. They sought and were granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by Judge Ann Jones with both parties ordered to appear before her again on June 13. The Court order explicitly stated that Fr. Kelley and his agents and representatives were only allowed to enter the parish during the course of a regularly scheduled worship service and that they were to immediately surrender any parish funds or other assets then in their possession.
Kelley and his family returned to the church following the hearing and, in clear violation of the Court's order proceeded to enter the building. He was observed inside the church and actually confronted by a vestry member who happened to be in the area and decided to investigate after driving by and noticing Fr. Kelley on the courtyard of the parish with a ladder in hand. It was later discovered that, in addition to hanging red liturgical banners in the nave in advance of Pentecost that Sunday, Fr. Kelley had removed several files and financial records and books from the church office in addition to a laptop computer that belonged to the parish. The following day members of the vestry used the Court order to have Fr. Kelley removed as a signatory from parish bank accounts and to change all locks to the building. It was then that they conducted an inventory and noticed the missing items. On June 13 Judge Jones of the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a ruling in which she essentially declined to rule on what she considered and internal ecclesiastical dispute. She did not extend the Temporary Restraining Order barring Fr. Kelley and former Senior Warden Dr. Alan Trimpi from the property. Her ruling was a de facto indication that the DOW/ACA did have legal/canonical authority to intervene in the St. Mary's affair, but that it was ultimately an internal matter that had to be resolved according to the DOW/ACA's own laws and procedures.
Immediately following Wednesday's hearing, Fr. Kelley and his wife along with several of their most vocal and sycophantic supporters, including Dr. Trimpi (who was added to the vestry by Kelley) along with several others arrived at St. Mary's and proceeded to bang on doors and windows in an attempt to gain entry and seize the property. Inside at the time were a former parish deacon and a former parishioner (both of whom had previously left the parish in disgust at Fr. Kelley) Members of the "legitimate" vestry (the one affirmed by the DOW and Bp. Strawn following Fr. Kelley's April 2 inhibition) arrived and instructed Fr. Kelley and company that they did not have permission to be on parish property and ordered him to leave. Kelley and his supporters then moved to a sidewalk in front of the church and began singing and praying. A source told VOL that at no time did the Court's ruling say anything about reinstating Fr. Kelley as rector of St. Mary's.
When the judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Kelley on May 25, the lawful vestry members (who were and are the plaintiffs in this matter) had the locks changed. Early On the morning of June 16 the siege began in earnest when Kelley broke in and had the external locks cut out. He and his supporters attempted to prevent anyone else from accessing the property by placing two very large chains and padlocks on two external gates that were later removed by the Los Angeles Fire Department who said such chains were a fire code violation.
Following the second hearing on Wednesday, 13 June the Court essentially affirmed the status quo and dissolved the TRO. Fr. Kelley petitioned the Court to order that the new keys to the building be turned over to him (in his mind the Court's June 13 decision was some sort of vindication for him). All parties were again ordered to appear the following day. Judge Jones again reaffirmed and clarified her decision by stating unequivocally that the ACA had jurisdiction and that "if they fired you then you're fired" and had no legal right to occupy the premises; she also admonished the parties not to appear in her courtroom again.
Following the Court's decision, Fr. Kelley returned to St. Mary's and displayed complete disregard for what he had been told by the judge. He went to the bank located next door to St. Mary's, which sits upon parish land and at which some of the parish's accounts are located) and demanded that since the TRO had been dissolved he should be put back onto the parish accounts as signatory. The bank staff denied the request. Fr. Kelley's next step was to call a local locksmith and convinced him to pick the lock to the parish so that he could re-enter. The locksmith agreed and began to pick the lock to the door leading to the parish office when a parishioner who was actually working in the office at the time was alerted by the noise and confronted both the locksmith and Fr. Kelley. The locksmith was informed that Fr. Kelley had been fired and had no authority to try and enter the building and was asked to leave. Fr. Kelley was also asked to leave but refused. LAPD officers were called and informed of what had transpired. They ordered Kelley off the premises and took statements from the two vestry members now on site who had witnessed the attempted break in.
For Kelley the issue is his attempt to position the struggle as his and the majority of his parish's desire to enter the Roman Catholic Church through the Ordinariate process under Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson.
However those faithful to St. Mary's say it is Kelley's unfettered access to vast sums of money, some $20,000 a month from a bank that rents property from the church that is one major cause of the present legal and canonical chaos. They say he is not legally allowed to touch these funds only a lay led vestry can do that according to the Anglican Church in America canons and constitution. There are allegations that Kelley who lives with his family on the property of St. Mary's has been dipping into these funds for his own personal use.
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. Msgr. Steenson is aware of the situation and is still desirous of having St. Mary's enter if that is their wish, but it must do so without Fr. Kelley as rector.
A source told VOL that to date Kelley has done an excellent job convincing many parishioners and even his own attorneys that the reason he is being fought in court is because the group fighting him are opposed to entering the Ordinariate. "That is simply not true. Most of them are in fact very pro-Ordinariate. These are two entirely separate issues. The legal fight has been brought not because of the Ordinariate, but because Kelley is a liar. He has succeeded in garnering support for himself by spinning this as a war over the Ordinariate." For the parish corporately to enter the Ordinariate, it would be necessary for St. Mary of the Angels to amend its articles and bylaws to bring them in conformity with Catholic canon law. In addition, it will be necessary that a Catholic parish have a finance council and parish pastoral council that is organized and governed by the norms of Catholic canon law. This has not happened. Earlier this year, the ACA stayers requested a formal census of the membership of St. Mary's, and an actual vote tally from the last election. This has not been provided.
Furthermore the parish was provided with a statement regarding parish property ownership in the Catholic Church. "We wanted to ensure that the parish knew what is required by canon law regarding property ownership before their vote. It is our understanding that this was not distributed or provided to the parish prior to their vote," said the source.
"We also asked for a comprehensive independent audit from a C.P.A. We asked for this statement not out of concern, but as a way literally to close the books on the finances of one corporate entity as it is reorganized into a new entity. This has not been received, according to Steenson.
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.
BREAKING NEWS: VOL has learned that Fr. Kelley has just hired armed guards.
Court Documents and an open letter from the Bishop can be found below:
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