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SAN DIEGO, CA: Traditionalist Parish Leaves ECUSA for APA. Priest inhibited

SAN DIEGO, CA: Traditionalist Parish Leaves ECUSA for APA. Priest inhibited

By David W. Virtue

ALPINE, CA (12/16/2005)--A traditionalist, Forward in Faith parish in the Diocese of San Diego has walked away from its building and allied itself with the Anglican Province of America (APA), coming under the ecclesiastical authority of Bishop Richard Boyce, (Diocese of the West) and its Presiding Bishop Walter Grundorf.

Father Keith Acker, 49, left with his parish, Christ the King (East County of San Diego) "to walk with the Primates of the Global South and formed Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity." They will meet Sunday morning at Alpine Elementary School. The Vestry didn't want to get bogged down in litigation over a building, as much as it is a holy place. The decision was 7 to 0 with one abstention, said Acker.

Fr. Acker, who is also the Communications Director for Forward in Faith North America, told VirtueOnline that, "we have been accepted this week in the Anglican Province of America as a priest of the Diocese of the West. The congregation will this Sunday make a formal request to become a mission. This is the beginning of the realignment here in San Diego."

"As well as meeting at a local school, I am setting up a chapel for week day services at my home. We will apply to being a FIFNA parish," he told this reporter. "We will have about 80 on the roll when we start. Last Sunday 45 turned out for the farewell sermon."

Fr. Acker said he met with Rt. Rev'd James Mathes, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, and described it as not the easiest meeting. "We turned over the keys, we chose not to litigate. We made it clear to the bishop that it was not primarily about him but the overall issue of biblical authority in The Episcopal Church." The bishop temporarily inhibited Fr. Acker.

The departure is a blow to Mathes, who appealed for patience, unity and communication as he took office. He said that he had tried several times to reach out to Acker and the congregation. "I feel every effort to misunderstand has been seized and every effort to understand has been ignored," Mathes told another reporter.

The bishop will send two priests to conduct a joint service at Christ the King on Sunday, followed by a meeting to pick new leadership. "We're going to do what we can to assist them in building up their congregation," Mathes said.

Fr Acker explains it differently: "We have been very blessed by the new freedom to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Everyone has been revitalized to reach out to those who don't know Jesus. We've wasted too much energy on endless debate and watching the decline of the Episcopal Church USA. Everyone is enjoying the cooperation and challenge to make Christ known in our modern world. We hold Holy Scripture to be authoritative in our daily living. We speak to the challenges in the lives of men, women, and children by understanding the eternal God's revelation of Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. We don't adapt scripture to speak to this confused and fallen world. We share the Gospel of Life."

"We are a group of Christians who see the hurt, the struggle, the confusion, and the brokenness in the lives of everyday people around us. We tell of Jesus' love and words of life which will make them whole," said Father Pannitti, an associate, who has served at the parish as a non-stipendiary priest.

Said Fr. Acker: "The parish took seriously the 1998 Lambeth bishop's call to reach out to disenfranchised Anglicans who have left over the years. The parish has been doing that for 7 years, prior to my arrival at the parish. It began when a priest of the Anglican Province of America, (Pannitti) was asked to celebrate a weekday service from the 1928 BCP. Over time it became a shared ministry with Father Acker."

What triggered the departure was a letter from Bishop Mathes which Fr. Acker received while on his way to attend the Hope and a Future Conference and FiFNA Assembly in Pittsburgh. Fr. Acker opened a letter from Bishop Mathes saying that Fr Pannitti could no longer function sacramentally at the Episcopal parish, questioning his ordination vows. In a later meeting with the parish, Bishop Mathes said that Pannitti's ordination vows required him to "follow a process." The pastoral concern would not be accommodated for this vital shared ministry, the bishop said.

However VirtueOnline has learned that Fr. Pannitti has an allegedly checkered marital past.

A priest resident in Florida, Fr. Larry K. Wells wrote to VirtueOnline saying that "Frank Pannitti was originally ordained by a former Continuing Bishop and Primus Anthony Clavier over 25 years ago (who himself subsequently returned to the Episcopal Church), and his only education was morticians training, and his background was selling used cars. After Clavier ordained him, he was quickly exposed as a bigamist, married to his third wife but never divorced from his first two spouses. He got out of this by plea-bargaining. He agreed to make up 18 years of unpaid child support. When Clavier left Deerfield Beach to move to Charlottesville, VA, Panitti took over Clavier's church in Deerfield Beach, Florida. When Clavier returned to Deerfield Beach after a couple of years, Panitti simply disappeared. About three years ago his name appeared on the FIFNA parish list, as an assistant in an ECUSA-FIFNA parish. Pannitti is evidently now married to wife #4."

VirtueOnline asked Fr. Acker if this was true and was told that Pannitti was serving only as an "assisting parish priest with no parish status. He is non-stipendiary. He was receiving a salary through Christ the King which has now ended."

Contacted by the Rt. Rev. Richard Boyce, the APA bishop told VirtueOnline, "This is something I am going to have to pursue."

Another source told VirtueOnline that Pannitti had "seminary training" under the oversight of PB Walter Grundorf.

The new congregation has received greetings and blessings from the Right Rev'd Keith Ackerman, President of Forward in Faith North America, and the Right Rev'd Robert Duncan, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network. The congregation has been members of both organizations which uphold orthodox Anglicanism.

"We've remained a loving fellowship who will continue to follow Jesus as our Savior, our Lord, and our King. I am truly humbled by this congregation who has taken a step of faith and sacrifice that they might make the Gospel of Jesus known. I am personally blessed in having a fellow priest with whom to walk shepherding this new venture of faith. I am honored that Bishop Richard Boyce, the Anglican Province of America, has welcomed me with open arms," concluded Father Acker.

The APA is in communion relationship with the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) which is now in full communion with the Province of Nigeria.

VirtueOnline was told recently by another priest resident in the Diocese of San Diego that as many as nine other parishes are ready to leave the diocese and the Episcopal Church over the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire.


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