Friday, September 2, 2011

Episcopal News Service Spreads Nonsense

Whenever I do a news parody on this site, I attribute the story to "ENS, Prairie City", and usually make clear at some point that the initials stand for "Episcopal Nonsense Service." Today, however, I don't have to make up a parody; I can give you an illustration of the real thing.

Following stories about Pennsylvania Orphan Court Judge Stanley Ott's order removing Father (actually, Bishop) David Moyer from his post as rector of Good Shepherd's in Rosemont, along with two individual vestry members (only one of whom was actually still serving), as discussed here, here, and here, ENS put out its own story, with headline and opening paragraphs as follows:

Judge tells Rosemont congregation it must vacate property

[Episcopal News Service] A judge has told a breakaway congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania that its deposed priest and certain members of the vestry must relinquish parish property.

The ruling involves Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, outside of Philadelphia, along with deposed priest David Moyer and some members of the congregation.

Now the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is ordinarily a reliable and accurate reporter; I have never had occasion to satirize any of her stories before. Therefore, something else has to account for her missing the whole point of Judge Ott's order here: Judge Ott most emphatically did not address the congregation of Good Shepherd in his order, or tell them, even indirectly, that their "priest and certain members of the vestry must relinquish parish property." There was no property issue involved in the case. What Judge Ott told Fr. Moyer and the one sitting vestry member was that they must relinquish their parish offices, and not the parish's property. (Well, in a technical sense, I guess one could say that Fr. Moyer has to give up parish property as well, since he has to move out of the parish rectory. But that is a conclusion that follows from his removal from his post, and was not even spelled out in the order.)

No, despite the headline and opening paragraphs of the ENS story, Judge Ott's decision does not require the congregation of Good Shepherd to give its property back to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. In all the long years this dispute has been running (it began nearly ten years ago), Good Shepherd has never voted to leave the Diocese, and so the Dennis Canon could never come into play. The issue was whether Father Moyer could stay on as its priest, not so much after he was illegally deposed by Bishop Bennison, but mainly after he was made a bishop in the Traditional Anglican Communion in 2005, before his dispute with Bishop Bennison was finally resolved in the courts.

The only way I can account for this lapse by an otherwise trustworthy reporter is that the Episcopal mindset has now fixed on a stereotype for all of these cases involving a lawsuit with a parish: in every such lawsuit (except those in South Carolina, and possibly in New Hampshire and Kentucky, as well), the judgment must mean that the parish has to relinquish its property, due to the courts' automatic deference to the Dennis Canon. This was another such lawsuit, so the good Rev. Schjonberg did not need to read through the order and concern herself with the details. The bottom line was that the court had ordered the rector and vestry members to do something -- and that could only be that they had to "relinquish" the parish's property, right? As Victor Borge used to say in his parody of a Mozart opera: "That's the way the management feels about it, and that's the way it's gonna be."

And that is how comedy imitates life, not the other way around.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for setting the record straight concerning that most bizarre article published by The Episcopal Church's news service, ENS.