Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Little Bit More On Habits

Yesterday I gave a hypothetical situation, "And if I were indeed to go to mass dressed in a Franciscan habit and call myself 'Brother John', I believe Fr Bob would, er, take me aside, notwithstanding there’s no dress code and we’re all brothers and sisters." The visitor who raised the original question that led to this post replied,
Yes, the pastor or the bishop obviously can intervene if somebody is acting in a manner that misleads others.

But, more importantly, the case of wearing clothing that’s substantially similar to the habit of an order to which one does not belong would constitute trademark infringement. That obviously would be a much more serious matter than simply introducing yourself to other members of your parish as “Brother John.”

But I think a more important issue is the one raised by the visitor I quoted this morning:
I can form a private association prayer group at my church, appoint myself Supreme Poobah, wear religious type of clothing and adorn myself with all sorts of private devotion images and accoutrements. Unfortunately, that would cause quite a bit of confusion from those who do not necessarily know me in regard to my public/private religious affiliation status. If I do or say untoward things in this garb, I run the serious risk of committing scandal and damaging the Body of Christ in His Church.
The garb of the Gilbertines is unique and doesn't violate any copyright. Yet the instance Dcn Bengry cites in his own 2012 homily, of appearing to be intoxicated in public and, whether in a habit or not, recognized as clergy by a parishioner, ought to be cause for disquiet, as the potential for scandal here is not remote, irrespective of copyright violation.

Yet More On The Gilbertines As A Private Association

A cradle Catholic from the US comments,
I read your blog today and I have in fact pondered those things. I also, after reading your earlier posts re: slander, calumny et. al., I did some internet searching on Brother/Deacon Bengry. It led me to some very interesting sites and some sad conclusions.

Here is the gist of what I learned from the Gilbertines’ own website and Brother/Dn. Bengry’s blogs:

  • Brother Bengry was an Anglican who was an Anglican minister, who in 2009 founded a community called the Community of Sts. James & John. This group was recognized by the Anglican Diocese of Brandon, Canada in 2010 and Br. Bengry was voted the Prior General. There is some ambiguity about whether the group split in two or simply renamed itself as the Gilbertine Order of Sempringham when Br. Bengry made known his intention to take the group into the Catholic Church. Brother Bengry renounced his Anglican Orders and converted to Catholicism in 2016. At this point, the Gilbertines became a PRIVATE association, not sponsored by or approved by any Roman Catholic Diocese or the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Br. Bengry became a Deacon in 2017 and is in the process of becoming a Catholic priest for the OCSP.
  • Br./Dn. Bengry gains income as a contract heraldic artist.
  • Br./Dn. Bengry imagined and designed the symbolism for the blazon, arms and crest he was granted and registered as an individual that is now used by the Gilbertines as their Coat of Arms and religious medallions.
I saw nothing that led me to believe the Gilbertine Order of Sempringham is a not-for-profit, charitable organization, directly associated with the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. I saw links to various places on the OCSP website which IMPLY direct connection to the Ordinariate and/or that the OCSP is sponsoring them. I also saw a purported Benedictine medal that can ward off witchcraft and other evil spirits. Although the original Benedictine designed (and the more familiar 100 anniversary version) medals are credited with these powers, as a cradle Catholic with familiarity with many different devotional medals, I am dubious that this completely re-designed medal, while tasteful, holds the same power. Yes, these new medals are blessed, but the original Benedictine medals gained the power they wield from the intense witness and faith of St. Benedict and his followers. I’m not sure if the GSmp follow Benedictine or Augustine rule or something else entirely so, as of yet, these new medals are unproven in that regard.

Br./Dn. Bengry and his associates state up front they are a private association, but they seem to want to have it both ways. I can form a private association prayer group at my church, appoint myself Supreme Poobah, wear religious type of clothing and adorn myself with all sorts of private devotion images and accoutrements. Unfortunately, that would cause quite a bit of confusion from those who do not necessarily know me in regard to my public/private religious affiliation status. If I do or say untoward things in this garb, I run the serious risk of committing scandal and damaging the Body of Christ in His Church. Do Br./Dn Bengry, Br./Dn. Beahen and Sr. Myrna cause scandal by these ambiguous accessories? I don’t know, but I would bet it does cause confusion/misperceptions.

As a life-long Catholic I have known publically professed Brothers, Sisters, nuns (yes, there is a difference between Sisters and nuns), priests, and even one person publicly professed to the Ancient Order of Virgins living in the World. Last I checked, the title of Brother or Sister used for a person in the Catholic Church means that person has taken vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in a public religious order, not privately as these have done to their private Prior General (on a side note, who does the Prior General profess his vows to, himself? Who does the Prior General obey? Who owns the property?).

These three people are certainly entitled to call each other Brother and Sister within their private association but when they insist/encourage other Catholic faithful who are not a part of their private association to also call them by these tites or use them in public association correspondence, that to me, is VERY misleading. Maybe that’s the way Anglicans do it but I wasn’t raised Anglican so I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for private devotions and associations. I’m just not at all in for confusing the faithful or the public at large with quasi-public/private religious titles or orders.

You sure know how to kick over hornets’ nests.

I make no secret of the fact that I'm not optimistic about the future of the OCSP. In the past, I think the evidence has pointed to the prelature slowly dying out, with the gathered groups fading due to actuarial reality and lack of new interest, while the dozen or so viable communities are re-absorbed or absorbed de novo into dioceses. That would have the world ending in ice. But now I wonder if there's a very real possibility of the OCSP collapsing in real scandal, driven by the lack of experience and unfamiliarity with monasticism that must be the case with Fr Perkins, along with what may well be Bp Lopes's eagerness to show progress and consequent unwillingness to ask hard questions. That would be the world ending in fire, which was Robert Frost's preference.

My regular correspondent commented on yesterday's posts,

I suppose we can console ourselves with the fact that whatever we and the SJE congregation do not know or understand about the fine points of vows and the canonical situation of the Gilbertines, Bp Lopes has the picture, at least on this subject. Before ordination they would have been required to disclose their financial situation, and presumably reconcile it with the requirements of the rules of the association, whatever they might be. I think that if things go pear at SJE it will be because of Dcn Bengry's unstable temperament. His repeated attempts to hit back at you I find quite disconcerting and completely inconsistent with the character of a priest or a religious. And the family history is not reassuring. If I were in charge I would have wanted to observe them in a parish setting far, far longer before going ahead with ordination.
One small footnote is the remark in the CCCB booklet cited yesterday, that "an annual rendering of accounts allows for a certain measure of verification as to whether the goods have been applied for the purposes of the association." It seems to me that this is essential, given the controversies we've begun to see dating from the brothers' time in the Anglican Diocese of Brandon. Yet Fr Perkins almost certainly doesn't have the experience to supervise such a thing, nor the resources to contract for it. And the first annual rendering of accounts should occur on July 1, 2018, just six months from now.

Given Dcn Bengry's public record of deceptiveness, cited just yesterday, his clear tendency to push ambiguities to the limit that we see in the Gilbertines' web sites, and possible evidence of his unstable personality, I don't see a good outcome here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back To The Matter Of Habits And Titles

A visitor with a background in canon law remarks,
I’m not aware of anything in the Codex Juris Canonici that stipulates who is or is not entitled to use the titles of “brother” and “sister” — but theologically, these titles actually are proper to every baptized Christian. With God as our adoptive father, we all are siblings in our Lord, which is why religious orders, in seeking to live the gospel more fully, started using them.
Naturally, a pastor may often address us as "my brothers and sisters" in a homily, and this would not be inaccurate or in any way reprehensible. Nor, as far as I'm aware, is there anything in the canons that prevents me from wearing a Franciscan habit if I choose, especially in the back yard. Nor, as far as I can see, especially if I can come to mass in shorts, flip-flops, and a torn t-shirt, is there anything that prevents me, canonically, from coming to mass in a Franciscan habit.

However, in the case I covered here of the ACA priest who styled himself OSA though he had never been an Augustinian, the regional superior of the Augustinians whom I consulted made it clear the guy was not entitled to say he’s OSA. And if I were indeed to go to mass dressed in a Franciscan habit and call myself “Brother John”, I believe Fr Bob would, er, take me aside, notwithstanding there’s no dress code and we’re all brothers and sisters.

Some things are misleading and could represent a danger to the flock even if the canons have no opinion.

The Matter Of Truthfulness

In his recent blog post, Dcn Bengry refers to me as
. . . a certain blogger. . . . [who] claims he’s happy to be corrected, but that’s not really the case and I know this because I tried to do so early on. (According to his many uncorrected claims, for example, Father Hodgins was apparently retired months ago.) He ignored the corrections he couldn’t dispute and used the rest to fuel further waves of calumnious speculation.
"Calumnious speculation" is a serious charge, since calumny is a mortal sin. According to catechsim 2482, "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." The one example Dcn Bengry gives of calumny I may have committed, though, is puzzling. He says,
According to his many uncorrected claims, for example, Father Hodgins was apparently retired months ago.
But in the post that mentions Fr Hodgins, I didn't say anything about Fr Hodgins at all -- I quoted my regular correspondent, who said,
Fr Hodgins wishes to retire from STM, Toronto.
My correspondent confirmed this just now, saying,
Regarding Fr Hodgins, whom he mentioned in passing as an example of your misinformation: Fr Hodgins announced that he wished to retire as of 2017. As no replacement has been located, he continues to celebrate mass at STM.
So let's go through this. I quoted my regular correspondent, who said Fr Hodgins "wishes to retire", which as far as anyone can determine was then, and is now, accurate. But I didn't say it, my correspondent did. But Dcn Bengry said I claimed Fr Hodgins was apparently retired. I never said any such thing. Beyond that, Dcn Bengry implies he tried to correct this misinformation, which I never gave, but I didn't correct it. I have no record of this in my e-mails from Bengry.

Out of those who read this post -- which contains no link to anything I may have said about Fr Hodgins, and indeed no link to my blog at all -- I can't imagine anyone would try to search my blog for Fr Hodgins's name to double-check Dcn Bengry's claim.

So let me get this straight. He becomes guilty of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them. Dcn Bengry cites the false example above as his only support for using terms like calumny, libel, one who is "set upon sowing seeds of discord", and so forth.

At minimum, Dcn Bengry's reaction to my posts verges on being unhinged, but that he himself should resort to making false accusations is troubling. As a true crime fan and sometime juror, I would note that a standard US jury instruction is that if a witness is shown to have lied on one matter, his credibility can be called into question on any other matter.

More On Vows And Religious Orders

In a post on his blog yesterday, Dcn Bengry partway down attempts an answer to my concerns about exactly what sort of vows the Calgary Gilbertines make, but it seems to me that if anything, the picture is less clear than it was.

Let's back up. The main reason I'm doing this blog is to understand the 40-year craziness surrounding St Mary of the Angels, which first intrigued me 40 years ago. A big part of this journey has been to learn more about the Catholic Church. The latest step in this process is a crash course in Monasticism 101. Interestingly, the several visitors who've sometimes helped me out on things like canon law haven't so far weighed in on any of the opinions I've tentatively ventured, which adds to my impression that we've left 101 and entered uncharted territory, or maybe the Anglo-Catholic Zone.

Let's outline what I might call paradigmatic monasticism from the 101 course, with an emphasis on vows. A religious order is an association of the faithful recognized by the Church. There are two main types of associations, private and public. Religious orders are public associations of the faithful. Those who join them undertake public vows, generally recognized as solemn or simple. Those vows embrace chastity, poverty, and obedience (or, with the Benedictines, the same thing under different words).

Poverty in particular, while rules of orders vary in specifics, means that vowed religious do not own property or receive income independent of their stipend. Previously owned property ("patrimony") under solemn vows is ceded to independent management connected with the community. Earnings from secular occupations, gifts, inheritances, and so forth are also donated to the community, with exceptions, apparently, for items of minimal value depending on the rule. The requirements are somewhat looser under simple vows, but those affected still do not have the use of personal property without the superior's permission.

"Only a public association can receive a mission to teach Christian doctrine in the name of the Church, promote public worship or pursue a purpose which by nature is reserved to ecclesiastical authority (Canon 301§1)." "[P]rivate associations exist by private agreement, freely made among members of the Christian faithful, with the intent to attain the aims mentioned in canon 298§1 (Canon 299§1)."

Private associations of the faithful allow members to own property, which is a point made in the paper I linked by Dr Jaramillo last week. I'm grateful to my regular correspondent for sending me the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops Recognition of National Catholic Associations, which says on page 39:

In the chapter of the Code dealing with common norms for associations of the faithful, c. 310 recognizes that in private associations not constituted as juridical persons, its members can acquire and possess rights and goods, as co-owners and co-possessors.
In general, members of private associations make private vows, whether before a bishop or anyone else -- the difference is canonical, and it appesrs that private vows are more flexible even than simple vows. So now we seem to be crossing over into the Anglo-Catholic alternate universe. Dcn Bengry says,
I have no need to address his uninformed claims except to say Dr. Eileen Jaramillo’s observations are correct, but the blogger misses a point of Canon Law that is important in this situation: “Canon 1192 §1 states that a vow is public if it is received in the name of the Church and accepted by a Superior that is competent according to the law.” He might want to note that a Bishop, including my Bishop, is a “Superior competent according to the law”.
A bishop, as far as I can understand this, which is past the 101 level, can accept both private and public vows. The difference is canonical, not whether a bishop accepts them. Public vows when accepted by a bishop are accepted in the name of the Church. But under Canon 301§1, only a public association of the faithful functions in the name of the Church. Since members of a private association make private vows, I don't, based on my limited understanding, see how a bishop can accept private vows in the name of the Church. I will welcome clarification from those more knowledgeable.

Members of a Catholic religious order are members of a public association of the faithful that functions in the name of the Church. They make solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience which are far less flexible than private vows, which, according to the CCCB, are less strictly enforced by the ecclesiastical authority. One tradeoff is that members of the private association are not vowed religious, and the private association is not an order.

A basic question I would pose is that if the Gilbertines make solemn and public vows, why does the Gilbertine "order" describe itself on its website as a private association of the faithful?

Another question is who owns the property at 1038 Lorne Ave. Brandon MB and the adjoining house? My understanding is that the property at 1038 was acquired by Bengry and Beahen for $133,000, and the adjoining building was subsequently purchased as well. After the group moved to Calgary, the property, as I understand it, is rented out and managed by a relative of Dcn Bengry. Does the Bengry relative still manage the property?

Is there a a civil non-profit corporation to which the Lorne Avenue property has been transferred? How does the institute now manage this property? To what account or accounts are rental payments by the tenants made? I don't believe this is an invasion of privacy, since this is a reasonable question any prospective donor might have if approached by the Gilbertines for money. The group's finances should be completely transparent,

and, if need be, according to the rules which the local Ordinary may lay down in virtue of the power which enables him to exercise his right and duty of supervision. For example, an annual rendering of accounts allows for a certain measure of verification as to whether the goods have been applied for the purposes of the association. If there are abuses, the competent authority has the right to intervene.
This per page 39 of the CCCB booklet cited above. How can the Bengry group represent themselves as vowed members of a public religious order if they own property?

So I continue to be concerned that Dcn Bengry is blurring the distinction between private and public associations and creating a situation in which OCSP faithful may be misled into believing the small group of Bengry associates are vowed religious members of a public association, which they are not, as far as I can determine. The problem is that there are legitimate questions here, but we're beginning to see a pattern with Dcn Bengry that he tends to accuse people who raise legitimate questions of being in mortal sin.

But beyond that, at best, we're in a position, not unusual with the OCSP, of daisy-chaining a series of exceptions and special cases, here a permanent deacon suddenly ordained a priest, private associations making ostensibly public vows, just two problems we see in Calgary.

When I first raised questions about the Calgary group, a Canadian Benedictine attempted to solve them for me by saying that, when Catholic religious encountered Anglican "orders", their instinctive reply was to say, "Well, they're Anglicans." The problem is that the Calgary group is no longer Anglican, it's Catholic, but I can't escape the sense they haven't left the Anglo-Cathoiic Zone.

I don't think it's unreasonable to see potential problems here.

UPDATE: The Canadian Benedictine who helped me out before comments,

I am no expert at the stages that new religious orders go through to develop; however, I do remember reading a few references to private vows. On the Ordinariate scene:
  1. The Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now in Birmingham) all made private vows when they came into full communion; their Anglican vows were acknowledged, but it was only in 2014 that the sisters made public solemn vows again. Note that they mention that they were made into a public association of the faithful at first.
  2. The Marian Servants of the Incarnation (now in Walsingham) had their Anglican vows acknowledged when they came into full communion, but, when one of the three sisters tried her vocation with another order, the remaining two sisters could only be in private vows (three makes a community).
Another example that I am aware of would be the Brigittine monks in Oregon who had private vows (from around 1980) until they made solemn public vows in 1991 as a diocesan rite monastery (sui juris).

I would summarize that, in her wisdom, the church is reluctant to allow religious to make perpetual or solemn public vows until the new religious community has had some years of stability, financial security, perseverance in new vocations, and the constitutions of the religious community have been approved by Rome and the bishop. However, the members of the community are living the religious life.

Whether a group is clearly identified first as a private association of the faithful by the bishop before becoming a public association of the faithful varies depending upon factors that I am not aware of.

It seems to me that Dr Jaramillo's admonition still applies, "[H]as the pastor carefully explained to the parishioners that these fine women are not religious but are lay persons living a life of special dedication to God?" They may be living an ordered life in dedication to God, but it appears important to make clear that they are not a "religious order". Otherwise, why must there be any distinction? I think my visitor answers the question in saying the Church wants to see stability and progress before receiving public vows. It's worth pointing out that the Calgary group numbers three, with one member 69 years old.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I'm Told I've Hit A Nerve!

Regarding Dcn Bengry's Advent II homily hat I linked yesterday, a visitor notes,
Regarding this past Sunday’s homily (Advent II), I think it’s you who hit a nerve! My experience listening to his homily was that we was trying to guilt whoever the “mole” is in the parish, or any other parishioners who have read your blog. If you notice his wording, he doesn’t discuss “our sins” but for the first part of the homily, he says “you” often when discussing failings. Priests do well when discussing sin to include themselves.
My regular correspondent points to a new entry on Dcn Bengry's blog. I notice that he refers to himself again, misleadingly, as "brother", when he is not a consecrated religious. It appears that the fact that "sister" Myrna-Mary Chruschz is Bengry's mother came as a surprise to some Calgary parishioners, as he devotes a great deal of text to placing this relationship in the monastic tradition:
Sts. Benedict and Scholastica were twins. St. Bernard of Clairvaux persuaded thirty of his friends, brothers and relatives to follow him. St. Thérèse of Lisieux lived in community with two of her biological sisters and a cousin in the convent. In more recent years, the Immaculate Conception Monastery in Indiana is apparently home to four sister Sisters! The precedent is very common in the monastic tradition and it makes sense. . .
However, all the saints and religious he cites were or are consecrated religious, which, as I've repeatedly explained here, Dcn Bengry, Dcn Beahen, and "Sister" Myrna-Mary Chruschz are not. Dcn Bengry seems to be intentionally misleading visitors to his blog about his status, by calling himself "brother" and placing himself in the company not just of consecrated religious, but saints and two doctors of the Church!

He cites entries in the Catechism regarding respect for privacy -- well and good, but as I pointed out in my first post yesterday, my sources regarding Dcn Bengry and his family are from public records, often from social media posts by Bengry himself. If he's called attention to himself and the young man Tyrell as an "adoptee", "son", or "nephew", often in ambiguous or contradictory ways, in social media posts and in conversation with Calgary parishioners, people are entitled to ask questions, and apparently they are.

The visitor above continues,

What he doesn’t seem to realise is that, by being a deacon and “preparing” to become a Catholic priest, he is a public person. This is one of the first things many seminaries try to instill in their men early on. What they do reflects well or poorly on the seminary, but also on the Diocese which they serve, study in, but also on all Catholics. I don’t understand how he can’t see this. When one is a public figure, one is, rightly, open to public criticism and scrutiny. Discussing things that he has said or done publicly, can be discussed public.

A public offence demands a public remedy/reparation. It isn’t wrong to discuss publicly things he has posted online or can be found on public sources. It seems like he is a fan of threatening lawsuits or hinting at this. He does this because it is intimidating. And it is.

I would say, it might be a good idea if we could come to an agreement with the OCSP that certain sketchy details that are public about Bengry be addressed, so that this behind-the-scenes investigating can, at least publicly, come to an end. If we discover anything else, or that something was faslifled, then go public again. It seems like something like this might be in the best interest of both the Ordinariate and the parishioners, for Bengry (and associates) and for those who have questions about him. Just an idea I had.

My regular correspondent adds,

Perhaps these will lead Mr Bengry to see the merit of confirming that Tyrell is his nephew and Ms Chruschz's grandson. "Community" adoption story actually does him more harm than good.
Regarding "community" adoption, a "community" can't adopt under Canadian law, contrary to the implication of Dcn Bengry's statement to parishioners. The precise legal terms of the adoption or guardianship could be pertinent, if Tyrell had been jointly adopted by Dcns Bengry and Beahen, as this could have implications under Canadian law.

Farther down on the page, Bengry implicitly threatens me. All I can say is that this isn't my first rodeo over such things, and legally, bloggers have wide leeway -- Ms Cohen of the Los Feliz Ledger once threatened me with a lawsuit for calling her a "third rate journalist", but, perhaps after speaking with a lawyer, she seems to have calmed down.

So for starters, as I pointed out in my first post yesterday, and as a visitor expands on today, the information I've released is in the public record, often released by Dcn Bengry himself on social media, and it pertains directly to his role as a deacon and a candidate for the Catholic priesthood. But second, as I suggested yesterday, there is a great deal of information that is in the public record that I haven't discussed here concerning Dcn Bengry's other family members, out of due respect for privacy.

However, there's a third category of information that could potentially apply to Dcn Bengry's qualifications but, again observing the teachings of the Church, hasn't yet been fully corroborated. Several people besides me are in fact investigating leads that might be productive and could either be published or referred privately to Fr Perkins.

I would also say that, from information that's already come to light -- Dcn Bengry's own discussion, in a homily published on the web, of questions relating to his own possible public intoxication, which he himself calls being "tipsy", while acknowledging "I like booze" -- should raise serious concern over whether the background check done by Houston has been adequate. There are similar matters that should have come to Houston's attention that apparently did not.

I'm also seriously concerned that Houston appears still to be allowing Dcn Bengry to style himself "brother" and his mother to style herself "sister". This matter goes beyond Dcn Bengry, and serious scandal in Calgary could have unfortunate consequences for Bp Lopes and the OCSP, especially if it appears they did not act to avert it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Another Bengry Homily

Another homily from then-Anglican Fr Bengry, delivered at a parish in the Anglican Diocese of Brandon about 2012, can be found here. In it, he discusses the reaction of Anglicans who encountered him and then-Fr Sean in various pubs. Among the remarks he makes are, "I like booze". In one instance, by his account, he appears to have had some type of heated encounter with a parishioner in what he describes as a beer garden, acknowledging that he was "tipsy". In the course of the encounter, he cited the Miracle at Cana, which the parishioner interpreted as being "flippant". Indeed, though, if Bengry by his admission was tipsy, his response to the parishioner may well have been ill-considered. In his version, the parishioner apparently complained to one of Bengry's Anglican colleagues about the encounter. Bengry refers to this complaint as "slander", when it may well have been legitimate.

This, in the public record, would tend to corroborate a report I had several months ago from an individual in the Brandon area who said, "They were known to get drunk and at least once, one of them passed out." It does appear that by his own admission, a number of Anglicans in the Brandon area frequently encountered him in bars and might well have gained an impression that he was intoxicated, whatever his BAC. Naturally, there is no prohibition against alcohol for Catholic priests, but allowing alcohol to override one's judgment to the extent of appearing intoxicated or making intemperate remarks is a different matter.

I have the impression that any background check that was made by Houston was perfunctory.