St. Clement’s Church Philadelphia hijinks redux

I’m surprised at the number of searches I get along the way about this Center City Philadelphia Episcopal Church parish, where I had dealings in the early 1990’s. In short, people seem to want to know if the church is “gay”; but, to me, that is not the interesting thing. It’s how soft corruption was allowed to continue there for so many years.

If you don’t want to go back and read my earlier entries, which are here, here and here, let me give you the ninety second version.

I had attended St. Clement’s from 1988 until late in 1990. I also was a contributor. Then, as now, St. Clement’s had a real problem about control of the property. How they did this was to pick and choose whose membership in the parish would be acknowledged.

Since I had all my receipts, I thought I was a member. It turned out, no. Then, when I tried to have my membership recorded, I was given a big run-around. Inevitably, it came down to something called “reception” in the Episcopal Church. Once I tackled that, I was still given the run-around. This went on: 1991, 1992, 1993.

I tried to engage the bureaucracy on the matter, but it was utterly useless. This is where the story gets interesting, though, because the lead person in the American Episcopal Church bureaucracy of the time was one Ellen Cooke—who would later serve 5 years in a federal penitentiary in Virginia for having stolen two million dollars from the denomination.

The suspicions were raised in early 1995, when the press reported that Mrs. Cooke had suddenly resigned:

I obviously knew the name because it was on letters like one here below:

This letter, from late 1994, was a total blow off, because the question I had asked was whether national canon I.17 applied to St. Clement’s Church. And notice how it is with bureaucracies. Mrs. Cooke mentions that I had raised this issue in 1993, and had tried to follow up several times in 1994. Only, in the end, to have the question sent back to then-Bishop Bartlett and the lead attorney in the Pennsylvania Diocese, who was Bill Bullitt.

Not only was it total blow-off. It was entirely wrong, as later litigation (so much litigation!) in the Episcopal Church throughout America shows that the national church very much is interpreting national canons as they apply locally.

Fifteen years later, when I once again put the issue to the national church, I got this different response instead:

Had the felon Ellen Cooke given me this answer in 1994, and not the one she did, it would have saved me and the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court Division a number of headaches. But she was too busy stealing money.

People wonder why the Episcopalian denomination is going down the drain. Some people, such as those who are more associated with David Virtue’s excellent site, claim it is because of the religious and sexual mores “innovations” that have been going on in the Episcopal Church since the 1970’s. But I think it is a little bit different: It has to do with the fact that no one follows basic rules anymore. It is very hard to have an organization when you don’t have bylaws that are honored. A second feature of this, if you want to break it out, is that people get greedy about control of property, and make every excuse to maintain their own control, and kick others out if they object.

This is what you see going on with the Good Shepherd Rosemont community, and why that case is so fascinating to me.

The Episcopal Church survives in part on the generosity of the dead—people who came before, and who gave the money, the lands, the buildings, the endowments. This later generation are people who use the money, the lands, the buildings, and the endowments. Sure, they may also contribute to the current income if they are foolish or gullible enough. As surely I was in 1989 and 1990 at St. Clement’s. But the religion nowadays is more about who gets to spend down the inheritance. Just like spoiled rich kids at the wake.

I think the Episcopal Church is past the point of no return. As David Virtue points out, the actual regular membership is no more than 700,000, and deaths are outnumbering births and receptions/conversions. At the current rate of decline, there will be only 1 person left in the denomination in 26 years.

I know from personal experience that the only way you, as an individual worshipper, can continue in the denomination is if you subvert your rights and your personal dignity to whomever is the set of bullies running a typical parish, if that parish has property. (The ones that don’t are surviving off the charity of other parishes, and so are more gentle to whoever comes by.) I am a big rights person, of course, and so those kind of situations never sit too well with me.

If you are asked to contribute to an organization that is only expected to be around for 26 years, my advice is: DON’T! St. Clement’s is not exactly as candid as they should be, but more so than 20 years ago. Their website tells you how you can be a “friend” of the parish (i.e. give money), but not how you become a member (because then you get to vote for the board of directors, and you will potentially not vote the right way.)

Lawyers who read me will ask whether or not St. Clement’s has in fact “appropriated” Episcopal Church property for private use? Well, doesn’t it look that way? But if you ask the Diocese people (and especially the latest lead lawyer, Mary Kohart), they will strenuously object–because St. Clement’s pays its annual payment to the Diocese, (which Good Shepherd stop doing years ago).

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