Edmund S. Pawelec, Archbishop of Pennsylvania and Judge of the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court

The main reason the traditionalist Episcopalians—or anyone else who is looking to follow a church rule on something—are having such a hard time goes back to this man, who served on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Orphans’ Court Division for a number of years, late last century.

My old St. Clement’s church litigation was brought up recently, and today I was thinking about Judge Pawelec and his religious biases.   “Rusty”, as he was known to the close bench and big law firms who put him there, knew other people’s religious practices better than their own adherents did.   Surprised?  This is Pennsylvania, remember.   Shoving your religion down other people’s throats is a contact sport here—look at the current news with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and contraception.   (And the senator’s previous comments about how mainline Protestant religions are ‘no longer Christian.‘    But I digress . . . )

Judge Pawelec initially granted the St. Clement’s vestry’s demurrer, and seemed to be the most skeptical judge in the en banc hearing.    I forget who the panel was—and I had at least two of these from what I can remember.   In one, the man who is the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit nowadays was present.   I don’t remember my read on him then.

This fanciful notion, that in a denomination with “hierarchical polity”, the bishop decides everything, and we must defer to whatever the bishop decided, comes from Judge Pawelec.   I suppose that rule works fine for the Roman Catholic church.   And I suppose there are a few Catholics around not using contraception, too.    But it really was an imposition on any other denomination that has bishops, but bishops with power that is specified and limited by the general conventions (organizing bodies) of the adherents to those denominations.

 “Rusty” wouldn’t consider that.   He found enough dicta in earlier court cases, to make up a “deference rule” which stated that a bishop must “adjudicate” any religious dispute, before the civil court would even open its doors.   “When Caesar decides what the temple believes, he can only leave behind his own views.”

The trouble in my situation, was that the individual denomination member decides which parish he/she is going to be a member of, and the staff there is duty bound to record the membership.   It is not up to the local bishop.   See this earlier post, from 2009.  

So saying that a local bishop must “adjudicate” whether an Episcopalian can be a member of a parish or not is an imposition of someone else’s religious practices on another denomination.   It is, indeed, “Caesar”, leaving behind his own views.    It left me having to go around, searching for this “adjudication” that does not exist in the Episcopal Church—then being told that furthering the litigation was “frivolous” because it wasn’t an acceptable enough adjudication for the bench.

With this kind of Roman Catholic, once they gain a certain edge for their religious practices, they keep pushing it.   And their buddies get right in there, too.    Remember, this is a state that elects all its judges.   So the more holy you can come across, the better it is at the polling booth.

To be fairer to Edmund Pawelec, he isn’t the only one who needed or needs to be watched.    He’s not the only one doing this kind of thing.    Why, how many of the regular citizenry know about this production of Justice Seamus McCaffery?

In 2007, McCaffery, as a Superior Court judge, authored an opinion that basically said a bishop or other religious figure could not be liable for tort in Pennsylvania, because of the “deference rule”.    Connor v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 933 A.2d 92.   (Whatever tort there was, was privileged by the fact that the holy person was engaging in their first amendment rights, and the court was required to respect that under the “deference rule”.)

What an embarrassment to First Amendment jurisprudence, eh?

What happened next in Connor?    It got taken to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where it was unanimously overturned by the justices who participated in the decision.    See Connor v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 975 A.2d 1084  (Pa. 2009).    There was one judge who did not participate—now Justice Seamus McCaffery, the author of the abominable opinion below as a Superior Court judge!    He had in the intervening time been elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and we, who believe in the separation of church and state here, just have to hold on to our chairs a little tighter.

(I appreciate that Seamus McCaffery did do some good things while a Philadelphia Judge, like setting up the street court system to combat rowdiness at Eagles’ games, and in other parts of the town where that trashy element was dragging Philly down more than the whirl of the drainage suction already was.   But on the point of line-crossing when it comes to imposing religion, and respecting religious lines, he was a crosser as much as Pawelec, O’Keefe and the one on Commonwealth Court whose name escapes me at the moment.)

It’s really sad to say that certain Pennsylvania Roman Catholic elected officials really ruin things about America for everyone else.   It’s always couched in high-minded, or deeply believed “principles”, but it always turns out in the end to be “here I go imposing my religion and its practices on you, (with the subtext that you are Protestant heathen or something.)”   This is equal opportunity, not limited to Democratic or Republican.   In fact, in the days of Casey and Scranton’s son, Casey the Democrat was more of this than Scranton.

People outside of the area wonder why it’s taken so long for [the state and] the Philadelphia Archdiocese to clean up its pedophile priest issue.   Well, which courts are they going to be tried in?

[Update: Ah, yes, the judge whose name escaped me earlier: James Kelley. If you are Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Brethren—or any other denomination that has an officer called “bishop”, be careful of this man. When the trial court rewrites the rules of your practice, he’ll just put the civil court imprimatur on that.]