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The Battle for control of St Mary of the Angels Church in Hollywood Awaits the Judge’s Decision
After 14 hours of testimony over 3 days, Kelley’s congregation and a small group of dissidents await Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel’s decision on the case which will determine the future direction of the church.
This battle for control of the property started 40 months ago on May 25, 2012 when a small minority revolted against the vote of more than 80% of the parish members, to take then Pope Benedict’s invitation in 2010 to leave the Episcopal and Anglican Churches in the United States and become members in the new Anglican Ordinarite, a new branch of the Roman Catholic Church. This branch will allow the Anglican churches to use their favored 1927 Book of Common Prayer and the 1942 Hymnal as the ritual tools, but becoming subject to the rule of the Pope over Moral Authority and will be the Primate or leader of all Catholics. The parish members of St Mary of the Angels have a history of wanting unity with Rome, for in 1977, the parish voted for the first time become part of the Roman Catholic and petitioned both the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and the Vatican as well. In 2012, the parish again voted to do so by more than 80% . While outnumbered 4 to one, the dissidents decided to form a coup and wrestled control of the church property from the rightful board of directors. This was done because the church owns some commercial property that generated over $20,000 a month in real estate income.
Founding Parish Priest Father Lloyd Dodd started the church in 1918. As an Elizabethian style Anglo-Catholic Priest, Father Dodd started this Episcopal Church proclaiming the Catholic Faith in the Anglican Tradition. While Father Dodd founded and built the church, he had no financial support for the Los Angeles Episcopal Dioceses or any part of the Episcopal or Anglican Church. To earn a living, Father Dodd worked as a laborer and later an actor and film consultant in Hollywood. He actually appeared in more than 300 films. His most famous role was as the Senate Chaplin in the film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
While locked out of their beloved church, the Parish of St Mary of the Angels has been having Sunday Mass in various locations. At first, the parish members met at a specific location in Griffith Park. When the weather got colder, the parish started to meet in various member homes, still having Sunday Mass at the same time every Sunday. Several parish members also gather by the entry gate at St Mary of the Angels at 4510 Finley Ave in the Los Felix neighborhood of Los Angeles every Friday at 6:00PM for a special vigil to pray for the return of the church to their care. This vigil started in June of 2012.
To advance their cause, the dissidents made Father Christopher Kelley and his family target of their wrath. They accused Kelley of being a rouge unmarried priest who was taking the church and his parish in a direction contrary to the dictates of the American Church of America, stealing precious art work and funds from the treasury, and acting in a manner contrary to the conduct of a religious leader. They even entered into a 18-month conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service for not paying any payroll withholding taxes, forcing the IRS to attempt to foreclose on the property. If it had not been for swift and decisive action by Kelley and some of the members of the Church Vestry (a.k.a. the Board of Directors), the foreclosure was adverted.
Kelley is married with both a son and daughter who were living in the rector’s residence. The dissidents forced the Kelley’s eviction. Under threat of violence, the Kelley’s now reside sequestered in a safe home at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles.
Now that the cases have been heard, Kelley has been found innocent of all charges by Los Angeles Court Judge Ann Jones. But the dissidents have refused to vacate the property and continue to occupy it despite any court order. Once Judge Mary Strobe rules, the air can be cleared on this issue.
Whoever loses will file an appeal. If that occurs, we will continue into year four of this battle.
Steve Hawkins, Junior Warden