Murder of Catholic bishop illustrates problems with TEC episcopacy

By | February 22, 2023
Murdered Catholic Bishop

As our Roman sisters and brothers mourn the senseless murder of Los Angeles auxiliary bishop David O’Connell, his legacy illustrates the TEC episcopacy’s profound challenges.

A priest for 45 years, O’Connell was known as a peacemaker who worked to reduce tensions between area residents and law enforcement, particularly following the beating death of Rodney King. The community he served was marred by gang violence, poverty, and broken families.

Said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez:

He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected,” Archbishop Gomez said.

That contrasts sharply with Episcopal bishops, many of whom live in comfortable residences in tranquil communities and have little direct role in serving those around them.

“Ah, that’s why we have listening sessions and dialogue circles,” many will respond. But the Episcopal Church has been at transactional solutions for 200 years now, and look where that has gotten us.

Or we can use Jesus’ test: “By their fruits you shall know them.” If we use that measure, the wildly malodorous fruits of the female ginkgo tree quickly come to mind.

O’Connell also was a hard worker. Profiled by Los Angeles Times reporter Mary McNamara, herself a lapsed Catholic, almost 20 years ago, McNamara was quickly exhausted by the bishop’s constant engagement with others, including meeting with the faithful, the struggling, and the oppressed. 

She says:

For three days, I followed him through his various ministries — the Masses, the school functions, the prayer circles, the private meetings with parishioners, the public meetings with local leaders. I watched him console the grieving, counsel the struggling, laugh with the children, rail against the hopelessness that took the lives of so many under his care. The week before, he had presided over three funerals for young men killed by gang violence.

Meanwhile, Episcopal clergy of every ilk babble on about self-care, despite the fact that the Church Pension Group reports that they don’t work longer hours than those in similar professions:

In conclusion, it cannot be claimed that clergy work longer hours than comparable professions

And for many of us in the private sector, vacations are almost unheard of, even as Episcopal priests luxuriate at the beach every year, go on sabbaticals, and otherwise engage in “self-care.”

Similarly, our chances of a private meeting with an Episcopal bishop are right up there with the likelihood of dropping in for lunch with Kamala Harris. The average TEC bishop doesn’t answer his own phone or email, so why would we think he’s open to dialogue or working to end injustice and oppression? Indeed, His/Her Nibs might show up once a year in full regalia to impress the little people, but that is about it. Too busy doing church, sorry.

Nor was O’Connell afraid to criticize the church. McNamara reports:

After spending eight hours with him, I was so exhausted I could barely drive home, and I had done nothing but watch him work and ask him questions.

Including, and repeatedly, why he remained part of an institution so obviously flawed and, at many levels, corrupt. He agreed with both of these things, and his anger at Mahony and the church for their attempt to defend the indefensible, flashed harsh and often. He thought restricting the priesthood to celibate males was ridiculous; women should be ordained and the clergy should be allowed to marry.

“If there had been some parents in there running things,” he said, “none of this would have ever happened.”

She continues:

He was, as many have said in the shocking vacuum after his death, a peacemaker, who wanted not just to help immigrants, the poor, the hungry and those beset by violence and crime, but to fix the systems that create the problems.

And though many warned O’Connell that his comments would hurt his career, he didn’t care.

That stands in sharp contrast to the Episcopal church, where bishops often are politicians and narcissists, interested solely in their own welfare and in not rocking the boat. 

Indeed, we have only to look at Episcopal priest Bob Malm, former priest to Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti, to see how the Episcopal Church addresses criticism. Faced with criticism over looming budget shortfalls, allegations of harassment within the parish, bullying, missing funds, and facially inaccurate financial statements, Malm’s response was to acccuse Bonetti of being a “domestic terrorist.”

And as unhinged as Malm’s claims sound to anyone who knows Bonetti, Virginia bishops Shannon Johnston and Susan Goff turned blind eyes and deaf ears to Malm’s antics, even when Malm filed court documents falsely accusing Bonetti of “terrorizing” Malm and his family.

And they ignored it when Malm tried to drag Bonetti’s mother into court in the final months of her life, in violation of the law, even as she was dying of COPD, incontinent, reliant on morphine and oxygen to reduce her suffering, and struggling with a profound anxiety disorder.

Sigrid Yahner dying.

Sigrid Yahner dying. Bishops Shannon Johnston and Susan Goff both ignored efforts to drag her into court as she was dying.

That was followed in short order by a false police report filed by church attorney Jeffery Chiow, in which he accused Bonetti of stalking him and distributing “threatening flyers.”

Jeffery Chiow false police report

Episcopal attorney Jeffery Chiow false police report. Chiow now is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig.

In short, whether it’s Shannon Johnston and Susan Goff, Alan Gates, George Sumner, Todd Ousley, Michael Curry, the late Jon Bruno, or any of the other myriad corrupt and dishonest bishops in the Episcopal Church, in many ways TEC is far more corrupt than the Catholic Church. And none of the bishops named have any interest in fixing the problems in the church that are driving so many to leave.



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