Mark Harris is a priest serving in the diocese of Delaware and a prominent voice in the Episcopal blogosphere at his website, Preludium where this post previously appeared. For background on the issues in Haiti see our earlier reports here, here, and here. You can also check out the report on the findings Mark is discussing at Anglican Communion News Service here.
In what follows I am aware that I may be vilified by some who believe I have no business “interfering” in things Haitian. Perhaps these persons could be right. So, this essay has been subject to critique and examination by several Haitian clergy with an eye to keeping my own biases in check. But in the last analysis, it is my read on things, and I am sticking with it.
For any interested, I will say that I have a deep and long relationship with the Church in Haiti, with a number of its clergy and lay people, and with the country and people of Haiti. I went to the Seminary of the Caribbean with several of the senior clergy of the diocese. I have been to Haiti over 20 times in the past 50 years, have known both of the Haitian bishops, and most recently have been first a scholar in residence at the Seminary in Port au Prince and artist in residence at the Echole Nationale des Arts. I am responding in the context of considerable personal concern.
Since 1994 there has been this canon in the Episcopal Church’s law regarding contested episcopal election:
“Title III, 11, Sec. 8 (a) Within ten days after the election of a Bishop Diocesan, a Bishop Coadjutor, or a Bishop Suffragan by a Diocesan Convention, delegates constituting no less than ten percent of the number of delegates casting votes on the final ballot may file with the Secretary of the Convention written objections to the election process, setting forth in detail all alleged irregularities. Within ten days after receipt thereof, the Secretary of the Convention shall forward copies of the same to the Bishop Diocesan, the Chancellor and Standing Committee of the Diocese, and to the Presiding Bishop, who shall request the Court of Review of the Province in which the Diocese is located to investigate the complaint. The Court of Review may invite response by the Bishop Diocesan, the Chancellor, the Standing Committee and any other persons within the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected. Within thirty days after receipt of the request, the Court of Review shall send a written report of its findings to the Presiding Bishop, a copy of which report the Presiding Bishop, within fifteen days, shall cause to be sent to the Bishop Diocesan, the Chancellor, the Standing Committee and the Secretary of the Convention of the electing Diocese. The Secretary shall send a copy of the report to each of the delegates who filed objection to the election process. (b) The report of the Court of Review shall be sent to the Standing Committees of the several Dioceses, with the Certificate of the Secretary of the electing Convention relating to consent to ordain. Likewise, the Presiding Bishop shall include the report in the communication to the Bishops exercising jurisdiction.”
FIRST APPLICATION OF THIS CANON:
Shortly after the election of Dean Kerwin Delicat of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince, as bishop coadjutor for the Diocese of Haiti, the requisite number of lay and clerical delegates filed objections under this canon. This is the first instance in which this canon has been put to the test.
In an interview with ENS, Bishop Ousley (bishop for pastoral development on the Presiding Bishop’s staff) said; “it is clear that while the provincial court of review is given a role in the contestation process, the canons say the role is that of an information-gathering body charged with producing a report on the allegations, not acting as a court. Normally, the court of review functions within the church’s clergy discipline canons. They’re not going to make a judgment about guilty or not guilty. They’re not necessarily going to come down on one side or another.”
Instead, its report will be a compilation of the information the members were able to get. “It’s not the court’s responsibility to decide for the church or to tip the process one way or another,” he said. The group might say that certain allegations are true or not. “But more than likely, it is going have a number of things that will say ‘on the one hand but on the other,’” he said.
“It’s difficult to determine truth when in fact there are a variety of truths that are likely to be revealed,” Ousley said. “For those who are waiting for the report in hopes that the report will make the decision for them, they’re going have a very long wait.”
The report dated August 16, 2018, has now been written and communicated to the required parties. It can be found HERE.
Contrary to Bishop Ousley’s initial remarks that the Court of Review was “not going to make a judgment about guilty or not guilty. They’re not necessarily going to come down on one side or another,” the report reads very much like the findings report of a grand jury suggesting that there is reason to consider the charges of those contesting the election.
It finds “credible” the charges of the contesting clergy and lay delegates, and “credible” the contentions of the bishop and Standing Committee. But its final “findings” in each instance support the case that the election was deeply flawed, and that the “Bishop Diocesan and Standing Committee are chiefly responsible for “coercion and undue influence” in the lead up to and occasion of the election.
This report from the Province II Court of Review is required to be included in materials sent to every bishop of jurisdiction and diocese for their use in determining whether or not to give consent to the election. It is not subject to review, objection, or appeal.
What this, in effect, means is that the Province II Court of Review opinion, giving credence to the charges of coercion and undue influence, hangs over the process of consent like a grand jury indictment. But unlike an indictment there will be no trial to follow, to see if, in fact, the so-called credible charges can stand up to full scrutiny. Instead, Bishops and Standing Committees will have the Court of Review opinion itself.
Bishop Ousley said, “For those who are waiting for the report in hopes that the report will make the decision for them, they’re going have a very long wait.”
It turns out the bishop is wrong on this. The report is the kiss of death, since it comes down strongly in support of the contention that the bishop and standing committee of the Diocese of Haiti caused the election to be flawed.
Now here is the problem: The Canon, never before used, is now in play and it becomes clear that a Court of Review can, by its findings and without recourse invoke, pre-justice, prejudice, into the examination of the validity of an election.
SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS
This essay starts in the somewhat boring world of church law (canons) but ends up in the messy world of real church struggles. So hold on, what starts out fairly muted in significance gets loud and noisy pretty quickly.
My major points are as follows:
(I) The Court of Review has acted like a grand jury, finding credible grounds for considering the objections raised against the election. However, because there is no appeal, but only the report, these findings effectively argue for taking the franchise away from the electors in Haiti. This is not the Court’s fault. It is the fault of a bad piece of legislation that put this proviso into the Canons.
(II) The Court of Review, rather than the objectors, makes demands that there be an investigation of compliance with the Covenant between the Presiding Bishop, the Bishop Diocesan, the Bishop Suffragan and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Haiti. This seems to me to be outside their purview.
(III) The Court of Review has considered the conflict as a “party” conflict, rather than a conflict between ecclesiastical authority and those who would reject such authority. The struggles in the Diocese of Haiti are intimately bound up with the matter of the ecclesiastical authority of the Bishop. The Court apparently has no sympathy for any such read.
(IV) The possibilities are great that the Report of the Court of Review will result in punitive action by the Presiding Bishop and a crisis in leadership in the Diocese. Already there are muttering about a “provisional bishop” for the diocese and the specter of the return of Episcopal leadership by non-Haitian missionary appointment, if only for a “season.” Such a move will be seen, much as the occupation by the US in the past, as an intervention that smacks of paternalism. It would be a solution that also assumes the Diocese is not able to function as a Diocese, with its Standing Committee as ecclesiastical authority. Such an assumption is itself a continuation of the “poor Haiti” syndrome, often voiced in circles that continue the myth that Haiti cannot handle its own affairs.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE REPORT
The Court of Review is no jury of peers.
The Court of Review in Province II, consists of persons drawn from dioceses in New York and New Jersey, While Province II also includes Haiti, the Virgin Islands, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, and now (oddly) Cuba, there are not representatives of these extra- continental dioceses on the Court.
The matters brought forward by the objectors involved a wide range of accusations that exist in contexts very different from that found in most if not all US dioceses.
Among those differences is the fact that in the Diocese of Haiti all clergy are assigned to their charges by the Bishop with advice from the Standing Committee. This power of appointment means, practically, that at any given moment there are a number of dissatisfied clergy who believe the Bishop is exercising coercion and undue influence in their lives, much less in their roles in diocesan life. Added to this are the conflicts that arise between diocesan efforts to manage and control outside funding of projects and programs in particular parishes and the desire by some clergy and their lay leaders to develop financial and other resources that are independent of diocesan oversight. The realities of episcopal governance in Haiti are quite different from that in many dioceses in the US. To that may be added the tenuous personal and financial situations faced by clergy in Haiti.
The result is that there are often clergy-led struggles with the authority of the bishop. This has been true for every bishop since the inclusion of the Church in Haiti into the life of the Episcopal Church. In its opening remarks the Court of Review acknowledges the long-term internal struggles in the Diocese.
THE MATTER OF “PARTIES”
The Court did hear from the various “parties” in the conflict, but saw them as “parties,” rather than as supporters of episcopal authority and subordinate dispute with authority. The Court accepted then the notion that this is about conflict between parties, and not conflict between a bishop diocesan and a group of clergy opposed to the bishop and his authority. It does not seem to have been the Court’s opinion that perhaps the bishop’s “party” were effectively clergy and lay persons committed to episcopal governance rather than loyalty to the bishop of the moment. The blindness to this possibility might itself be an extension of a sort of paternalism that sees conflict in “missionary” dioceses as a squabble among children, rather than struggles to address the realities of authority and governance in quite unique circumstances.
The Court is well intentioned, I am convinced, but it has carried its investigation quite far afield from the contestation of the election itself and into a wider critique of the Bishop Diocesan’s adherence to the covenant entered into by the Presiding Bishop, the Bishop Diocesan and the Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Haiti.
It did opine, carefully, that “the evidence before us that the Covenant has not been fully honored and lived into by the Bishop Diocesan, the former Bishop Suffragan, and the Standing Committee of Haiti demands investigation, and we refer that finding to the Presiding Bishop.”
So, while the Court referred its “finding” to the Presiding Bishop, it does so with the demand that there be further investigation. It essentially opens the door to punitive action by the Presiding Bishop (see section 14) regarding any or all of the parties to the covenant. That section reads, “Bishop Duracin and Bishop Beauvoir acknowledge that failure by either of them to comply with the terms of this Covenant, once executed, shall constitute, at the least, the Offense of Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy, and will be likely to result in the issuance by the Presiding Bishop of a Restriction on Ministry against the noncompliant party or parties.”
The Court, made up of persons from US dioceses, has been asked to “find” for the Bishop and Standing Committee, or for those contesting the election, in a context quite different from what is found in dioceses in New York or New Jersey. That doesn’t make their work invalid, but it does make it much harder to take as convincing.
The first “finding” states, “The allegation that the high number of ordinations immediately prior to the electing convention took place in order to steer the electoral process is credible.” This means the objectors make a case that the Court cannot dismiss out of hand. It does not mean that the objectors proved that the ordinations were indeed made in order to stack the deck. The Court essentially found, as a grand jury might, that there is a case worthy of trial here. But, of course, there is no possibility of such trial, only rejection or acceptance of the validity of the election with these findings in hand.
This “finding” suggests that the Bishop and his “party,” by which must be meant the Standing Committee, approved the ordinations not because of the merit or abilities of the candidates but for other reasons. This is damning of the Bishop and denigrates his authority and that of the Standing Committee, making it appear that they use ordination as a political ploy, not a sacramental action.
Oddly, adding to the clergy rolls of the diocese is a great headache for the Bishop and Standing Committee, since each new clergy person in the diocese stretches the budget of the diocese to new limits. It is hard to understand why either the Bishop or Standing Committee would want to foist new clergy onto the responsibilities of the next bishop simply to ensure election of a “party” candidate. This finding is credible only if the struggles in the diocese are seen as so blatantly political that even the sacramental life of the church can be subsumed in such struggles. This charge is credible only if the diocese is condemned as a place of raw power and total lack of ethical or even practical sensibilities.
The second finding reads; “The allegation that the Bishop Diocesan interfered with the election, and that the election suffered from coercion and undue influence, is credible. There is fault on both sides, but the simple fact of the number and complexity of these allegations compounded by the failure of trust, suggests a deeply flawed election for which the Bishop Diocesan and Standing Committee are chiefly responsible.”
The Court of Review is there to review “objections to the election process.” While that might extend beyond possible irregularities on the days of election; at some point, concerns about influence become matters for person or persons better qualified to speak to the sometimes complex situation in Haiti rather than the Court of Review.
The Court of Review did not address much in the way of specific issues of voter fraud, miscount, or other electoral processes. It identified a “failure of trust” and “coercion and undue influence” as the matters that lead to the finding of a “deeply flawed election.” In hearing testimony from the objectors and from the Bishop and Standing Committee, the Court found itself able to give credence to the idea that the bishop interfered in the election process in ways that invalidated the election.
That of course brings us to the covenant agreement, where the parties agreed (section 9) that
“Bishop Duracin and the Standing Committee hereby acknowledge that in Episcopal Church polity, it is the norm for the Standing Committee to take the lead in shaping and leading the process for electing a bishop, and for the bishop diocesan to refrain from efforts to influence that process. Further, the Standing Committee will work to ensure that the process to elect the next diocesan bishop includes the voices and input of persons, both laity and clergy, who may have been regarded as not entirely loyal to Bishop Duracin. The Standing Committee will create one or more committees to oversee and implement the nomination and election process, and will include on such committees persons who have been regarded as outsiders to that process. To the extent that committees preparing for the election have already been formed, the Standing Committee will take steps to make any necessary changes to their membership so that they comply with the requirements of this Paragraph.”
The Court of Review believes that there are grounds to believe that the Bishop has broken his promise “to refrain from efforts to influence that process.” It kicks that finding up the road to the Presiding Bishop but includes it in its report that will be read by all bishops and standing committees. Again, the belief that there is a credible argument for undue influence and coercion becomes, on publication, a strong prejudice against validating the election, from which there is no appeal except the voiced opposition from those who believe the election, flawed or not, was valid, and more importantly the business of the people and diocese of Haiti.
There has been at least one such voice in support of the Diocese of Haiti managing its own ecclesial life.
A report from Archdeacon Fritz Bazin, of South East Florida, also Canon of the Diocese of Haiti gives voice to the support of the validity of the election and expresses confidence in the Diocese of Haiti governing its own processes. Archdeacon Bazin has been a close observer of the life of the diocese of Haiti. He writes:
The report of findings by the court of review of Province II is very troubling. Clearly this court received many testimonies from both sides, and among their first statements is one that smacks of paternalism. It is true that “The Diocese of Haiti is both the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church and the economically poorest.” The fact is that in this context, there is a reminder of Haiti’s economic dependence on the wealthy partners in the U.S.
The court did not simply submit the facts but went as far as condemning the Bishop diocesan and the standing committee who presented credible facts just like those of the opposite camp. Another troubling issue is the fact that the content of the contestant’s paper was widely circulated but not the response of the organizers of the elections. It should be left to the readers to decide whether or not consent should be given (although personally, I believe it would be the right thing to do.)
On the matter of the ordination of 35 deacons in the year of the elections, the massive presence at the celebration is a seal of approval even by some of the contestants who came with their parishioners.
Bishop Duracin argued that it is one gesture of his legacy to place ordained clergy persons in most of the many missions; it is a matter of interpretation that can be biased.
Most importantly, this is a situation that calls for respect for the Church in Haiti to solve its own problem. There is no need for a big brother to intervene as has happened in the past either in the Church or the nation. If it has to take time, let it be, but the clergy and the people of Haiti are fully capable and must be given space to find the solution which only they can come up with. Outsiders should not assume that they are able to comprehend fully and manage the complexities of the Haiti situation of ‘tribal” dimension.”
“Liberated Christians must be serious about stewardship and mission. Prolonged dependency makes us objects in the history of others, rather than subjects of our own destiny.”
The above quote is from Bishop Nathan Baxter’s sermon on February 16, 2008 at St. Agnes, Miami, at a celebration of Absalom Jones sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians. With this in mind, I believe that, in spite of poverty, proper management of existing resources and steady stewardship, the Church in Haiti could free itself from chronic dependency.
The Court of Review’s findings are far more damaging that it would appear. Sometimes bishops-elect do not get the required consents from dioceses. That is not the end of the world. The church can move on. But this set of findings sets the stage for a new rehash of an old myth – that the people of Haiti, and in particular the people of the Church, are incapable of handling their own affairs. That is an immediate and deadly possibility.
I hope the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Haiti will immediately respond to the findings and see that their position is also sent to bishops of jurisdiction and standing committees. Those bishops and standing committees must of course exercise their roles and offer consent or not. I hope they will give their consents. But if not, I am convinced the Diocese will be able to continue and to prepare again for an election.
image: From the Episcopal Church’s gallery for the Diocese of Haiti