What’s at stake in Haiti’s contested episcopal election?

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Last week, blogger and Episcopal Priest Mark Harris offered an opinion of how a poorly constructed canon concerning episcopal elections had sowed confusion in its application to the recent election in Haiti for a bishop coadjutor. The Rev. Dr. Pierre-Andre H. Duvert, a priest serving in New York City offered his reply to Harris, suggesting Harris was both wrong and presumptuous in his original post.  Here Mark Harris replies to Duvert’s response.

 

First, I thank Fr. Duvert for his response. While I find most of his comments off the mark, so to speak, I am with him in his concern for the work and ministry of the Diocese of Haiti.

 

He writes:

“Thank God for providing us with a process that protects the right of the oppressed! If it were not for that process, those who are being abused would continue to suffer without being heard. The church is called to serve as God’s liberating agent. Unfortunately, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti through its leadership has been functioning as an oppressive force.”

I agree, a process that protects the rights of the people of the church, in this case, to a fair election, is a good thing. I disagree that this canon was meant to address the possibility of “leadership (that) has been functioning as an oppressive force.”  This canon is about the election process, and while there may be wider concerns about leadership in the diocese, those concerns enter in by way of the concordat between the Presiding Bishop, the Bishop Diocesan, Bishop Suffragan and the Standing Committee.  It is in that context that your charge that “its leadership has been functioning as an oppressive force.”

I believe that is a matter for the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Haiti, and neither Fr. Duvert or I are numbered among them.

Duvert writes about that covenant and says, “Actually, the covenant was supposed to create an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation and peace. Furthermore, the covenant was intended to lay the foundation for a fair and just election of a coadjutor.” That is true. But I believe matters about the covenant need to be addressed separately from the matters of the election process itself.

 

He then writes: “Before the covenant, the diocese was divided into two groups: those who aligned themselves with the diocesan bishop, and those who stood against corruption and for a renewal of the church.”

The covenant does no such thing. It in no place sees the division as between the diocesan bishop and those aligned with him (who I gather Duvert views as corrupt) and “those who stood against corruption and for the renewal of the church.”  That is Duvert’s reading.

 

He writes, “The covenant called for the formation of committees that included clergy from both camps to heal the division and shape a better future. Unfortunately, the diocesan disregarded the spirit of the covenant and retained full control of the committees. As a result, they were able to control the outcome of the election.”

The committees are committees of the diocese, and although they were to have members critical of the Bishop they were not meant to be independent of their responsibilities as committees of the Diocese.  The extent to which the Bishop and Standing Committee engaged the intent of the Covenant is a matter for the signatories to the Covenant. The Court of Review only notes that those members critical of the Bishop who were appointed did not continue in those committees.

 

In regard to my comments about the depiction of “party conflict”, Duvert writes; “In reality, the conflict was not about ecclesiastical authority but about fighting the good fight for the church to function as light in a country embedded in corruption. Our Lord reminds us that a salt that has lost its saltiness is good for nothing. The Episcopal Church of Haiti has reached a point where it lost its saltiness. The corruption has been so widespread in the diocese and especially with the diocesan and his clan that the following notice became necessary.” (Here he inserts a letter notifying officers of the church and the communion of a “Notice of Accord.” Having not seen this notice before, I thank Fr. Duvert for bringing it forward.  I assume that a similar notice was sent concerning the Suffragan Bishop, also bound by the Accord on the same basis.)

The reference to “the bishop and his clan” and to the matter of corruption again rests on the assumption that what is at stake here is the matter of “parties”, the Bishop’s clan on the one hand and the righteous remnant of the church on the other.

I will attempt to address the matter of corruption in another essay on PRELUDIUM, my blog, but suffice to say here that corruption, IF proven as part of charges related to Canon IV proceedings, is a grave concern. But if it is so much on the heart of Fr. Duvert, then why has that charge not been raised and dealt with already as a separate issue? The Court of Review is not the place for the initial insertion of such charges, nor were they tasked with addressing such charges.

 

Fr. Duvert then writes, regarding my comments about a provisional bishop, “It seems to me that you are not well acquainted with the structures and polity of the Episcopal Church of which the diocese of Haiti is a branch. Recently, there have been provisional bishops in Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Lexington. As you can see, the appointment of a provisional bishop is part of a process that has been put in place to provide pastoral and Episcopal leadership in any diocese of our Church in times of crisis.”

Well, Fr. Duvert is wrong.  I am well acquainted indeed with the structures and polity of the Episcopal Church and have had conversations on this matter with canon lawyers closely involved with these issues.  Since no provisional bishop can or will be appointed in Haiti or anywhere else without the approval of the Diocese through its convention and or Standing Committee, and since provisional bishops are only one way to deal with the absence of a Diocesan, we will have to see how it plays out. But Duvert’s claim that I am ignorant on these matters is bogus.

My primary concern is that the Episcopal Church, which itself acts at times in paternalistic ways, will see this whole matter as yet more proof of Haiti’s inability to manage its own affairs.

 

He writes “This has nothing to do with occupation or colonialism.”

Fr. Duvert is wrong.

 

He writes, “As much as you seem to be decrying colonialism, your interference in the affairs of the diocese of Haiti and your desire to be the voice for the poor Haitians give the impression that you regard yourself as the great savior who must come to our rescue.”  He also writes, “your continued interference and presentation of inaccuracies convey one message: the Great European Hope must save the poor Haitians by all means necessary.”

This is not worth commenting on except to say that I prefaced my essay by saying that I was sure that I would be vilified.  In this Fr. Duvert does not disappoint. I resent his inferences.

Again, my argument is that the unintended consequences of the canon on objections to episcopal elections include the situation we now have: the matter of the election process itself is intertwined with other matters including vast charges of corruption, type-casting the issue as one of “party” disputes between the corrupt and the pure, and matters pertaining to the covenant, to such an extent that the report of the Court of Review has become a de facto pre judgement of the validity of the election of Dean Delicat.

This is most clearly seen in the follow-up letter from many of those who signed the original complaint. In that letter they contend that consents to Dean Delicat’s election should be withheld because, since he is part of the Diocesan leadership, he is a party to corruption. Apparently, the objectors believe that no one who is not with their group is corrupt and cannot be elected.

 

Fr. Duvert may believe me to have no business commenting on matters regarding Haiti.  I believe the matters I am raising are not about Haiti alone, but about The Episcopal Church as a whole and its canons and how in this instance the canon has the unintended consequence of making judgments from which there is no further review possible.

 

It will be regrettable if Dean Delicat does not receive the needed consents. But it will not be the end of the matter. If the contesting group has its way, and essentially paints all who have been part of the leadership of the Diocese of Haiti as corrupt, then who is left to stand as bishop?

 


image: Palm Sunday 2012 in Cange 148 choristers and palms by Sister Sarah, SSM

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

Just adding that I personally don't know what's best. Dean Delicat could be the best person for the job for all I know. It's simply that I've seen some of the terrible impact of the division, I'm a witness to either the incompetence or corruption that keeps donations from going to the school where I teach, and I know Haitian Episcopalians who yearn for the same sort of polity that we have. They are using the canons of the church and they have every right to do so. The larger church can be a blessing to any troubled diocese. Frankly, if the Diocese of Haiti had the same standard of fiscal accounting that we have, I believe that all of the Episcopal institutions in Haiti would flourish, and the Haitian people would benefit.

What is at Stake?
The grassroots is where social justice and thriving happens in Haiti, and the church is the grassroots. This diocese and this country NEEDS the bishop election to come out right, whatever that look likes. Taking time to discern that is worth it.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

Why would it"be regrettable if Dean Delicat does not receive the needed consents?" I get that Mr. Harris doesn't believe that canon law was meant to cover the wide-ranging issues in Haiti. I disagree, because those issues were at play in an election that the Review Court agreed was problematic. But Mr. Harris's assertion that other issues should be handled by the Haitians is completely tone deaf to the fact that the covenant was needed in the first place. Further, we have a polity that calls for consents and allows a process for contesting elections. Haiti should be different?

Some of the pro Delicat electors where only made eligible in the 6 months prior to the election, 35 ordinations, including 18 vocational deacons. The Review Court found this problematic. Also, I don't know why Mr. Harris has tried to impeach the reputations of the contestants (self-interested, etc.).

From my on the ground perspective, Mr. Harris is off-base, and unkind about it.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

"Furthermore, the covenant was intended to lay the foundation for a fair and just election of a coadjutor.” That is true. But I believe matters about the covenant need to be addressed separately from the matters of the election process itself."

Mark Harris is not "getting it." Efforts were made in order to prepare for a proper election, i.e. the covenant. If the covenant wasn't followed and that fact has an impact on a proper election, then the failure to secure the terms of the covenant is most certainly relevant and not separate with regard to the election.

The characterization of the corrupt vs. the pure is simply infuriating. I don't know what is best for Haiti, or who is best. I just know that there was good reason to "pause" this election and reflect on the issues put forward by the contestants. And frankly, when Mr. Harris insinuated that the contestants were merely people who object to episcopal authority, he lost all credibility with me.

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