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Allegations of irregularities in Haitian episcopal election are “credible”, ecclesiastical court finds

Posted on: August 28, 2018 1:17 PM
The report of the Province II Review Court into the Diocese of Haiti’s election of Joseph Délicat as Coadjutor Bishop.

An ecclesiastical court has found that allegations of irregularities in the election of a coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Haiti are “credible”. A group of clergy and lay delegates formally contested the 2 June election of Joseph Délicat. As a result, the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church (TEC), Michael Curry, referred their complaints to the Court of Review of TEC’s Province II. The court’s findings will be distributed to bishops and diocesan standing committees as part of the Church’s process of election consent. Under the Church’s rules, the election of a bishop to episcopal office is not confirmed unless a majority of diocesan standing committees provide their consent within 120 days of being notified.

The Review Court describes the ongoing divisions in the Diocese of Haiti as “a rupture in the common life of the Episcopal Church” and says that they were characterised by a deep conflict between the Bishop of Haiti, Jean-Zaché Duracin, and his former Suffragan, Bishop Ogé Beauvoir. Following the intervention of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Bishop Ogé stood down and a covenant for restoring relationships in the Diocese was signed by Bishops Beauvoir, Duracin and Curry, and the Diocesan Standing Committee.

But the Review Court says that “the evidence before us that the Covenant has not been fully honoured 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.”

One of the allegations made by those contesting the election is that Bishop Duracin “packed” the electoral college by the ordination of 17 transitional and 18 vocational deacons in November 2017. This amounted to an increase of more than 50 per cent in the number of clergy entitled to vote.

Those contesting the election say that “these ordinations took place in the months leading up to the episcopal election in order to guarantee the election of Bishop Duracin’s candidate, and they believe that the plans to have these electors in place by the 2018 election began several years earlier,” the report of the court says.

“The ordination of 17 Transitional Deacons in a single year is, we believe, extraordinary and remarkable in the Diocese of Haiti. However, in response to our query, the Bishop and Standing Committee have told this court that all of these ordinands fulfilled the canonical process for ordination, are worthy candidates, and that their ordinations are in order. The 18 Vocational Deacons are the first ever to be ordained in Haiti. Bishop Duracin explained that while Haiti is the Episcopal Church’s largest diocese, it has so few clergy that most priests must oversee a number of parishes. Vocational Deacons are being introduced into the Diocese of Haiti at this time to help the priests with coverage for pastoral and sacramental ministries.”

The court said that it cannot substantiate challenges to the assertion that the ordinations “are lawfully and canonically valid” and say “nor do we wish to cast any aspersions on the suitability or preparation of the deacons themselves.” But it adds: “However, we believe that, even allowing for the presumed validity of the ordinations, the simple fact of the unprecedented number of them, increasing the clericus of the Diocese of Haiti by more than fifty percent in the final months before the episcopal election, prevents us from dismissing the larger allegation regarding Bishop Duracin’s attempts to influence or control the results of the election of his successor.”

It says as a finding, “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.”

Another complaint concerned the “manipulation” of the election and electorate. Those contesting the election say that some electors were denied ballot papers; while other people were given ballot papers despite not being eligible to vote under the diocese’s canons.

They court’s report says that the Diocesan Standing Committee “has detailed disruptive behaviour by opposition delegates on the convention floor at the first convention justifying the denial of ballots to such delegates at the second convention.” The Standing Committee said that the numbers involved meant that “none of these incidents would have changed the results of the final ballot of the election at which Father Délicat was selected.”

The complainants said that the location for electors to register and receive their voting badge was two kilometres away from the voting centre, “and that this was done to inconvenience, exhaust and discourage opposition voters,” the court’s report says. “They also allege that delegates to the convention who supported Bishop Duracin were housed overnight in the facility where the convention took place, but delegates in the opposition were housed at a distant site and were not fed.

“They report that some opposition delegates were called into the office of the Bishop Diocesan during the period between the two elections. They allege incidents of bribery. They further report with alarm the presence of armed state police on the floor of the electing convention. Each of these allegations has been refuted, challenged or explained by the Bishop and Standing Committee. The particulars of the allegations brought by each side against the other are too subtle, complex and numerous to explore in full in this report.

“We find evidence of attempts to control the election from both sides, though the preponderance of allegations has been brought by the Contestants. All of these efforts indicate a violation of the spirit of Provision 9 of the Covenant. We are concerned that the Covenant called for a process of reconciliation in the Diocese of Haiti precisely to lay the groundwork for a fair and free election, with the faithful of Haiti prepared to accept and support the Bishop-Elect. This has not happened.”

The report continues: “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 rejected an allegation of “a serious act of misconduct” against Joseph Délicat, saying: “We have been given clear documentary (stamped passport) proof that Father Délicat was not in Haiti at the time of the alleged offence.”

After summarising their findings, the Court of Review conclude their report with a prayer: “It is with sincere hope, and ardent prayer that we ask you to join us in intercession for the healing of the Body of Christ, both in the Diocese of Haiti and in the wider community of faith that is the Jesus Movement in the Episcopal Church.”

The procedures for a review of an episcopal election in the US-based Episcopal Church are laid down in the Church’s canons. But the contesting of Kerwin Délicat’s election as bishop coadjutor for the Diocese of Haiti is the first time that it has been used.