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Episcopal Presiding Bishop's Haiti letter couched in mystery

Episcopal Presiding Bishop's Haiti letter couched in mystery
Two Haiti bishops to face Title IV discipline

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
December 6, 2016

On Dec. 1, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry penned a letter to Bishop Jean Zache Duracin (V Haiti), Bishop Oge Beauviour (Haiti Suffragan) and the Rev. Dr. Kesner Ajax (Diocese of Haiti Standing Committee President), which was released to the wider church. The letter has left people scratching their heads as they try to determine what he means.

This is not the first time that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has written a letter which has left the wider church scratching its collective head as to the exact nature of his meaning.

A year ago, Dec. 15, 2015, six weeks after the XI Bishop of North Carolina became the XVII Presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, he wrote a letter in which he revealed the first hint of what was to come at Episcopal Church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York. In that letter, the Presiding Bishop placed Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Chief Operating Officer & Director of Mission, Samuel McDonald, and Director of Public Engagement, Alex Baumgarten on administrative leave for "possible misconduct in carrying out their duties as members of senior management of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society."

Speculation swirled that this action was taken because it was discovered that Executive Committee meeting was bugged just days after Bishop Curry was installed as Presiding Bishop.

"I also ask that we all refrain from speculation, difficult though that may be," Bishop Curry pleaded in his letter," We all have a responsibility to protect the integrity of all the human beings involved and also the integrity of a fair and just process in this matter."

Following a four-month investigation, it was determined that "Sam McDonald and Alex Baumgarten were found to have violated established workplace policies and to have failed to live up to the Church's standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of The Episcopal Church." As a result, they were fired.

Even though Bishop Sauls was not involved in the workplace difficulties, he was also asked to step down because his leadership style is different than that of the new presiding bishop's.

Now again, the Presiding Bishop has written another letter which is causing speculation. The Diocese of Haiti has been trying to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, followed by Hurricane Matthew two months ago. Much money has been filtered into the Diocese of Haiti to help with recovery and rebuilding from the Episcopal Church. Recently, Haiti Bishop Duracin came under the church's microscope concerning the diocese's finances.


It was announced at this June's Executive Council meeting in Chaska, Minnesota, that the pause button had been pushed by Bishop Curry on additional fundraising for the Diocese of Haiti after listening to those who are involved in rebuilding the devastated Caribbean diocese.

"We are reassessing Haiti," the newly-minted Episcopal Director of Development, Tara Holley told the Council members. "We are revising the Memorandum of Understanding. We're looking for accountability, for transparency, for leadership, thoughtful reporting, accurate reporting and job descriptions. We're looking at all of these pieces of project management that will make things in Haiti run more smoothly."

Curry added that he called for the pause after listening to all the parties involved in helping Haiti rebuild after the 2010 earthquake. "While it is clear that the work is a priority," the presiding bishop said, "the work must be done in such a way that we can engender enough confidence so that a fundraising campaign can actually get the job done."


Haiti is one of The Episcopal Church's 11 offshore foreign dioceses or missionary jurisdictions. The Episcopal Church likes to boast that it is the "largest" diocese the church. But the term "largest" needs some qualification. In terms of the 2015 baptized membership, Haiti is indeed the "largest" diocese, with 84,562 baptized souls. The second "largest" diocese is Texas (75,421), followed by Virginia (74,902). However, dioceses with a larger ASA than Haiti (15,393) are: Virginia (22,671), Texas (25,286) and New York (26,878).

The Diocese of Haiti has the highest baptized membership (84,562) in The Episcopal Church; in fact, as a diocese, it is singularly larger than two Episcopal provinces -- Province VI and Province IX. Province VI is a domestic province with 83,346 baptized members in the dioceses of Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North & South Dakota, and Wyoming. Province IX is a foreign province with 45,231 Episcopal souls scattered through Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Central & Litoral Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The Diocese of Haiti is in Province II, along with the various dioceses in New York and New Jersey and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

Haiti may be in the top four when it comes to ASA figures, but the diocese pales when it comes to the number of actual communicants -- 24,177. The latest 2014 communicant figures available show that 19 other Episcopal dioceses -- all domestic -- have more registered communicants including: Connecticut (40,045), Massachusetts (45,229), Long Island (32,462), New Jersey (31,125), New York (45,921), Maryland (28,917), Pennsylvania (35,997), Virginia (62,595), Washington, DC (31,137), Alabama (26,986), Atlanta (40,577), Central Florida (40,577), North Carolina (40,404), Southeast Florida (27,023), Southwest Florida (24,603), Chicago (29,289), Dallas (27,377), Texas (61,218) and Los Angeles (39,620).

At 10,741 square miles, Haiti is larger in land mass that eight US states including: Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. The Caribbean nation shares its Greater Antilles island with the Dominican Republic which is almost eight thousand square miles larger in land mass than Haiti. Most of the "foreign" dioceses have a larger land mass than Haiti, including: the dioceses of Taiwan, Central & Litoral Ecuador, Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia.

On US soil, statewide dioceses which have more square mileage than Haiti include the dioceses of Alaska -- which is the largest -- Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama, Maine, Arkansas and West Virginia.

According to 2014 stats, The Diocese of Haiti is one of 19 Episcopal dioceses which have more than 100 congregations. The Diocese of Haiti has 111 congregations, with only one other foreign diocese having more -- the Diocese of Honduras has 124 congregations. Domestic dioceses with more than 100 active congregations include the dioceses of Colorado (101), Newark (102), Minnesota (104), Maryland & Southern Virginia (106), Albany & North Carolina (112), Chicago (125), Los Angeles (134), Long Island (135), Pennsylvania (136), New Jersey (149), Texas (151), Massachusetts (163), Connecticut (165), Virginia (182) and New York has the most congregations (198).


The Rev. Canon Mark Harris, an associated priest at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, Delaware, is a member of the Executive Council. He blogs at Preludium and calls the Diocese of Haiti The Episcopal Church's "the pearl of great price."

"In a number of ways TEC regards the Episcopal Church of Haiti (ECH) a pearl of great price. The ECH's membership is larger than the whole of Province IX. It is an exciting and vibrant church. It is, on one level a great success," Canon Harris blogged. "The perception is, however, that that comes with a price -- TEC provides an annual grant of some $360,000, and partners with ECH parishes and the diocese as a whole to underwrite the costs of much of ECH's program work. So ECH is an expensive dependent child. The pearl has luster, but not depth."

The spiritual vibrancy of the Church in Haiti is shown in 2014 figures where the Diocese of Haiti boosted the most baptisms (1,970) and confirmations (1,060) of any Episcopal diocese. On the other end of the scale, Micronesia had seven baptisms and eight confirmations, followed by the Navajoland with a dozen baptisms and no confirmations and Northern Michigan with 13 baptisms and three confirmations.

"Where once TEC saw itself as an American church with overseas jurisdictions and dioceses it now considers itself an international church with some dioceses in other countries," Canon Harris explains."The Episcopal Church of Haiti is now considered the largest diocese of The Episcopal Church in terms of population."

Haiti is desperately poor. It is considered by The World Factbook to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The Factbook states that two-thirds of the working population does not have gainful employment and three quarters of the inhabitants live on $2 a day or less in American money.

"There is a dissonance between ECH as the pearl, and ECH as the costly dependent, and between ECH as a 'real' diocese that is self-governing and ECH as a missionary agency of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society," Canon Harris writes. "This dissonance is nowhere more apparent than in the phrase that accompanies almost all relief and development work in Haiti, by TEC or any other donor agency."

The Canon explains that The Episcopal Church's tension with Haiti comes because as the church's largest diocese in baptized numbers, it is also the poorest diocese, needing outside assistance in the form of money, guidance, direction and other tangible support to fulfill its ministry.

So when the 2010 earthquake happened, a bad situation became even worse. Ten percent of the nation's10.5 million population were displaced. Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was totally destroyed, killing Archbishop Joseph Moit and his Vicar General (Canon to the Ordinary) Charles Benoit in the process.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince's Episcopal cathedral was heavily damaged and was left in need of rebuilding. St. Margaret's Convent, Holy Trinity Primary & Secondary schools, and Holy Trinity Music School located on the cathedral grounds were all destroyed.

While $11 billion poured into Haiti from the United Nations for rebuilding the devastated country, Episcopalians rallied to raise money to restore the battered diocese and for the rebuilding of Holy Trinity as an "iconic symbol of hope, life, and faith."

Ms. Holley told the Executive Council that: "The Episcopal Church received a $5 million gift for Haiti in 2015, and the gift was withdrawn."

"She [Ms. Holley] explained that $4.3 million was revoked and the remaining $700,000 went to St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children, which is being rebuilt after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake," Jeffrey MacDonald reported for The Living Church.

In March 2014, the Episcopal News Service reported that Dr. Mary White, a New York physician and a member of St. James Episcopal Church-Manhattan, gave an undisclosed generous gift of money to help rebuild St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. The school was totally destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

At that time, Dr. White was feted by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at The Episcopal Church Center for her generosity. The doctor said she was "quite confident that The Episcopal Church, arm in arm with the Haitian church, can rebuild Haiti in a way that will be supporting social, cultural, educational and medical efforts throughout the country; not just in Port-au-Prince, not just with St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children." She specifically mentioned St. Vincent's Director, Pere Sadoni Leon and Haiti's Bishop Duracin, stating that she had "great confidence" in the work they are doing.

In addition to Dr. White's contribution, the Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) and various Episcopal dioceses have channeled money into Haiti following the earthquake.

However, it has not been publically revealed if Dr. White is the generous benefactor who revoked the donation following questions of possible financial mismanagement in Haiti. The Executive Council discussed Haiti problems behind closed doors.

Canon Harris takes issue with the closed-door approach. "The fact that matters are 'sensitive' is not sufficient reason for the discussion in committees to be in executive session. Some subjects may very well be controversial, alarming, confusing or otherwise difficult, but that is no reason for them to be discussed behind closed doors. In fact, just the opposite."

In a letter to ERD President Robert Radtke, Bishop Duracin explained that following the earthquake, his diocese set up and operated 21 refugee camps caring for 23,000 people in the aftermath of destruction.

"Please tell our partners, the people of The Episcopal Church, the people of the United States and indeed the people of the world that we in Haiti are immensely grateful for their prayers, their support and their generosity," the bishop wrote.


According to a September 8 story written by Jeffrey MacDonald for The Living Church, there is apparently an ecclesial court looking into the Haiti situation and Bishop Duracin is the target.

"Sadly, as we discussed in Haiti, some of those divisions have led to the pending disciplinary proceeding under Title IV of the canons against the Bishop Diocesan, largely stimulated by allegations made by the Bishop Suffragan," Bishop Curry writes in his Dec. 1 letter. "Since our meeting, it has become even clearer that this proceeding will continue to move toward an unflattering public trial within the next few months -- with painful allegations by both bishops against each other and testimony by clergy of the Diocese as witnesses on both sides -- unless a way can be found to resolve it amicably."

MacDonald reports that Neva Rae Fox, the Episcopal Church's public affairs officer, noted that the allegations "pending before the church's hearing panel does not involve allegations of financial misconduct." However, she has not revealed what the charges entailed.

The Title IV process can be used by the church to investigate civil matters, doctrinal offenses, and abandonment of communion issues.

Bishop Jon Bruno (VI Los Angeles) is himself facing a church trial over his kicking out the St. James the Great congregation and attempting to sell the Newport Beach, California church building so that high dollar condominiums could be built on the land. His public church trial is slated for March 28, 2017.

Former Bishop Heather Cook (Maryland Suffragan) also felt the sting of a Title IV action following her 2015 post-Christmas fatal hit and run accident . As a result, she was defrocked by the church, and the State of Maryland sent her to prison for seven years.

In 2007, Bishop Charles Bennison, Jr. (XI Pennsylvania) had Title IV charges brought against him for his failure to deal with brother John's (then a seminarian) sexual misconduct with a minor and then covering it up. The Pennsylvania bishop was initially inhibited and found guilty in a church trial and deposed. However, his sentence was overturned by the Court of Review and he was eventually restored to full ministry and returned to his diocese.

Since 2000, other bishops who faced Abandonment of Communion charges included: Neptali Moreno (II Central Ecuador), Mark Lawrence (XIV South Carolina), Robert Duncan (VII Pittsburgh), Jack Iker (III Fort Worth), John-David Schofield (IV San Joaquin) and William Cox (Maryland suffragan).

In 2012, nine Episcopal bishops were brought up on Title IV disciplinary charges for supporting the realigned dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy in court. They included: Edward Salmon (XIII South Carolina), Peter Beckwith (X Springfield), Bruce MacPherson (III Western Louisiana), Maurice Benitez (VI Texas), John Howe (III Central Florida), James Stanton (VI Dallas), William Love (IX Albany), Daniel Martins (XI Springfield) and Paul Lambert (Dallas Suffragan).

"These are difficult moments for the Church in Haiti. Its bishop has been accused under Title IV, and that process grinds along. At the same time the Presiding Bishop has put a hold on fund raising for the ECH pending some new agreements on accountability," Canon Harris blogs. "Bishop Duracin will, under normal circumstances, retire in three years anyway. As with any long episcopate there are those who wish he would have retired yesterday and those who hope he will remain until canons require him to retire. So things are a bit tenuous. Clergy are muttering, the administration is a bit shaken, and yet most of church life goes on as usual."

Bishop Duracin is 69, and mandatory retirement for bishops in The Episcopal Church is 72.

Canon Harris surmises that American and Haitians understand finance differently, which may be fueling some of the problem with the Bishop of Haiti. The diocese would like to self divide or even become an independent and throw off The Episcopal Church's yoke of supervision.

The Delaware canon asks: "In the eyes of The Episcopal Church, is Haiti any more equipped to be a self-governing and self-propagating Church? ... Does the Episcopal Church in the US still consider it inadvisable to 'put responsibility on and entrust complete autonomy to native peoples'? ... Does the US essentially consider Haiti as a ward state, a failed state in need of constant supervision from outside?"

"In particular the resolution to the charges brought against Bishop Duracin and now before Title IV panels for consideration, and the call by the Presiding Bishop for greater financial accountability and a temporary halt to fundraising for the rebuilding of the Cathedral are unsettling," he blogs. "They are seen by some of the clergy as efforts by the US Church to manage one of its dioceses in ways that are viewed as colonial and controlling and regressive."

Then Canon Harris comments: "The concerns (of) financial accountability are always appropriate and they are ongoing. That is why there is an officer of the Diocese underwritten by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and Episcopal Relief and Development to work on issues as they arise. Why that is not enough is unclear."

"In numerous statements and conversations since I became Presiding Bishop, and more recently when I was meeting in Haiti with Bishop Duracin and the Standing Committee of your diocese in late August, I have stressed what may be obvious to some but bears repeating again and again: that the troubles that have faced and continue to face the Diocese of Haiti are of grave concern, not only to me and other bishops, but to countless others throughout the Church who have had and continue to have a strong interest in helping the Diocese do its crucial ministry," Bishop Curry wrote to Haiti. "And so, it is troubling that on top of the burdens placed upon the Diocese from natural and economic forces, serious divisions have arisen in the Diocese -- divisions between the two bishops and divisions among the clergy and, undoubtedly, the laity."

There seem to be divisions between Haiti's two bishops. The two bishops are the Bishop Ordinary, Zache Duracin and the Bishop Suffragan. Oge Beauviour.

Bishop Duracin became the V Bishop of Haiti in 1993. Only one other diocesan bishop has been at his post longer and that is Bishop Julio Holguin (III Dominican Republic), who was consecrated in 1991. Bishop Duracin is the second Haitian-born bishop since Haiti became an Episcopal missionary diocese in 1914.

Bishop Beauviour is the first bishop elected as suffragan in Haiti. Before his 2012 consecration, he was the dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Port-au-Prince, which was damaged in the earthquake.

The bishop suffragan was born in Haiti, but educated in Canada and ordained by the Anglican Church of Canada in 1989. He was then translated into The Episcopal Church in 2000 through the Diocese of New York. He first served as an Anglican Church of Canada missionary to Haiti from 1991-1996, then he was again sent to Haiti by The Episcopal Church in 2004.

After just three years as bishop suffragan, Bishop Beauviour sought other employment and was hired by Food for the Poor, an American Christian-based organization which had already partnered with the Diocese of Haiti to help alleviate hunger in that Third World nation. The bishop took a leave of absence from the Diocese of Haiti to become the executive director for the Haitian arm of Food for the Poor.

Canon Harris explains that at this point Bishop Beauviour is not on the diocesan staff, nor is he engaged in any Episcopal ministry within the diocese and that for the most part, his position as bishop suffragan has been effectively vacated.

"It is reported from other sources that Beauvoir has at his own request asked to take a leave of absence from his position in the Diocese of Haiti," Canon Harris blogged. "Bishops asking to take a leave of absence in order to take up employment elsewhere is apparently something not contemplated in the Constitution and Canons. Resignation from a jurisdiction requires approval of the House of Bishops."

The canon says this begs a few questions: What is Bishop Beauviour's standing in the Episcopal House of Bishops? ... In the Diocese of Haiti? ... At what point does the position of suffragan no longer exist?

Bishop Duracin may be facing a Title IV presentment, but Bishop Beauviour is also facing Title III action, which allows for a diocese to sever its relationship with a bishop if there are irreconcilable differences. If a reconciliation cannot be effected between the bishop(s), the diocese Episcopal Church canons allow for the Presiding Bishop to come in and help facilitate a "divorce."

"Moreover, since our meeting, divisions among the lay and clerical leadership of the Diocese embodied in both the Bishop Diocesan and the Standing Committee, on the one hand, and the Bishop Suffragan, on the other, have led to the recent filing by the Standing Committee of the petition under Title III of the Church's canons requesting that I begin the canonical process by which the pastoral relation between the Diocese and the Bishop Suffragan may now be involuntarily dissolved," Bishop Curry concluded.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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