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Guatemala elects LGBT-friendly Episcopal Bishop

Guatemala elects LGBT-friendly Episcopal Bishop
Silvestre Romero could usher gay agenda into Central American Anglican diocese


By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 20, 2017

The Anglican Diocese of Guatemala recently elected a gay-friendly Episcopal priest to be its new bishop. The Rev. Silvestre Romero, priest-in-charge at an Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts, was elected bishop coadjutor and will follow Bishop Armando Guerra Soria as the second Bishop of Guatemala.

Even though the Diocese of Guatemala is not jurisdictionally a part of the Episcopal Church -- it is the Anglican Church in Central America (Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de America) -- it has deep roots and ties to the American church. Therefore, it was not unreasonable for the Central American Anglican diocese to reach out to The Episcopal Church for its next bishop. The first missionary bishop to Guatemala was an American -- Bishop William Frey, an orthodox bishop, who later became the VIII Bishop of Colorado.

Fr. Romero is a native Guatemalan. In 1996, he received his diaconal ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, but travelled to the Central American Diocese of Belize for his priestly ordination. He was ordained by Bishop Sylvester Romero Palma (XIII Belize). Belize is within the jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of the West Indies.

In 1999, Fr. Romero transferred back into The Episcopal Church under the auspices of Bishop Frank Terry (VII Spokane). Since returning to the United States, he has served in the Diocese Spokane, the Diocese of El Camino Real and the Diocese of Massachusetts.

While in the U S., he was fully involved at the national church level of The Episcopal Church. He was a member of the Executive Council (2009-2015); a General Convention delegate (2006 & 2009); on the Standing Commission for Domestic Mission and Evangelism (2003-2009); a member of the Council of Advice for Latino Ministry (2000-2005); and a member of the Youth Ministry Council (2002-2003).

He was also pressed into service as a Spanish-English translator at four Episcopal General Conventions (1994,1997, 2000 & 2003); and was the first Latino Chaplain to the House of Deputies (2006).

In late 2009, he was on a slate of six vying for two Diocese of Los Angeles suffragan post bishops' positions. The diverse slate included two homosexuals, two Latinos and three women. He lost out to two women, Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian.

St. Peter's ~ San Pedro

Fr. Romero is currently priest-in-charge at St. Peter's ~ San Pedro Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts. The small Episcopal congregation was initially established as a Church of England congregation in 1733, forty years after the infamous Salem Witch Trials and more than four decades before the Revolutionary War. The congregation is proud of the fact that an early rector was Alexander Griswold, who became the fifth presiding bishop and a distant cousin to Frank Griswold, the 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Through the years, the two century-plus old congregation has undergone several spiritual makeovers. It started out as a Church of England mission, then the Revolutionary War severed its colonial ties from the Mother Church. Slowly the church shook off its colonial links and as the Oxford Movement unfolded, the congregation took on a social justice trajectory. Now the church, under the continuing leadership of its current priest, has become an "intentionally inclusive" congregation.

"We believe that whatever race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, or orientation; we are all one in Christ," the church's website declares. "This simple declarative statement has caused worldwide controversy."

Since the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency, the immigrant priest has signed a petition for the passage of Salem's Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance. He is also prepared to provide short-term sanctuary at St. Peter's if necessary.

Homosexual Friendly

Fr. Romero has also been active in Salem Gay Pride events. He participated in a Salem Interfaith Pride service held at a local Congregational church, which included a Jewish rabbi and a Wiccan priestess.

The Episcopal priest, who considers himself as an "agent of change on the issues that we face in the church and the community" has offered to officiate at gay weddings. He also took an active part in Salem's Gay Flag Raising Ceremony to celebrate June as LGBT Pride Month.

St. Peter's ~ San Pedro is an Integrity-USA/Believe Out Loud welcoming congregation, the only one in Salem. The other Episcopal church in Salem is Grace Episcopal, which is one of St. Peter's daughter congregations. The gay-friendly church congregation prides itself in being opened-minded when it comes to Holy Matrimony.

"Christian marriage is intended by God to be a life-long union between two persons. Typically, this configuration is between a man and a woman, but not always. There have been life-long unions between persons of the same-sex from the beginning as well," the church website explains. "While the church is not yet permitted to officiate at same-sex unions in the Diocese of Massachusetts, blessings of such unions may be arranged under special arrangement with the priest-in-charge." The priest-in-charge is Fr. Silvestre Romero, now the bishop-elect for the Diocese of Guatemala.

Anglicans in Guatemala

In the early 1500s, New Spain conquistadors colonized Guatemala to help increase the growing Spanish Empire and they brought with them their Spanish language and their Catholic religion.

By the mid-18th century Anglicanism was brought to Central America by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a missionary arm of the Church of England. Evangelical Anglicanism spread eventually to Guatemala.

History revealed that in 1867, Iglesia de Cristo (Christ Church) was established in Guatemala's British Consulate and that the Church of England chaplain was considered to be a part the British diplomatic corps.

The snaking Central American territory includes those Latino countries located south of Mexico connecting to Colombia on the South American continent. The seven countries include: Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala.

All the Central American countries except Belize and Honduras, are part of the Province of the Anglican Church in Central America. Honduras is affiliated with the Episcopal Church's Province XI, making it the largest of TEC's foreign dioceses, while Belize is attached to the Church of the Anglican Province of the West Indies.

Eventually, the Church of England turned its missionary territories in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala over to The Episcopal Church. The Central American landmass was physically closer to the American daughter church than the Mother Church in England.

Episcopal Missionary Diocese

In 1957, the Missionary District of the Episcopal Church in Central America was created drawing in Anglican congregations in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. David E. Richards was consecrated its first bishop based in Costa Rica.

While the creation and shifting of missionary districts was going on, an American priest, Fr. William Frey, was quietly laboring in Costa Rica as the publisher of a newspaper for The Episcopal Church in Latin America, as well as operating a Spanish language publishing house for the growing Anglican presence in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala geared towards meeting the spiritual needs of immigrants and their descendents coming to Central America from the West Indies. Spanish publications helped to keep them connected.

In 1964, the Episcopal General Convention saw the need to create a ninth province to deal with a growing number of "foreign" dioceses. The Central American dioceses were scooped into that new American "foreign" province with an eye on eventually providing an opportunity for those dioceses to become localized.

As explained in the Historical Perspective of the Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de America: "Supported by Lambeth 1958 and 1968, serious efforts were made in Central America to change from the system of chaplaincy (foreigner in a foreign land) to that of an indigenous, national, autochthonous church. Consequently, in 1967 missionary dioceses of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica were created with the purpose of spreading the Kingdom of God in each nation bringing the unique Anglican message to the local culture, as well as forming an autochthonous Anglicanism."

The perspective continues: "From that moment on the Episcopal Church in Central America tried to become incarnate into the local situation, to enculturate itself into each Central American country. It did not want to continue being the U.S. Episcopal Church in Central America, but the Episcopal Church of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama."

When the Missionary Diocese of Guatemala was formed, the American priest in Costa Rica, who was busy running a Spanish-langue publishing house, was tapped to be the first Missionary Bishop to Guatemala and Honduras.

Bishop Frey tossed out of Guatemala

"It was a total surprise," explained now Bishop William Frey in a 2015 interview with Duane Alexander Miller, recounting his experience as the first bishop of Missionary Diocese of Guatemala.

"I was a priest in Costa Rica. The National Church decided that Diocese of Central America should be divided into their own dioceses: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador," the bishop said, explaining that he was not only the Missionary Bishop of Guatemala, but of Honduras, too.

William Frey was consecrated bishop on Nov. 26,1967, in an outdoor ceremony in Guatemala City.

"The consecration was in a vacant lot in Guatemala because we didn't have a church large enough for a consecration to be held because there were only several small churches of the city," he recalled. "We had a plot of land, so we did it outside."

Bishop Frey began to cross swords with Guatemalan governmental authorities by making public statements about peacemaking during an undeclared civil war in Guatemala. As a result, he was kicked out of the country. He and his family fled to Arkansas.

"When we were evicted on Oct. 3, 1971, a friendly bishop gave me sanctuary in Arkansas," Bishop Frey remembered. "I got a job as chaplain of the University at the University of Arkansas. I have discovered that it is not possible to be bishop-in-exile. You have to be with the people and see them physically."

Bishop Frey went on to become the VIII Bishop of Colorado.

In 1972, Anselmo Carral-Solar was chosen as the second Missionary Bishop of Guatemala by the Episcopal House of Bishops, to take over from the country's exiled bishop. The Cuban-born bishop was the first Latino bishop to serve in Guatemala. It was under his reign that Guatemala ceased to be an Episcopal missionary diocese in 1980.

Bishop Carral-Solar's successor is Bishop Armando Guerra Soria (I Guatemala). When Silvestre Romero is consecrated bishop, he will become the second Bishop of Guatemala, and a native son.

The LGBT Creep

The LGBT agenda was slowly creeping toward the Diocese of Guatemala. Politically, Guatemala has allowed private homosexual activity, since the behavior was decriminalized in 1871. However, because the Roman Catholic and Bible-believing Evangelical churches predominate in the country, the gay agenda is frowned upon in the public square.

A Roman Catholic priest who travelled to Guatemala last week as a part of his parish cluster's annual Catholic Youth mission trip explains: "There are a lot of religious and Bible believing fundamentalists in Guatemala," Fr. Jerry Hagen told VOL. "They would never embrace the LGBT kind of stuff."

Fr. Hagen and his youth group were in Guatemala City, preparing to fly back to Wisconsin, when the 6.9 earthquake struck near Mexico on June 14. He and his group were safe, but shaken.

In all the years the Wisconsin priest has travelled to Guatemala for summer mission trips he has never met an Anglican there. There are only 35,000 Anglicans in the entire Central American Anglican province which includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala in a combined population of more than 30 million!

Theologically, Central America is conservative. Although provincial canons allow for the ordination of women deacons and priests and the consecration of female bishops, no women bishops have been ordained.

When Vicky Gene Robinson was consecrated the IX Bishop of New Hampshire, the only Central American bishop to attend was Archbishop Martin Barahona, who the first Bishop of El Salvador, the second Primate of the Anglican Church in Central America.

Bishop Guerra-Soria distanced himself from his brother bishop (Barahona) for attending Bishop Robinson's controversial consecration as a practicing and partnered gay.

"The Episcopal Church of Guatemala hereby disassociates herself from the action of the Primate of Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de America (IARCA), specifically in his participation in the consecration of Gene Robinson, recognizing that such a wanton act willfully causes a certain degree of IMPAIRMENT within IARCA." The Guatemalan bishop wrote: "There exists among the Bishops, Provincial Council and the Anglican Church de la Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de America in general, necessity to pronounce authoritatively on the subject, (the participation and its implications) and to take the corresponding corrective measures."

Bishop Barahona took definitive action to heighten the presence of the LGBT community in his local diocese, thus paving the way for the gay agenda to get a foothold with Central America Anglicans.

In 2014, the Episcopal News Service featured a story championing Bishop Barahona's LGBT stance. The headline reads: "El Salvador Anglicans lead church, society in LGBT full inclusion."

As bishop, he created the Ministry of Sexual Diversity of the Episcopal Anglican Church in El Salvador, which offers a place for lesbians and gays to express themselves freely. He travelled to Washington, DC, to participate in panel discussion along with Bishop Robinson following the screening of "Before God, We Are All Family." He also attended Gay Games at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. He encourages a support group LGBT families as a part of the ministry of sexual diversity of the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador. He allowed a group of 12 Americans to study LGBT rights in El Salvador. That group was part of a pilgrimage of LGBT rights organized by the Washington National Cathedral and the Global School of Fundación Cristosal.

The El Salvador bishop strove to have the LGBT community become integrated into the life of a local parish and not become a separate congregation of homosexuals, and he has openly praised his friend Bishop Robinson.

"Bishop Robinson is a true champion of human rights and dignity," Bishop Barahona said at a Gay Pride service at San Juan Evangelista in San Salvador.

In 2011, Guatemalan Bishop Guerra-Soria followed Bishop Barahona as Iglesia Anglicana de la Región Central de America as its third primate. He kept that post until 2015. The current primate is Archbishop Sturdie Downs, the Bishop of Nicaragua. Bishop Barahona retired as bishop of El Salvador in 2015. He was followed in his diocese by Bishop Juan David Alvarado Melgar.

LGBT Agenda Spreading

The Anglican welcoming of the LGBT agenda has spread from El Salvador to Costa Rica.

The Episcopal News Service reported: "In your first step to welcome to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] The Episcopal Church of Costa Rica was associated with other religious and human rights organizations to sponsor a forum on faith, the Bible, sexual orientation and gender identity."

The Episcopal Church of Costa Rica joined the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica, the US-based Campaign for Human Rights and two other local groups -- the movement of the diversity and the Student Federation of the University of Costa Rica -- for the screening of Before God, We Are All Family.

"The first step is to promote dialog, learn, listen and say what we have always said," explained Bishop Hector Monterroso Gonzalez.

We want to heal the wounds that many people who are LGBT have with religion. We must understand that they are the creation of God, and God does not make mistakes. We must accept them as God created them," said the bishop.

So far, the Diocese of Nicaragua and the Diocese of Panama along with the Diocese of Guatemala, have stood firm against the creeping LGBT tide. However, with the election of a gay-friendly bishop in Guatemala, LGBT push may quickly cross diocesan lines.

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

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