Haitian Election Forces Reckoning

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

A bitter power struggle in the Diocese of Haiti has spread into the rest of the Episcopal Church in the wake of a church court’s finding that a June 2 episcopal election was “deeply flawed.”

The Office of Pastoral Development is preparing for the rare possibility in which election results are not ratified by a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and a majority of diocesan standing committees. A leadership vacuum in Haiti would then need to be filled quickly before March 2019, when Haiti Bishop Zaché Duracin reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Bishop Todd Ousley of the Office of Pastoral Development. “We would certainly counsel them to seriously consider and accept the idea of a bishop provisional” who would serve during the vacancy.

Ousley said he would not select a bishop provisional for Haiti, but would instead identify a set of candidates for Haiti’s standing committee to consider presenting to an electing convention. But Duracin, who tried to stack the electorate ahead of the June 2 vote, according to an Aug. 16 report from the Province II Court of Review, is warning that Haitians will not accept a bishop from another country or one who is imposed on them.

“If Haiti is denied the opportunity to have a Haitian bishop of its own choosing, I believe it will cause significant problems for the diocese and for its ministry in Haiti,” Duracin told TLC via email.

The crisis is adding another hurdle to Haiti’s many financial challenges. Episcopal donors are bypassing the embattled diocese and finding other ways to support Episcopal institutions in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Since 2016, the Episcopal Church has twice imposed a moratorium on fundraising for church projects in Haiti, including the Centre d’agriculture Saint Barnabas (CASB), a technical college. Each time, reasons included the need for better systems of accountability from the diocese.

In April, the Episcopal Church eliminated the job of fundraiser for Haiti projects, a position held by Dan Tootle. He has since established a nonprofit, the CASB Support Group, to assist the school, which has seen enrollment plunge from a high of 85 to 13 today amid its severe cash shortage.

“We’re no longer supporting the college through the Episcopal Church,” Tootle said. “We just realized that if this was ever going to get done, we were going to have to do it ourselves.”

Joseph K. Delicat

Factional divisions in the Diocese of Haiti came to a head June 2 when Duracin’s favored candidate, the Rev. Joseph Kerwin Delicat, prevailed. The results were promptly contested, including allegations that Duracin had swelled the ranks of voting clergy loyal to him by ordaining 35 new deacons since November. Those ordinations increased the number of clergy votes by more than 50 percent, from 61 to 96.

Protesters charge that delegates opposing Duracin were housed without food far from the voting location and subjected to various forms of intimidation, including the presence of armed guards and interrogation during the convention.

Contestants alleged that both of the primary candidates on the ballot, Delicat and the Rev. Noé Bernier, belong to the Duracin faction of the diocese. A third candidate, the Rev. Samuel Saint Louis, was a token place-holder only, they say, and as such received no votes.

The court’s report said Duracin and the standing committee were “chiefly responsible” for the “deeply flawed” election. Duracin told TLC that the court’s findings were “simply wrong” and stemmed from “sham” proceedings that would not allow all participants to review evidence and blocked cross-examination of witnesses.

Not all accusations were deemed credible. Delicat was exonerated of a charge that he had done nothing to rescue a pregnant woman who, accusers said, was “beaten, tortured, and humiliated” in Delicat’s presence by a priest who wanted her to abort his child.

But the six-page complaint nonetheless highlights how dysfunctional the Episcopal Church’s largest and poorest diocese has apparently become. Altercations reportedly broke out between lay and clergy delegates; some involved police as well. Longtime participants in Haiti ministries say the acrimony and distrust are taking a steep toll on the church’s mission in Haiti.

“It’s a very grave situation,” said the Rev. Sam Owen, priest in charge of the Haitian Congregation of the Good Samaritan in the Bronx, New York, where he has served since 2012. “It is bad down there. I don’t think you can overstate that. It’s a distraction from the mission of the church. What the prayer book says is that our mission is to restore unity with God and people through Christ. And this is as ununified as you can get.”

As bishops and standing committees weigh whether to accept results of the June 2 vote, three possible possibilities loom large: Delicat could be consecrated bishop; a bishop provisional could step in; or the Diocese of Haiti’s standing committee could be empowered to govern with ecclesiastical authority. Opponents object to the last option because the committee is heavy with Duracin allies, and he’s critical of the idea, too, albeit for other reasons.

Vesting a standing committee with ecclesiastical authority “is always difficult for any diocese,” Duracin said. “But in this case, the unfounded accusations made against the members of the standing committee will make calling for another election problematic, at best.”

That sets the stage for supporters of Duracin and Delicat to wage their battle on two fronts. They are allied with a bishop who has been accused of authoritarianism, corruption, patronage, and vindictive tactics, such as frequently reassigning priests who have opposed him and not paying certain clergy for months or years. In Haiti, priests are paid by the diocese, which is funded by a stipend in the Episcopal Church’s budget.

An opposing faction draws inspiration from the legacy of former Suffragan Bishop Ogé Beauvoir, a cosmopolitan figure who has lived abroad and pursued a more progressive vision for the diocese, according to Tootle, who served as a missionary in Haiti before becoming a church fundraiser.

Now a second front has opened up to resist the perception of bullying at the hands of richer, whiter Americans in the Episcopal Church. Duracin and Delicat loyalists are pushing back against what they regard as a likelihood of new, colonialist-style meddling in Haitian affairs.

“Many within the leadership of the Diocese of Haiti believe that the report represents an attempt by the American Episcopal Church to interfere in the lawful administration of the Episcopal Church in Haiti, reminiscent to the multiple American invasions of Haiti which have taken place since its emancipation in 1804,” Duracin said.

But observers say the situation in Haiti is too broken, too split along theological and class lines, to raise up effective local leadership.

“That diocese cannot elect someone from within their own ranks who can bring that diocese back together,” Tootle said. “That is not possible. It is that badly divided.”

Inspiring potential donors to support the diocese again, Tootle said, must involve three steps: establishing a Creole-speaking bishop provisional; installing a chief operating officer to manage diocesan resources; and galvanizing a more transparent, reinvigorated Haiti Partnership Committee to raise money for projects.

Resistance is to be expected, Tootle said, but that is not sufficient reason to let the church in Haiti collapse amid its divisions.

“It’s going to smack of colonialism no matter what,” Tootle said. “That plays right to the sensitivities of the Haitian people. So that’s a given that you’re going to have to deal with. I think you’re going to need a darn good plan and approach to deal with the fact that it’s there. Acknowledge it and prove it to be wrong through action.”

Update: September 14, 2018

Clarification: The story “Haiti Election Forces Reckoning” (Sept. 10, 2018) inadvertently mischaracterized how Dan Tootle describes a dynamic of the Diocese of Haiti’s factional divide. One side has been inspired by a progressive vision once championed by former Suffragan Bishop Ogé Beauvoir, but Beauvoir is not actively leading a factional movement in the Diocese, according to Tootle. The online version of the story has been corrected to reflect Tootle’s point more clearly.


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