By Kirk Petersen

The Diocese of Puerto Rico has decided to leave Spanish-speaking Province IX and affiliate with Province II on the mainland. The move is not official until it is ratified by the General Convention in July 2022.

The Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales, VII Bishop of Puerto Rico, told TLC the move does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the Latin American province. The diocese simply wants to try something new.

“We have a good relationship with Province IX,” he said, “but we see this as an opportunity to learn, for growth, and for sharing Good News.” Puerto Rico will continue to participate in many programs with Province IX dioceses, and has a companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Ecuador Litoral in the coastal region of that country.

The move also has nothing to do with seeking financial assistance from the mainland, Morales said, because the finances of the diocese are strong. The diocese owns San Lucas Episcopal Health System, which operates a 350-bed hospital in Ponce, on the southern coast of the island. The health system also provides hospice and home health care throughout the island. The health system gives the diocese financial stability and also represents an important mission, Morales said.

The Diocese of Puerto Rico held a special convention on July 31, at which it was courted with presentations by suitors representing Province II, III, and IV, all of which are on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The diocese chose Province II, and the province formally approved the switch on September 9.

Morales has had an eventful episcopacy. He was consecrated as Bishop of Puerto Rico on July 22, 2017 — less than two months before the island suffered its worst natural disaster in recorded history. More than four years after Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 Puertorriqueños and caused more than $90 billion in damages, the recovery is going “not as quickly as I want,” the bishop said. “There are many families that have problems with their roofs,” roads remain damaged, and the outdated electric grid still suffers continual power outages. A 6.4-magnitude earthquake in January 2020 caused further havoc in the southwest section of the island.

Still, the diocese remains focused on mission and growth. Morales said five new churches have been opened since Hurricane Maria, and he recently ordained 10 vocational deacons and four priests, all products of the San Pedro and San Paulo diocesan seminary in Bayamón, a San Juan suburb. The 20-year-old seminary currently has about 35 students, and is seeking national accreditation, he said.

At the Puerto Rico convention in July, Province III, which includes Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia, was knocked out of the running on the first ballot, but it took six ballots for Province II to emerge as the winner. Province IV, by far the largest province in the church, includes parts of nine states stretching from Kentucky to Florida, and was the closest geographically to Puerto Rico. But the diocese opted for Province II, which is sometimes known as the Province of New York and New Jersey, but which also contains the dioceses of Haiti, Cuba, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Morales said that strong historical ties between Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Virgin Islands played a role in the decision.

Province IX already is by far the smallest of the nine provinces, and after the expected departure of Puerto Rico it will account for about 3 percent of the church’s 1.8 million membership in 2019. The diocese reported 4,761 baptized members in 2019, and lists 56 congregations on its website. The Diocese of Honduras, with more than 36,000 members, remains by far the largest diocese in the province. The other Province IX dioceses are Colombia, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Litoral, and Venezuela.

Moves between provinces were authorized by the 2018 General Convention in Resolution A072.