By Kirk Petersen

Executive Council members heard a sobering assessment of the chaotic situation in Haiti, home to one of the largest dioceses in the Episcopal Church. “The church is functioning in a civil society that many characterize as a failed state,” said the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, who oversees the church’s relationship with the Caribbean nation.

Director of Government Relations Rebecca Blachly ticked off the recent woes of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere:

  • President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July.
  • “There hadn’t been elections for more than five years, there was a dissolved parliament,” she said. “The Supreme Court no longer has a quorum because several justices died of COVID,” and justices cannot be replaced without a parliament.
  • The government is headed by Prime Minister Ariel Henry, “who many believe is not in place through any constitutional or legal process.”
  • The island has been hit by natural disasters, including an earthquake and tropical storm flooding.
  • The country has the lowest vaccination rate in the Western Hemisphere — yet recently had to return 250,000 doses to the United States, because of distribution problems and vaccine hesitancy.
  • “The security situation continues to deteriorate, as we saw in the case of the kidnapped missionaries [earlier this month], there’s widespread gang violence, gang-controlled areas, and increased numbers of kidnappings.”
  • There are shortages of food, gas, and electricity, and the security situation inhibits relief efforts.

Ousley said Haiti is “a proud diocese with a rich history of very effective ministry and engagement, not only on the typical church issues, but in social ministries, feeding and housing for the poor, and perhaps most significantly, provision of education at all levels within the society.”

Unfortunately, the dysfunction in society is echoed in the polity of the church, where “there seem to be irreconcilable conflicts between factions” among both clergy and laity, Ousley said. The diocese held an election for a new bishop in June 2018, but the election was voided after a church court found irregularities that rendered the election “deeply flawed.”

One bright spot he noted is the Standing Committee, which has been functioning as the ecclesiastical authority. “They are not always in agreement with each other, but I have to say, by and large they have done a remarkable job of providing direction and leadership,” Ousley said.

There’s very little that the council can do to improve the situation in Haiti, especially given the country’s distrust of outsiders, the United States in particular. “The Haitians are very clear that they want Haitian solutions to Haitian challenges,” Ousley said. There is a coalition of groups in the country called the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, and the council passed a resolution expressing support for the commission and pledging to “stand alongside our Haitian relatives in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and throughout The Episcopal Church, pray with them, and aim to listen and better engage our Haitian relatives to ensure that the Church and people can flourish.”

With more than 97,000 baptized members, Haiti by that measure is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church. It ranks eighth based on pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance. The difference can be attributed to the fact that the diocese runs more than 200 schools, leading to some people who self-identify as Episcopalians but do not attend church.