By Kirk Petersen
A priest serving as the executive secretary of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti has been arrested on arms trafficking charges, along with an accountant for the diocese, in the wake of the seizure of weapons that were addressed to the diocese, according to published reports. The accountant stands accused of sending diocesan funds to an international arms trafficker on several occasions since 2017.
Haiti Liberté, a weekly newspaper, reported that the Rev. Frantz Cole was arrested August 17, and subsequently “was relieved by the Episcopal Church of Haiti of all his responsibilities as diocesan executive secretary and priest in charge of the Parish of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Bolosse,” according to a Google Chrome translation of the French-language publication. The accountant, Jean Gilles Jean Mary, was arrested separately on August 23, according to Le Nouvelliste, a French-language Haitian daily newspaper.
The arrests stem from the July 14 seizure by customs officials in Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital and largest city, of shipping containers “holding 18 ‘weapons of war,’ four handguns and nearly 15,000 rounds of ammunition that were shipped from the United States to the Episcopal Church of Haiti, which said the documents had been falsified and that it had nothing to do with the containers,” Reuters reported in English.
Le Nouvelliste reported August 25 that several “senior priests” in the diocese called on the Standing Committee to resign in the wake of the allegations. The Standing Committee has been the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese since a “deeply flawed” 2018 election was nullified when the winner, the Rev. Joseph K. Delicat, failed to receive the necessary consents from half of all standing committees and diocesan bishops.
The president of the Standing Committee, the Rev. Jean Madoché Vil, voluntarily cooperated with the authorities’ investigation, according to the Haiti Liberté article, which also said the Standing Committee issued an August 19 press release denying that the diocese has any involvement in arms trafficking.
The Diocese of Haiti is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church, with more than 97,000 baptized members reported for 2020. It is also the most troubled diocese, located in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti has been beset in recent years by violence and natural disasters, including the assassination of the country’s president in July 2021. Barely a month later, a major earthquake killed more than 1,300 people. There is widespread gang violence, and kidnapping for ransom is a major criminal industry.
“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. Ousley, who runs the Church Center’s office of pastoral development, was speaking to an Executive Council meeting in October 2021. He could not be reached at the time of this writing.
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 in October. He praised the Standing Committee then, saying: “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.”
Efforts to reach Vil or anyone at the Diocese of Haiti were unsuccessful. Church Center spokesperson Amanda Skofstad said the church would have no comment.