By Kirk Petersen
In an unusual move, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Ohio has announced that it does not consent to the election of the Rev. Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Florida.
A bishop-elect in the Episcopal Church cannot be consecrated without receiving the consent of a majority of all diocesan standing committees and a majority of bishops diocesan. Most elections routinely receive the necessary consents, and the Church Center does not announce vote totals or disclose any dissenting votes. TLC could find no record in the last decade of a diocese announcing a decision during the consent process.
The Ohio committee’s 800-word announcement said “the Rev. Holt has made statements that have been hurtful not only to the LGBTQ community but also to our communities of color.” Citing the findings of a church Court of Review, the Ohio committee also said: “The Diocese of Florida has a long history of discrimination and disenfranchisement of LGBTQ+ clergy and laity. Policies and practices put in place by the current bishop (the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard) have made it inherently impossible for a truly fair and inclusive election to take place in the diocese.”
The 120-day consent period, which began when the Florida Standing Committee formally asked for consent after responding to the court opinion, will end on July 20. If Holt has not received the necessary consents by then, the election will be voided.
Ohio Standing Committee President Pam O’Halloran told TLC the committee made the public announcement because of the high level of interest within the Diocese of Ohio. Asked if the announcement was an attempt to persuade other bishops and standing committees, she said “that was not the intention. We were communicating with our diocese.”
Holt and the head of the Florida Standing Committee expressed disappointment at the Ohio announcement.
“I hope it will lead to a wide and probing conversation regarding some of the issues that have arisen,” Holt wrote, in a response posted on the Diocese of Florida website. The Ohio committee “suggests that it could not consent to my election because the composition of the electorate has been corrupted by the diocese’s current bishop. How long must a diocese that finds itself in this situation go without a bishop before the electorate in the diocese is suitably reconstituted?”
Florida Standing Committee President Joe Gibbes, who emphasized he was speaking only for himself, told TLC by email: “if the majority of the wider church is ultimately shown to be more aligned with the position of Ohio’s Standing Committee than with Florida’s faithful discernment about mission and ministry in our own context, we will certainly need the prayers, wisdom, and support of the wider church as we help the majority of our Diocese come to terms with the fact that the Episcopal Church is unable to honor their discernment.”
Holt and Gibbes both criticized the Court of Review. “The church’s Court of Review was chaired by the co-convener of an advocacy group that was openly campaigning against my election,” Holt wrote. “Is the church comfortable with this standard?” Gibbes said: “I wonder with some concern that the Ohio Standing Committee regards the Consultation’s disparaging letter as policy.” The Consultation, a coalition of progressive Episcopal groups, raised concerns in a June 2022 letter about a societal environment of “white nationalism, attacks on vulnerable groups, and on democracy itself,” as well as racism and homophobia — but stopped short of explicitly accusing Holt of any of those things.
The Diocese of Florida election has been one of the most controversial in recent years. Holt was elected at two diocesan conventions in 2022, in May and November. Each election was criticized by a church Court of Review. The court opinion for the first election addressed the relatively benign issue of whether a quorum was present. But the second opinion was explosive, questioning the integrity of both the election and of Bishop Howard, and leading to a fierce rebuttal from the Florida Standing Committee.
Howard, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 on September 8, did not respond to a request for comment. If there is no bishop in place when he retires, the Florida Standing Committee would become the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, pending election of a bishop.
Florida is one of a handful of dioceses that have been led in recent years by bishops who oppose the church’s decision to authorize same-sex wedding rites. Another such diocese, Albany, has announced an initial slate of four candidates for an election convention scheduled for September 8. That election will be closely watched because Albany has not had a bishop diocesan for more than two years, since the Rt. Rev. William Love resigned in the face of disciplinary action over his refusal to allow same-sex wedding rites. Additional candidates can be nominated by petition until June 7.
Two other conservative dioceses, Springfield and Central Florida, elected new bishops in December 2021 and January 2023, respectively. Both received consent without controversy.
The last time a diocese failed to receive consent was the 2018 election in the Diocese of Haiti, after a Court of Review found that the outgoing bishop had “packed” the electorate by ordaining a large number of deacons in the months leading up to the vote, thereby increasing the number of clergy eligible to vote by more than 50 percent. Under the canons of the church, a Court of Review cannot directly invalidate an election, but the court’s opinion can be considered in the consent process. Haiti still does not have a bishop diocesan.