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Episcopalians Contend with Violence in Haiti

“This is one of the worst periods that Haiti is living in its whole history,” said the Rev. Kerwin Delicat, executive secretary to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.

In an hour-long telephone interview, Delicat told TLC that most of the Episcopal churches in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince are closed, because gang violence makes it too dangerous to travel on the streets. “Unfortunately, the state government doesn’t have any control upon those people” in the gangs, he said.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a long history of internal strife. The gangs are better armed than the police, and are seeking to take over the government. Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry has agreed to resign once an interim government has formed. Henry has faced strong opposition since he was appointed after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021.

The Diocese of Haiti has more baptized members than any of the more than 100 dioceses of the Episcopal Church. It includes more than 200 congregations, many of which also operate local schools. The church is suffering along with the rest of the country.

The members of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince were meeting in a temporary location, because the cathedral was destroyed in a 2010 earthquake and has not been rebuilt. But now even the temporary location has been abandoned. Kidnapping for ransom is a thriving industry, and parishioners have been kidnapped. The only international airport is closed, there is no public transportation in the capital, and 25,000 families have been forced to abandon their homes, Delicat said.

Diocesan leadership has been in an extended period of turmoil, with allegations of arms trafficking surfacing in 2022 against priests and employees of the diocese. Delicat strongly denied that the church played any role in arms trafficking. “It is clear that the conclusion of eight months of investigation says that the church and all the leaders have not been involved in this,” he said. “The Episcopal Church has been the victim of a fraud.”

But there are two priests and two lay people in prison, despite a judge’s decision that they should be released. “We are living in a society where the justice is at its lowest level,” he said.

One of the priests arrested was the former president of the Standing Committee, the Rev. Fritz Désiré. After his arrest, his successor, the Rev. Mardoché Vil, was reported to be a fugitive, but Delicat said that was never the case. It was simply that Vil had been questioned at length by the police, as the head of the church.

Vil did not respond to a request for an interview. The Church Center has confirmed that he still serves as president of the Standing Committee — which is the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, since there has been no Bishop of Haiti since 2018.

Delicat was the reported winner of a diocesan election that year, but the election was contested because of accusations that the retiring Bishop of Haiti, Zaché Duracin, had rigged the voting pool by appointing dozens of deacons shortly before the voting. Delicat’s election failed to receive the necessary consents from bishops and standing committees throughout the church.

Given the violence in the country and the factions in the diocese, it is unlikely a new bishop’s election will be held anytime soon. The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, head of the office of pastoral development and the point person for elections throughout the church, declined to comment for this article.

It is difficult for an outsider to gather information about the Diocese of Haiti, for a variety of reasons. First is the language barrier. Haiti has two official languages: Haitian Creole, which is spoken by virtually all Haitians, and French, which is spoken by about half the country, primarily by more affluent or educated people. Delicat, like most Haitians who speak English, speaks it as a third language. He was the only person in Haiti that TLC was able to contact for this article.

Technology is a problem. Delicat spoke with TLC by phone rather than by Zoom because local internet access is unreliable. Even phone service is spotty — the call disconnected once, and when Delicat reported hearing gunfire, it was not audible over the telephone. The diocesan website does not appear to have been updated since 2018. An unofficial diocesan Facebook page created in 2010 has 94 likes but no posts.

TLC asked Delicat what people in the United States can do to help. “Pray,” he said. “We need prayers.”

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