FURTHER objections to the election of the Bishop Coadjutor of Florida, in the United States, have been upheld by the Episcopal Church’s Court of Review. A longstanding pattern of LGBTQ+ discrimination had undermined the integrity of the election process, the court ruled.
The election of the Revd Charlie Holt was derailed last year by objections (News, 26 August 2022), and had to be re-run last November (News, 25 November 2022). He was elected a second time, but further objections were lodged, and the court investigated the complaints.
Three of the objections were not upheld. But the judgment, published this week, says that multiple clergy had been denied the right to vote in the election owing to “disparate treatment in the granting of canonical residence”, linked to discrimination against those who did not support the conservative views on sexuality of the Bishop of Florida, the Rt Revd John Howard.
“Multiple clergy who were otherwise entitled to vote in the election were denied that right”, the court found, because of “a pattern and practice of LGBTQ clergy and those who opposed the bishop’s stated views not being treated equally with similarly situated clergy”. Separately, it concluded, some “duly selected lay delegates” had been denied voice and vote in the special election. “These findings cast doubt on the integrity of the election process.”
The court’s findings do not bind the diocese. The diocesan Standing Committee, in an initial response, said: “we must state that we believe the Court has grossly overstepped its charge, committed a number of significant factual errors, shown canonical disregard throughout the objection processes, and operated in a way that intentionally attacks and disenfranchises the will of the majority of the Diocese of Florida.”
The court had not found any irregularity in last November’s voting, but had “ranged far beyond its mandate” and had based its finding on “vague” and “anonymous allegations”, the committee said.
It promised a full response shortly, in which it would “detail for you our concerns about the process, and why it presents a danger to every bishop and diocese in the Episcopal Church”. It also suggested that it was preparing to move forward with seeking the Church-wide consents necessary to affirm Fr Holt as the diocese’s next bishop, based on the November election.
Fr Holt was due to succeed Bishop Howard as diocesan on the latter’s retirement this autumn. He has not responded to the court’s report. In December, after the objections were lodged, however, he issued a letter in which he said: “I cannot think of anything else in my life that has forced me to my knees to crawl under the altar of Calvary as this process has done.
“It has been a true humiliation in every sense of that word. The Lord is drawing me closer and deeper in ways that I was not expecting, testing my faith, my assurance of God’s abiding love, and the strength and endurance of my character and apostolic calling.
“Equally, the process has given me a profound sense of compassion and pastoral sensitivity to people who have experienced their own feelings of long-suffering and isolation. Discernment of the calling of God to any ordained office, especially that of bishop, is both a challenging and a humbling teaching process.
“While it has shown me the breadth of our love and potential, it has also shown me the depth of hurt and frustration in our diocese’s membership.”