Cuban Episcopalians Reverse Decision on Rejoining ECUSA

Apr 09, 2003 03:17 PM EDT

Anglicans in Cuba have decided against seeking to rejoin the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA). The decision, made at the regular annual synod of the Episcopal Church of Cuba in Matanzas this February, reverses a strong vote the previous February to seek reunion with ECUSA.In a vote by orders, 11 clergy voted against and eight voted in favor of the move, while in the lay order, 31 voted in favor and 17 voted against. A majority in both houses was required to pass the measure.

The decision means the Cuban church will continue to operate as an "extraprovincial" Anglican church, with oversight provided by a Metropolitan Council, chaired by Canada's Archbishop Michael Peers.

Cuba's diocesan bishop, Jorge Perera announced his retirement in January. Its acting bishop is now Bishop Julio Holguin Khoury of the Dominican Republic, a member of the Metropolitan Council. It is expected that a convention in the fall of 2003 will elect a new bishop.

Extraordinary synod

"The Diocese of Cuba presents a very interesting scenario," observed the Rev. Juan Marquez, ECUSA's international partnerships officer, who attended the most recent Cuba diocesan synod. It was only recently, Marquez said, that the diocese began to talk about readmission as a full participant into the Episcopal Church, and passed a resolution indicating the desire to rejoin as a diocese of the American church in February 2002.

That put the ball in court of the Standing Commission on World Mission's (SCWM). The commission met in Havana in October 2002 to discuss the idea with the Cubans, but the proposal hit a slight snag. "One of the provisions in the resolution from Cuba was the request to be readmitted on a provisional or temporary basis," said Marquez, "because they were thinking always of the possibility of joining some other provincial structure in the region" -- most likely, the long-anticipated Episcopal Province of the Caribbean, composed of the Dioceses of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba, which is currently in moratorium status.

The SCWM told Cuba that any reunion would have to be on a permanent basis. According to Marquez, that didn't rule out leaving again someday. "It was clearly stated, and they fully understood, that even if they rejoined the Episcopal Church, that doesn't mean that they cannot leave," he explained. "So they could erase that clause about entering provisionally and still leave."

Because of the deadline for the Blue Book report to the 2003 General Convention, the SCWM requested that the Cuban church send them a revised resolution, and a sinodo extraordinario--"extraordinary synod" -- was scheduled to address the issue in December at the cathedral in Havana.

"At that extraordinary diocesan synod there was a vote, but it was not a clear vote," said Marquez. Some of the 22 clergy--the number is disputed--apparently left the session at a noontime recess, expressing discontent with the process; others pleaded illness. Some had objected earlier that Cuba had already made its request and didn't need to address the issue again; others proposed that the reunion decision be revoked. In any event, by the afternoon session only 10 clergy were present, two short of a majority, and no vote could be taken on the revocation proposal.

Breathing space

That left the original resolution on the table. It was taken up at the regular diocesan synod in February, and was defeated--rejecting and reversing the previous action. The decision gives the Cuban church some "breathing space" on the issue of reunion.

"We have to understand that there's some polarization in the life of the Diocese of Cuba," Marquez pointed out. "It's a diocese that has tried to elect a bishop a number of times and has not been able to because of people staying in opposition and not really being able to join together."

But the latest meeting was different. "We feel very good about it," said Marquez. "People did the work they were supposed to do there in a very orderly manner, respectful and prayerful. Bishop Holguin presided with the full cooperation of the synod. It was a sign that we hope can provide a path for the next weeks and months to bring a sense of unity and reconciliation and a deeper sense of mission for the diocese."

"We're not taking sides on this," he added. "We have visited Cuba a number of times and we can continue to work as partners in mission and strengthen the life and mission of the church in Cuba."

In fact, the Council of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission met in Cuba just a few days after the February synod meeting, reporting that Cubans are "resilient and filled with hope" despite hardships and remarking on the "openness, hospitality, and Christian maturity" of the Episcopal Church of Cuba.

A still-unresolved issue is that of pensions for Cuban clergy. The Cuban church has no retirement fund for its clergy and, until quite recently, the clergy receiving pensions were those ordained prior to the formal separation of the Cuban and US Episcopal churches in 1967.

Now even that is threatened. New Federal regulations, including anti-terrorism provisions of the USA Patriot Act passed in October, 2001, have apparently led the Church Pension Fund (CPF) to terminate the payment of pension benefits directly to Cuban nationals until a license is issued from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) authorizing such payments.

"I personally talked to two of those people, they are elderly people, and the only income they have is these pension benefits," Marquez said. Pension funds reserved for Cuban clergy are being paid into a "blocked account," with interest, until CPF obtains an OFAC license--or the U.S. lifts its economic embargo against Cuba.

By Albert H. Lee
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