By David Paulsen
Episcopal News Service
A churchwide panel has concluded that exclusionary policies in the Diocese of Florida limited which clergy and lay leaders were eligible to vote on a new bishop and “cast doubt on the integrity of the election process” — placing part of the blame on a pattern of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination that spanned outgoing Bishop John Howard’s nearly 20 years leading the Jacksonville-based diocese.
The conclusions are outlined in a 33-page report and 153 additional pages of supporting exhibits that were compiled by The Episcopal Church’s Court of Review after it investigated five objections to the diocese’s Nov. 19 election of the Rev. Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor. It was the second such election – both won by Holt and both disputed – to determine who will succeed Howard when he retires later this year.
The 14-member panel of the Court of Review declined to affirm three of those objections, saying there was no evidence that the outcome of Florida’s second election was affected by how the delegates present were counted, the timing of the election or the diocese’s decision to hire Holt after his previous election as bishop coadjutor in May was invalidated.
Instead, the investigation found that “multiple clergy who were otherwise entitled to vote in the election were denied that right” because of what was described as “a pattern and practice of LGBTQ clergy and those who opposed the bishop’s stated views not being treated equally with similarly situated clergy.” The Court of Review separately concluded that some “duly selected lay delegates” were denied voice and vote in the special election.
The Florida Standing Committee announced the Court of Review’s conclusions in an email to the diocese at 4 p.m. Feb. 17, with a link to the full document. It accused the Court of Review president of prematurely releasing the report to the wider church in “a clear violation of the canon law that outlines the process which she oversees.” The standing committee’s email, without addressing the specific allegations contained in the report, also accused the Court of Review of “ranging far beyond its mandate” in compiling “a number of anonymous allegations – reported so vaguely they cannot be independently verified.”
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The message from the Florida diocese standing committee is here.