Cuba will not rejoin U.S. church, despite earlier enthusiasm

Published April 1, 2003

Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin Khoury (left), pictured with Canadian primate Archbishop Michael Peers, presided over the Cuban synod.

The Anglican church in Cuba has voted against rejoining the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA), despite an initial synod vote last year strongly in favour of the move. The decision was reached at the regular annual synod of Cuba in Matanzas in February.

In the final vote, which was taken by orders, 11 clergy voted against the move, and eight voted in favour. Among the laity, 31 voted in favour of rejoining ECUSA and 17 voted against the move. In order to pass, the vote needed a majority in both houses.

Once a missionary diocese of ECUSA, the Cuban church has been “extra-provincial” since 1967 because of political tensions between Cuba and the U.S. The Cuban church mostly ran its own affairs with special oversight from a Metropolitan Council, a group of senior bishops which is chaired by the Canadian primate, Archbishop Michael Peers.

Following a bitter extraordinary synod last December in Havana, where eight clergy staged a walk out to demonstrate their opposition to rejoining ECUSA, the outcome of the February vote was not entirely a surprise, said Canon Philip Wadham, co-ordinator of Latin America/

Caribbean and mission education.

In January, the bishop of Cuba, Jorge Perera Hurtado, announced his retirement; observers said stress from the December walkout was a factor in his departure.

Until a new bishop can be elected, the acting bishop will be Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin Khoury, bishop of the Dominican Republic. Bishop Holguin, who is a member of the Metropolitan Council, presided over February’s synod and put a strict time cap on debate. He was applauded by observers for leading the sessions with strength and wit.

When the Cubans first announced they were considering rejoining ECUSA a year ago, there was a favourable response from the U.S. church.

Last April, Rev. Patrick Mauney, director of Anglican and global relations for ECUSA, said he was delighted at the prospect of having the Cuban church return. The ECUSA standing commission on world mission then chose to hold one of its regular meetings in Havana from Oct. 4-11 to discuss the incorporation of the Episcopal Church of Puerto Rico, the Episcopal Church of Cuba and the Anglican Church of Venezuela into ECUSA.

In an interview last month, Mr. Mauney said he was not surprised about the vote “after what went on in December. I hate to see a divided church.”

A year previously, when the idea of rejoining ECUSA was introduced at the February synod, there was only one dissenting vote, Mr. Mauney noted.

“Suddenly in December there was the walkout,” he said. “I would like to have seen a really strong majority in favour of moving ahead.”

A year ago, he added, “I was frankly flabbergasted to hear that they wanted back in and then was worried about it being driven solely by the pensions issue,” he said.

Cuban clergy presently have no retirement fund and were said to be hoping for access to the ECUSA pension fund, which has $6 billion US in assets.

Mr. Wadham, who attended the Matanzas synod along with Archbishop Peers, said the vote “gives them more time to talk.” What is important, he said, is there was a great spirit of reconciliation and of unity.

Archbishop Peers preached at the closing eucharist.


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