Archbishop Te Whakahuihui Vercoe, the former primate of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, died on Sept. 13 at the age of 80.
Formerly the head of the Maori Anglican church, Archbishop Vercoe became the second Maori to become primate of New Zealand, but was the first head of the indigenous church to become primate in May 2004. He completed his two-year term in 2006.
News media in New Zealand reported his death, calling him “an eminent Anglican church leader not afraid of controversy,” and one who “aligned himself with groups seeking justice and championed the rights of the poor.” Despite declining health, Archbishop Vercoe recently filed a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal seeking $170 million to indemnify Maori veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. (The archbishop himself had served as chaplain to the Armed Forces in Malaya between 1961 and 1963 and South Vietnam between 1968 and 1969.)
But while he was a champion of Maori rights, he was also a “religious conservative” who opposed the ordination of women, gays and lesbians, said New Zealand-based One News.
Archbishop Vercoe was active in the international church, particularly at the World Council of Churches Central Committee and the Anglican Indigenous Network.
Ordained a priest in 1952, Archbishop Vercoe headed the Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa (the Maori Anglican church) since 1981. A descendant of the Ngai Tai, Tuhoe and Te Arawa tribes, he grew up in Torere, near Opotiki.
Archbishop Vercoe is survived by his wife and three sons.