Court of Review concludes Diocese of Florida bishop election was conducted improperly

By ENS staff
Posted Aug 16, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Court of Review has filed its report on the Diocese of Florida’s bishop election, concluding that the election in May was not conducted properly. The finding casts doubt on whether the winner of the disputed election, the Rev. Charlie Holt, can be consecrated as bishop coadjutor without the diocese first holding a new election.

The Court of Review’s mandate is not necessarily to issue rulings on the canonical validity of election procedures, though objections to Florida’s process were central to this review. Its report, dated Aug. 2, first went to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and was then sent on Aug. 15 to all diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction. A majority of each must issue consent before a bishop-elect can be consecrated.

A central concern prompting the review was whether the diocese met the required quorum of resident clergy, given that rules were changed two days before the May 14 election to allow clergy to participate remotely while lay delegates had to appear in person. Some of the delegates filed a formal objection asserting that diocesan canons do not allow for remote voting and therefore those who did vote remotely did not count toward a quorum.

The Jacksonville-based diocese rebutted that claim and said the change was made because it was the only safe and reasonable way to reach a quorum. No objections were raised during the election itself, the diocese wrote.

The diocese referred the formal objection to Curry, following a process outlined in Episcopal Church Canons. Curry forwarded it to the churchwide Court of Review, which essentially sided with the objectors. It concluded “a clergy quorum was not reached” in accordance with the diocese’s official election process. Furthermore, “the irregularities in the convention process itself cast a shadow over the legitimacy of the election,” the Court of Review said, and “the action of the diocese in changing its manner of voting two days prior to the election was fundamentally unfair to the delegates of the convention and the candidates.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the rest of the process will unfold. Diocesan standing committees and bishops must say within 120 days of receiving the report whether they give their consent for Holt to be ordained and consecrated as bishop coadjutor. In almost all cases, the consent process is a formality. With those consents now in doubt, the Diocese of Florida has not yet announced how it will respond.

“It deserves a thoughtful response and a prayerful response,” the Rev. Allison DeFoor, Florida’s canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service on Aug. 16. He said the diocese received the report this week and expects to issue a statement about it in the coming days. The diocese’s standing committee later released a statement saying it was “meeting and praying, as there are many factors to weigh and consider” before deciding on its response.

In addition to the objections to the election process, some Episcopalians on social media have voiced concerns about Holt, citing his views on same-sex marriage and statements that they view as intolerant or insulting to LGBTQ+ people and Black people.

Holt responded to those concerns in a June 16 video message to members of the diocese and The Episcopal Church. He has previously declined to comment on the election process, saying he was not involved with organizing or running it.

Holt previously served as associate rector for teaching and formation at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine in Houston, Texas.

While his election is under review, the Diocese of Florida welcomed Holt to the diocesan staff as a priest on Aug. 1, according to an email to members of the diocese. The diocese said Holt’s role primarily will focus on enhancing and expanding the diocese’s prison ministry; supporting local Episcopal schools; helping to plan the future of the diocese’s camp and conference center; and, supporting other programs.