Diocese of Florida disputes claims of delegates objecting to second attempt at bishop election

By David Paulsen
Posted Dec 13, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Florida Standing Committee on Dec. 13 issued its public response to objections raised by a group of clergy and lay delegates over the diocese’s recent bishop coadjutor election. The letter disputes those objections, saying diocesan leaders went to great lengths to maintain the integrity of this election after a previous election was voided over procedural concerns.

In particular, the standing committee’s response seeks to clarify an apparent discrepancy between the number of clergy delegates who voted and the number who later were listed as present. “The objectors assert that there was a material error in voting, but this was not the case. Only qualified voters cast a ballot,” the letter says. Every clergy member present had pre-registered, and “only those clergy voted.”

The Rev. Charlie Holt in a video introducing himself to members of the Diocese of Florida.

In the Jacksonville-based diocese’s first attempt at choosing a successor for retiring Bishop John Howard, delegates elected the Rev. Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor on May 14, but a complaint objecting to that result made its way to the churchwide Court of Review. In August, siding with the objectors, the Court of Review concluded that “a clergy quorum was not reached” in accordance with the diocese’s official election process, 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.”

Holt withdrew his acceptance of the election, and the Standing Committee called for a new election that would address concerns about the process. All delegates were required to attend the Nov. 19 electing convention in person at Camp Weed in Live Oak. Holt again was on the ballot, along with the Rev. Miguel Rosada and the Rev. Beth Tjoflat.

Standing Committee members

The Rev. Joe Gibbes, standing committee president, and Jackie Jones, a member of the standing committee, answer questions about the Diocese of Florida bishop election in a September video.

“We sought to ensure that our proceedings were fair and in keeping with the canons of our own diocese and of The Episcopal Church,” the standing committee said in its letter this week. “We took these steps and others … to show our good faith to the wider church and to assure all Episcopalians that we proceeded in a fair and just fashion.”

In the May election, Holt had been elected in the third round of balloting. In November, the election ended after just one round with Holt again the victor. On the first ballot, he received 56 clergy votes, the minimum needed for election, and received 79 lay votes (67 were required).

On Nov. 28, 29 clergy and lay delegates filed new objections to the second election, including the allegation that the diocese posted a list of delegates present that included the name of at least one clergy member who had not registered and did not attend the convention. The objection did not identify who might have voted erroneously.

The objection also alleges disparate treatment of clergy, voter disenfranchisement, rules violations and a “fundamentally unfair” election, noting that Holt was hired as a diocesan staff member while the first election was under review.

The standing committee countered in its Dec. 13 letter that, although the published clergy list contained “administrative errors,” these errors had not allowed ineligible clergy to vote and didn’t affect the election’s outcome. Volunteers accidentally marked two absent clergy as present, but no ballots were issued for them, the standing committee said. Another clergy delegate, who was marked absent, actually arrived late and was given a ballot.

“These clerical errors thus had no impact on the count of present clergy conducted by the independent auditors, nor any impact on the integrity of the quorum or vote,” the standing committee said.

Florida Bishop John Howard reads the results of the bishop coadjutor election on Nov. 19, 2022, election. Image source: Diocese of Florida

The Court of Review is expected to convene in January to hear the latest objections. Its rulings are not binding, though its report could influence the bishop consent process. Bishop elections are referred to diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction, and a majority of each must issue consent before a bishop-elect can be consecrated.

Howard had called for the election of a bishop coadjutor because of his plans to retire by fall 2023. He will reach the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72 next year. Florida’s bishop coadjutor would then be installed as the next diocesan bishop.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.