Former Florida Bishop John Howard faces disciplinary hearings in discrimination, financial cases

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 17, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. John Howard, who retired in October as bishop of the Diocese of Florida, has been ordered to face a disciplinary hearing on allegations of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and unidentified financial impropriety during his 20-year tenure as a bishop in the diocese.

The two separate cases are pending against Howard under The Episcopal Church’s Title IV canons for clergy discipline. On June 7, a three-member reference panel referred both matters to a hearing panel for further consideration.

John Howard

Florida Bishop John Howard reached the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72 on Sept. 8 and stepped down at the end of October. Photo: Diocese of Florida

The latest information, posted last week to a website for tracking bishops’ disciplinary cases, did not specify what punishment Howard might face, nor did it provide a date or timeline for when the hearing panel will meet. The panel is responsible for reviewing evidence and taking testimony in a setting similar to a court hearing before it rules on any disciplinary action.

Such hearings for bishops are uncommon but not unprecedented. The Howard cases follow a 2020 hearing when then-Albany Bishop William Love was disciplined for refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry in his diocese and a 2017 hearing when then-Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno was disciplined for his conduct in a diocesan property matter.

Howard reached the mandatory clergy retirement age of 72 on Sept. 8 and resigned at the end of October, though he remains a member of the House of Bishops.

The pending Title IV cases against him were first revealed publicly in February when The Episcopal Church, on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s direction, updated its website to launch a series of informational resources intended to increase the transparency of pending disciplinary cases involving bishops. The new Title IV webpage also aimed to make it easier for the public to file complaints and navigate the church’s inquiry process, at a time when cases involving bishops had received renewed scrutiny.

The chronology of the first Title IV case against Howard indicates the intake officer, the Rev. Barbara Kempf, first officially received information about the allegations of discrimination in July 2023 as she was preparing to take on the role of intake officer for bishops. Although the church’s Title IV website doesn’t detail the specific allegations, some clergy and lay leaders in the Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida have accused Howard of a pattern and practice of discriminating against LGBTQ+ clergy and those who opposed his stated views against same-sex marriage.

On Oct. 19, Kempf forwarded an intake report to the reference panel, which referred the case to an investigation on Nov. 9.

The second case against Howard is described only as “of a financial nature.” It was initiated on Aug. 11, 2023, and referred for an investigation on the same day as the discrimination case.

In all Title IV cases, a three-member reference panel determines next steps after receiving an initial report from the intake officer. In cases involving bishops, the three members are the presiding bishop, the intake officer and the chair of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.

In the two Howard cases, Curry recused himself and assigned his role on the reference panel to the Rt. Rev. Scott Mayer, bishop of Northwest Texas. The other two members are Kempf and Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely, who chairs the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.

Two separate hearing panels will receive the two Howard cases, each made up of members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. The panels’ rosters have not yet been released.

Episcopal News Service contacted the Diocese of Florida seeking comment from Howard and will update this story if any response is received.

Previously, the Diocese of Florida Standing Committee released a statement on June 14 acknowledging the latest developments but saying it had no information other than what has been posted on the church’s Title IV website.

“We have not been part of the investigation, and no one is communicating directly with the standing committee about these two investigations,” the standing committee said. “Please keep Bishop Howard and all those involved or affected in your daily prayers. As the Title IV process is designed, we pray for ‘healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation.'”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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