CUBA: Electoral synod for new bishop ends in stalemate

June 24, 2009

The Episcopal Diocese of Cuba held a special electoral synod June 19-20, but after 10 rounds of voting no new bishop was elected to replace Bishop Miguel Tamayo Zaldívar who has served as interim bishop for six years and plans to retire.

The Cuban church has not elected its own bishop for more than 20 years because of internal divisions within the diocese. Tamayo was appointed by the Metropolitan Council of Cuba -- composed of the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presiding Bishop of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the primate of the West Indies -- which has overseen the church in Cuba since it separated from The Episcopal Church in 1967.

When he visited Canada in May, Tamayo told the Anglican Journal he thought the problems were partially generational and that the church was now more unified. "Some people belong to my generation and the new generation coming [is] in a different way of thinking. This was the main problem," he said. "But we've worked hard throughout these six years to try to put them together to work together and I think that, thank God, we achieved that. The diocese is much more faithful, hopeful and you can notice that in the results of the diocesan programs," he said, mentioning that 48 people had just graduated from a training program for lay ministers and permanent deacons.

But divisions were still evident in the election. Four candidates accepted their nominations, and the youngest candidate withdrew before the first ballot, said Archdeacon Michael Pollesel, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, who was at the Cuban synod to oversee the election on behalf of the Metropolitan Council. The three remaining candidates were the Rev. Emilio Martin, the Rev. Ivan Gonzalez and the Rev. José Angel Guiterrez.

"There was a clear leader from the first ballot to the last one, but he didn't have enough votes," said Pollesel, referring to Martin. "The requirement is a 66 percent majority in both the clergy and the laity, and none of them could achieve that. Had the bottom one dropped off, there probably would have been an election, but he didn't. Apparently, they don't have any provisions for taking the bottom name out at some point as some of our dioceses do." Since none of the candidates voluntarily dropped out of the running or gained enough votes, electing a new bishop was not possible.

"It's really difficult to know how people voted, but there were clearly two camps," said Pollesel. "I guess one would be considered more moderate and middle of the road, the other might be considered a little more traditional."

What happens next for the Cuban church remains to be seen. Pollesel said that Tamayo is willing to stay on as interim bishop a while longer and could do so with appropriate permissions. Tamayo has asked the Metropolitan Council for its advice on a way forward.