Puerto Rico Episcopalians opt for reconciliation on controversial issues

October 30, 2003

Dissidents from the actions of General Convention regarding the episcopal election of Canon Gene Robinson and same-sex blessings were thwarted in an attempt to have their views adopted as resolutions at the annual convention of the Diocese of Puerto Rico, meeting at the diocesan center in San Justo October 25.

A resolution repudiating the actions of General Convention and the consent by Puerto Rican Bishop David Alvarez Velaquez to Robinson's election never made it to a vote. A second resolution that would have required the Diocese of Puerto Rico to leave the Episcopal Church if the latter is disciplined by the Anglican Communion was overwhelmingly voted down.

Supporters of Alvarez and the actions of General Convention were able to table the first resolution, but not before a moment of silence was observed and prayers were read by the bishop for the Rev. Rafael Lebron Olivero. Olivero, who died September 16, was vice-chancellor of the diocese and a deputy to this year's General Convention. He was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution repudiating the General Convention and Bishop Alvarez.

In place of the tabled resolution, a resolution titled "Camino al Dialogo y la Reconciliacion was introduced. One of its co-authors was Robert Nater, vice-chancellor and a son-in-law of Olivero.

The substitute resolution was debated for 45 minutes, each speaker given the floor for five minutes. While passions were evident in the sometimes fiery and gesture-filled arguments, each of the speakers ended his or her speech by thanking the bishop. A vote by orders was called and the substitute resolution passed by a 36-18 margin among the clergy and 47-34 in the laity.

A no less fiery but less controlled debate was held on the second resolution. It would have required the Diocese of Puerto Rico to remain with the Anglican Communion if the Episcopal Church was somehow separated from it. The vote by the delegates was overwhelmingly against the resolution and no count was taken. Puerto Rico was only admitted to full membership in the Episcopal Church during this summer's General Convention.

Opponents to the Diocese of Puerto Rico's stance on homosexuality also made an attempt to be heard through a measure that would have amended the diocese's canons to require all persons seeking ordination or employment with the diocese to declare whether they were homosexual or heterosexual. That measure never made it to the floor after the chancellors pointed out that the canon would be in direct conflict with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's constitutional protection of the right of privacy in such matters. The day after the convention, Alvarez said he was pleased with the way the convention went and said he hoped now that his diocese could move forward on other issues facing it.

"The measures opposing the General Convention were too harsh. The resolution asking for dialogue and reconciliation is the best way to approach this and the only way we are going to be able to respect everyone's position on these issues and come to some understanding on how we can continue to work
together," he said.

The bishop earlier issued a pastoral letter defending his consent to Robinson's election and the split votes in favor of the election by Puerto Rico's delegation to General Convention. He has also had to take disciplinary action against four priests inhibiting them from functioning as priests in the diocese, for reasons the bishop would only describe as "disobedience." He also declined to say for how long the inhibitions would last.

In a press release faxed to the Episcopal Church Center in New York, the Rev. Dennis Paris, a graduate professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said that he was inhibited for conducting a presentation at the university based on a book which was critical of the consecration of Robinson. He said that Alvarez ordered the book out of bookstores and tried to cancel the presentation. The other two priests were disciplined for participating in a panel discussion of the book, Paris said.

In other action at the diocesan convention, the Diocese of Puerto Rico entered into a formal companion relationship with the Diocese of Venezuela. Bishop Orlando Guerrero and Bishop Alvarez exchanged plaques and gifts of symbolize the relationship of the two newest members of the Episcopal Church. Venezuela was also given full membership at this summer's General Convention. Puerto Rico also has companion relationships with the dioceses of Missouri and Western New York while Venezuela is in companionship with West Missouri and Kansas.

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