Bishop James Ottley of Panama Elected Vice-President of the House of Bishops

Episcopal News Service. September 26, 1990 [90236]

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 14 -- A Central American black bishop who has been a sharp critic of U.S. policies in the region was elected by acclamation as the new vice-president of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. James H. Ottley, bishop of Panama since 1984, was elected to fill the vacancy left by the death of the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker, the late bishop of Washington and two-term vice-president of the House. Bishop Walker died last year shortly after the House of Bishops met in Philadelphia.

In remarks following his election, Ottley said in Spanish and English that he was pleased by the confidence displayed by the vote, noting that his election underscores the Episcopal Church's "worldwide mission and ministry."

The Episcopal Church is one of 28 autonomous national churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Diocese of Panama is part of Province 9 of the Episcopal Church, which includes churches in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Within the past year, Ottley has been prominent in the news, primarily when he helped negotiate the release of church workers who were seized in El Salvador, and during the American invasion in Panama, when his own home was damaged in Panama City.

Ottley was critical of the U.S. invasion of Panama, saying in a pastoral letter that he regretted "that the changes so longed for by our people did not -- find a response in negotiations...and that they had to be accomplished through an armed intervention that has left great suffering and grief in the wake."

As Panama began to recover from the invasion, Ottley said, "We are starting almost from scratch -- our economic and legal system, even our police force, have been destroyed." He added that, while there is general rejoicing among people and "there is a lot of hope..., there is something basically wrong with U.S. policy in Latin America."

In an interview, Ottley said of his election, "With all of the changes in the world today, especially in Eastern Europe, there is a tendency not to focus on Latin America. It is a good signal to remember that we are part of the Americas. We are close neighbors; U.S. policy has neglected that. This sends a clear signal to the church and to the government that these issues are important."

As vice-president of the House of Bishops, Ottley will preside in the absence of the presiding bishop. As president of Province 9, Ottley also will continue to serve on the presiding bishop's Council of Advice.

Reactions to Ottley's election were universally positive. Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning said Ottley's election "is a joy to me." Bishop Heath Light of Southwestern Virginia said Ottley "is a bishop of great stature. His election adds a global dimension" to the Episcopal Church and to the House of Bishops."