A dispute in the Diocese of Peru is threatening to awaken long-buried secrets and patterns of leadership across not just the one nation but the entire Anglican Church in South America.
A few months ago a growing conflict at the Anglican Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Lima Peru was brought to my attention. The Rector of the congregation had his license revoked by Bishop Jorge Aguilar. It was clear that the relationship between the Rector and the Bishop had broken down, not least over his choice to not accept vaccination for Covid which led to him being unable to open the Cathedral for public worship.
Concerned members of the congregation met with the bishop but to no avail. There was a clear sense of dissatisfaction amongst some members of the church family, not only over the dismissal of their rector but also the handling of other issues in the diocese. Nevertheless, the bishop refused to reinstate their pastor.
In the days following the meeting word began to spread about the history of Bishop Aguilar and, in particular, what can only be neutrally described as a complex story. Bishop Aguilar, it seems, had deliberately kept secret details about his handling of a prior relationship that, if more widely known, would have called his ordination, let alone his consecration, into question. I’ve spent the past few months seeking to establish the facts and distill them from the many other rumours that I’ve come across. Here’s what we now know:
In or before 1992 Jorge Luis Aguilar, who was then an ordained Roman Catholic Priest in his early 30s, entered into a sexual relationship with a young woman I will identity as “E”. E was 17 and fell pregnant around August. Aguilar married her in a civil wedding on 4 December 1992 (see divorce certificate below for evidence of date). Around this time he was also laicised. The exact circumstances of that (whether he resigned or was dismissed are unknown). It has been suggested to me that Aguilar’s behaviour amounted to statutory rape but I cannot verify this claim, being unable to establish whether the age of consent in Peru at that time was 17 or 18 years old.
The story picks up in 2002 when Aguilar began to be known around the Anglican Church of Peru. Those familiar with the area tell me it was common for Roman Catholic priests to seek to transfer their ministry into the Anglican Church, often under similar circumstances to those of Aguilar described above, even if not with the same large age discrepancy. One person related the story of a Roman Catholic bishop sending a priest who wished to marry a woman with the encouragement “then go join the Anglian Church because they’re just the same as us, except you can get married”,
What is peculiar about Aguilar’s situation is that he appeared in 2002 with another woman, who I will call “S”, that he presented as his wife. S was pregnant at the time and their son was baptised in the Anglican Church of Peru.
In 2006 Aguilar was received into the Anglican Communion with the office of a Priest by the then Bishop of Peru, William Godfrey, in what has been described to me as a “secret ceremony”. Witnesses have claimed that the ordination committee of the time knew about Auguilar’s marriage and “even knew that Jorge Aguilar’s daughter [from the marriage] had a mental disability”. I’ve not been able to verify this last claim.
What we do know is that in 2006, around the time of his reception, Aguilar entered into a second, bigamous, marriage with S. At this stage it appears that Aguilar knowingly broke the law, recording his marital status as “soltero” (“single”). The marriage certificate is reproduced below with the identity of S removed:
It is helpful to summarise the established facts to this point in the timeline:
- Aguilar was married in December 1992 to E, with whom he then had a child conceived while he was still an RC priest prior to the marriage.
- Aguilar was received as a priest in the Anglican Church of Peru in 2006, having for 4 years previously presented a woman, S, as his wife when he was still married to E. They had a number of children, at least one of which was baptised in the Anglican Church of Peru.
- Around the same time as he was received, Aguilar entered into an invalid bigamous civil marriage with S, knowingly making a false statement on the marriage certificate.
Those are the facts. What the bishop or the ordination committee knew, let alone what prompted Aguilar to marry S at around the same time, cannot be determined.
In 2010 Aguilar was considered for the position of Suffragan Bishop in the diocese. In accordance to the canons an examination committee was formed to consider the candidates. There were four members of the committee (including Allen Hill, the son-in-law of then-Bishop William Godfrey) supported by a secretary. A member of the committee reports that they were only informed a few days prior to meeting that Aguilar had a daughter who, at the time, was thought to have been born out of wedlock. Our source was not aware at the time that Aguilar was married to E. Aguilar admitted the existence of a daughter but did not provide any more information to the examination committee and did not inform them of his marriage to E. The committee asked him if he had had a church wedding with S, to which Aguilar is reported to have responded “I am about to get married” claiming that the cost of such a wedding had so far prevented him from proceeding. On the basis that he had not fulfilled basic expected requirements of behaviour the committee declined to approve his candidacy.
Initially Hill is reported to have opposed the consecration of Aguilar. Our source then claims that “Godfrey came to the meeting and went ballistic” after which Hill changed his position. Nevertheless, Aguilar withdrew his candidacy and proceeded to have a “church wedding” on 28 August 2010.
Sometime over the next few years the canons of the diocese were changed (perhaps in anticipation of the diocese becoming a province in its own right) so that the examination committee no longer existed. Suffragan bishop appointments were now made on the basis of a nomination from the diocesan bishop and the clergy asked to approve of the candidates by a simple vote.
In 2014 Godfrey once more nominated Aguilar as a candidate to be one of three new suffragan bishops. Aguilar was interviewed by clergy prior to their vote on the matter. The question of his daughter by E was raised and a number of those present, some learning of the fact for the first time, were not supportive of his candidacy. Nevertheless, at Bishop Godfrey’s urging he was approved. Again, no public mention was made by Aguilar of his ongoing marriage to E.
In late 2014 Aguilar was divorced from E:
It appears that all these facts began to be circulated in March 2022 following on from the dispute at Lima Cathedral. When these matters were raised with diocesan and provincial authorities the response was consistent: Aguilar’s sins had been repented of, dealt with, and all ought to proceed on the principle of grace. There was also an appeal to the authority of the House of Bishops of South America. In an open letter sent to Aguilar in late March 2022 they write, “As a House of Bishops, we are aware of your ministry and family journey” and go on to express their support, describing the ongoing accusations as “defamatory”.
Compassion or Cover-Up?
I have spoken with some from Peru who argue that there has been no clear public repentance by Aguilar, and certainly no obvious sign that he has taken full responsibility for E and their daughter. There is great concern that former bishop Godfrey appears to have accepted into ordained ministry and then nominated for advancement a man who at every stage of the process had withheld important information about serious past sin and only sought to rectify the situation when under pressure to do so, and then only to the extent that his sin had been exposed. They suggest that the House of Bishops, rather than admit a serious failing in the past, have banded together to protect their own reputation rather than deal with their own past mistakes. Others have asked how someone who has been demonstrated to have repeatedly lied and withheld key information can continue in his role of spiritual leadership, let alone be further considered to be the next Primate of South America.
Early in 2022 the former Primate of the Southern Cone, Archbishop Gregory Venables was appointed as acting rector of the Cathedral. Venables conducted his ministry remotely from Paraguay, stating that he had received medical advice not to travel. On Sunday 27 March at the end of the online church service, having preached from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Venables spoke sternly to the congregation, including the following:
Let me say very clearly too… that when Bishop Jorge was received into the Anglican Communion we were fully cognisant of his history and his life. He was received and supported fully and is still today supported fully by the house of bishops.
If you want to begin pointing the finger at any member of the church, and particularly at the episcopacy, let me invite you: begin with me!
I have reached out to Bishop Gregory Venables and asked, given that the House of Bishops were “fully cognisant of his history and his life”, why they thought it appropriate to receive into ordained ministry a man who at the time he was received:
- Was not living with his wife nor had disclosed her existence
- Had presented another woman as his wife when she was not
- Only entered into a (bigamous) civil marriage with the second woman at the time of his ordination
Venables referred us to the current Primate, Nick Drayson, who told me,
I was not in the house of bishops at the time of Bishop Jorge’s reception, and I know this was handled principally by the relevant authorities in the Anglican Diocese of Peru who would have consulted regarding any unusual issues with the house of bishops at that time. As I understand it, there was no attempt either to conceal the facts of Bishop Jorge’s family life, nor to justify them. However “clear facts” have a way of colliding with administrative hold ups, and there is no doubt that the Diocese had to accept a degree of irregularity whilst this was sorted out.
I do not believe the Province or the Diocese colluded in anything improper, nor that Bishop Jorge acted improperly in his bid to normalize his married status.
I asked Archbishop Drayson in follow-up,
Can I confirm that your position is that the established timeline of:
- Bishop Jorge marrying E in 1992
- Bishop Jorge presenting S (with whom he had children) in the Anglican Church of Peru as his wife from 2002 onwards
- Bishop Jorge entering into a civil marriage with S in 2006 around the time he was received as a priest
- Bishop Jorge divorcing E in 2014 when his appointment as suffragen was announced (eight years after marrying S and at least 12 years after presenting S as his wife)
is all Bishop Jorge “not acting improperly” and simply “administrative holdups”?
At the time of publication I have not received a reply.
The congregation of Lima Cathedral were told in a letter from the Primate in April that to challenge Aguilar’s reception and consecration in this way was to deny the principle of grace that lies at the heart of the gospel. They point to “his repentance and recognition of this”. There is also a clear call to respect the authority of the bishops (repeated in another pastoral letter sent in May by a group of senior clergy).
Some in Peru have suggested that Aguilar’s behaviour at the time of his reception and then 2 rounds of nomination for bishop indicates not an attitude of proactive repentance but a repeated pattern of reactive tidying-up of past difficulties. They reject the charge that they are setting aside the principle of grace and claim that the dispute is about the acceptance and promotion in ministry of a man who’s repeated behaviour demonstrates not sincere repentance but a pattern of dealing with past indiscretions only when they were exposed. They complain that on more than one occasion he only acted when not doing so impaired his progress towards reception or consecration. They question how such a man (having lied on repeated occasions) should have been given ecclesiastical office, especially if the House of Bishops, according to Venables, “were fully cognisant of his history and his life” at the time.
One priest familiar with local scene told us this was an all too common occurrence, adding,
Restoration is a very important and significant theological concept for churches across many areas including Latin America.
To be forgiven and reconciled to God needs to be accompanied with full restoration of the injured party.
davidould.net has found no evidence that Aguilar has “fully restored” E. The status of his relationship with his daughter by E is unknown.
No doubt the discussion in the Diocese of Peru and beyond is not over.
I also invited Bishop Aguilar to comment.
feature image source: Diocese of Worcester