Episcopal church names first woman bishop in Cuba

Havana, Cuba - The Episcopal Church has named a woman as bishop in Cuba, the first such appointment by the church in the developing world, church officials said Tuesday.

The Rev. Nerva Cot Aguilera was named suffragan bishop on Sunday during a service in the Cuban city of Matanzas, said Robert Williams, director of communications for the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

"Nerva will also be the first woman bishop outside the First World, and her appointment is a wonderful reminder that in some nations, leadership is primarily about gifts for service and not about gender," said U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who in November took office as the first female leader of The Episcopal Church.

Cot will be consecrated in Havana on June 10 along with the other newly named suffragan bishop, Ulises Mario Aguiera Prendes.

Cot, 69, told The Associated Press that she was "tremendously honored" but also faces "a great challenge" as the church, with some 10,000 members, moves toward greater national autonomy.

Cuba was a diocese of the U.S. church until 1967, when it was forced to break away because hostility between the U.S. and Cuban governments made contacts difficult and at a time when Cuba's communist leaders were embracing official atheism — a stance abandoned in the early 1990s.

It has operated under a Metropolitan Council now chaired by the archbishop of Canada, Andrew Hutchison. It also includes Jefferts Schori and the archbishop of the West Indies.

Cuba's interim bishop, Miguel Tamayo, is also bishop of Uruguay.

As suffragan bishops, Cot and Aguiera will serve under Tamayo. Cot said she will be responsible for western Cuba with Aguiera heading the church in the east — a step toward possible establishment of two full dioceses within a few years.

Cot was a secondary school teacher before church reforms permitted her ordination as one of the first three Episcopal women priests in Cuba in 1987. She said her daughter Marianela, who is now studying in Brazil, is the first Cuban woman ordained since then.

Cot's husband, Juan Ramon de la Paz Cerezo, is dean of the church's Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. One son is a priest and another daughter is an administrator with the church.

Cot said she had not seen the sort of divisions over the ordination of women within Cuba's relatively small church that Anglican communities elsewhere have experienced in recent years.

Williams said that the bishop of the Seattle-based Diocese of Olympia, Washington, the Rt. Rev. Edna Rivera, is also Latin American — from Puerto Rico — but has spent her entire life in the United States.