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Canute Thompson | The church and moral leadership – Part 1

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2017 | 1:06 AMCanute S. Thompson

The Moravian Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, as well as her sister provinces across the world must be experiencing what may be one of their darkest moments in several decades, on account of the arrest and charge of a senior minister for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Let me declare interest. I am a member of the Moravian Church and once served as a minister in the Church. I, therefore, come to this issue with a bundle of mixed emotions and thoughts, and some for reasons that would not be apparent to some readers. The pain being experienced by so many of us, and especially close friends, family members, the alleged victim and her family, is beyond words.

 

BASIC THEOLOGICAL ORIENTATION

 

My basic theological orientation is one that is informed by an ethic of compassion. I hold the worldview that accountability is an absolute essential in relation to all decisions and actions that adults take - whether or not they hold leadership positions. I, however, subscribe to, what I consider to be, a deeper human calling, namely that redemption, reconciliation, and restoration are the duties and opportunities given to all human vessels as part of the journey of human life. Part of the reason these virtues are so essential is that error and failure to do right is part of the human reality.

Lest anyone be mistaken, or misread my position, or rush to judgement regarding my position, let me make it clear that if my colleague is in fact guilty of what has been alleged, then he should and must face the consequences. Let me be equally clear about the dimensions of this matter as I see them. This issue is not only about the minister who has been accused. This story is also about the little 15-year-old victim, her family, and her future. This situation is also about the church (not just the Moravian Church), its members, its leaders, and the message that the church seeks to proclaim in a society that has lost confidence in the church. This situation is an ugly one which cannot be spun to make it less painful and jarring than it is.

The matter is still under investigation and as such I do not wish, and would not be allowed, to litigate it here. But there is a dimension of this reality that may be subject to public reflection and commentary without in any way prejudicing the legal matter that is to be addressed in the appropriate context. So while there are concerns about the juvenile, her family, the church members, and the minister's family, among others, I would like to focus this reflection on the issue of leadership.

 

SEX SCANDALS IN THE CHURCH AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP

 

The church generally is not a stranger to sex scandals. In the last decade and a half there have been many well publicised cases with some victims coming out of the shadows decades later, and accountability with respect to the perpetrators involving millions of dollars. Alexander Stille, in an article in the New Yorker magazine on January 14, 2016, entitled, "What Pope Benedict knew about Abuse in the Catholic Church", suggests that while the election of Pope Frances in 2013 may have signalled that the church was "moving on" or created the desire on the part of some members to move on, there was need to pause a little longer to ponder the past.

Stille contends that a large part of the reason the Catholic Church could not quite move on so fast from the pain and agony of the period of leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, was that an investigator was only recently assigned to probe the cases of reported abuse of minors in a Catholic boys' choir in Germany. The report found that there were some 231 cases of children being abused over a period of decades. But what was particularly troubling was that the person who was in charge of the boys' choir, during the period when most of the abuses took place was Georg Ratzinger, the brother of Joseph Ratzinger. Joseph became Pope Benedict XVI. What also raised concerns was that during the period of Georg's choir leadership, his brother Joseph was in charge of the body that dealt with issues of sexual abuse. It is for these reasons that Stille suggested that the Catholic Church could not move on so quickly. There was a critical need to heal before moving on.

In Part 2, I will explore in the responsibility of leadership in managing the conduct of staff members. This responsibility extends to all areas of staff members conduct and performance, but I will focus on the issues raised by the charges laid against the Moravian Minister.

- Dr Canute Thompson is a Certified Management Consultant and Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership at the School of Education, UWI. He is co-founder of the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative and author of three books on leadership. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com ; canutethompson1@gmail.com