Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Editorial | Moravian leadership must engage the law

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 1:00 AM

In their time of crisis, the bishops of the Moravian Church in Jamaica mustn't rely on the example of the Roman Catholics in America and elsewhere in dealing with their own.

Nothing must be swept under the rug, or be perceived to be so done.

That is why the 'independent' internal review planned by Bishops Stanley Clarke and Devon Anglin on the issues facing the church won't be enough. They have to go further, including turning over to the police all evidence in their possession to investigate the possibility that sex crimes - other than those that have been publicly alleged and are already before the courts - have been committed by the clergy.

In Jamaica, as they are globally, the Moravians are a relatively small Christian denomination. Worldwide, their congregation is no more than a million. At Jamaica's last census five years ago, they were under 19,000.

 

Long and cherished history

 

But the Moravians have a long and cherished history, with a tradition of punching above their numerical weight. Their antecedents as reformists predate the Reformation. Jan Hus was a century ahead of Luther. They have been missionaries in Jamaica for over 260 years, during which time their efforts in education and social welfare transcended their numbers.

After more than two and a half centuries, and certainly since the end of slavery, the Moravians of Jamaica are facing not only their greatest moral crisis, but, given their relatively small numbers, an existentialist threat.

 

Victim of ignorance

 

At the start of the month one of their pastors, the Reverend Rupert Clarke, 64, was arrested for the alleged statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. Now, Rev Clarke is being investigated for an alleged second offence with another underaged girl from the same family. This has been followed by the resignations of the president of the Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, Paul Gardner, and his deputy, Jermaine Gibson.

Dr Gardner is a victim, in part, of his claim that he was ignorant of complaints of sexual abuse against Rev Clarke, given that an estranged minister, Canute Thompson, disputed those claims. Dr Thompson made public an email string, from 2014, between himself and Dr Gardner, in which he raised concerns about allegations relating to Rev Clarke. If all this were not bad enough, a woman, now in the late 20s or early 30s, went public, just ahead of the leadership resignations, with allegations of having been groomed from aged 12, and having sexual encounters with a pastor from age 14.

"We intend in short order to set up an independent committee mutually accepted by us, as bishops, and you to thoroughly investigate the matter and thereafter take the appropriate actions," Bishops Clarke and Anglin told the complainant.

There is urgent need to define "appropriate action". The most appropriate action in this circumstance is for a full criminal investigation, to which the leadership of the church gives its unfettered support.

Indeed, this a Roman Catholic moment for the Moravians of Jamaica. For decades, Catholic bishops in dioceses across the United States moved paedophiles from parish to parish in attempts at cover-up, rather than turning them over to face criminal justice. The church remained in denial when the matter reached the public at the start of the 2000s.

In many of those dioceses, the Catholic Church and its leaders struggle for moral authority. The Moravians of Jamaica have an opportunity to lessen their loss, redeem themselves and re-establish their worth.