Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Moravians not the victims

Published:Tuesday | January 17, 2017 | 1:00 AM

It would be a mistake if, in the midst of their crisis, the Moravians of Jamaica were to merely circle their wagons and nurture a grievance of persecution, of which, judging by the remarks of some of their congregants and pastors, there are troubling signs.

In this regard, we repeat our advice to the church to allow the law, unfettered by attempts at stonewalling or cover-up, to take its course in the unfolding allegations of sex abuse against clergy. This approach is likely to lead, in time, to purer healing.

With no more than 20,000 members, the Moravians are not near being a major congregation in Jamaica. But over their more than two and a half centuries in the island, the church's mission has been substantial. They have contributed greatly to education and social welfare. Now, in the face of a deepening sex scandal, the Moravians face questions about moral authority, which, potentially, could lead to a fracturing of the institution.

Earlier this month, Rupert Clarke, 64, a pastor to a congregation in the parish of Manchester, was arrested for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old minor in neighbouring St Elizabeth. He is under investigation for a similar, earlier affaire, with an underage girl from the same family.

This development contributed to the resignation of the church's president, Paul Gardner, whose claim of being ignorant of misbehaviour by Rev Clarke was contradicted by an estranged pastor, who revealed emails suggesting that the matter had been discussed between them.

Dr Gardner's deputy, too, has resigned in the midst of this swirl and new allegations by a young woman, who claims that in her early teens, she was sexually groomed by a preacher, then abused by that preacher, while another attempted to force himself on her.

It is in this maelstrom that we discern an emerging, and dangerous, sense of victimhood that it would do well for the church to nip early, lest it fester to the detriment of its survival.

We acknowledge the Rev Penelope Morgan Owens' exhortation on Sunday to the congregation of the Covenant Church in St Andrew that "when we are wrong, we have to take responsibility" but are concerned that her message contained mixed signals that could undercut that message.

She said: "We are damaged, we are battered, (and) we are hurt. Pressed, persecuted, punched, perplexed, but not out!"

 

TWISTED LOGIC

 

We understand the Moravian clergy being confused and perplexed by these swirling developments, but the notion of being "pressed, persecuted, and punched" suggests a belief that the church is facing undue harassment or oppressive treatment; that somehow it is the victim. It is that same sense of victimhood we perceive in the liturgist Kevin St Hill's prayer for the church's leadership "even when society will try to blacken them".

The real victims in this scenario would be those, insofar as their allegations are proved, whose trust was broken and violated and who suffered sexual abuse.

As we advised the church's spiritual leaders, Bishops Stanley Clarke and Devon Anglin, this is not a matter to be dealt with only by internal committees, no matter how independent they are. Clearly, the church has to undertake a review of its management arrangements and its system of accountability. It may even ask for divine inspiration and intervention on the way forward.

But on the specific allegations of sexual abuse, temporal law and the mechanisms for its enforcement and adjudication must have pride of place.