Tue | Sep 19, 2017

'Doomed to failure' - Lawyer for embattled Moravian ministers says case lacks credibility - accuser vows to fight to the end

Published:Tuesday | January 24, 2017 | 1:27 AMEdmond Campbell and Erica Virtue

Hours after detectives from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse charged former president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, the Rev. Dr Paul Gardner, and former vice president, the Rev. Jermaine Gibson, for carnal abuse and indecent assault, the alleged victim vowed to press for justice even as an attorney representing the churchmen says the case is “doomed to failure”.

The woman who accused both Gardner and Gibson told The Gleaner yesterday that she was happy that the men have been charged, noting that “my resolve to see it through is even greater, especially given their insistence on saying the charges are unfounded as per the statement issued by their lawyer.”

The alleged victim, whose identity has been withheld,  said she was prepared to seek justice. “I know that it will not be an easy journey, but I am prepared to travel to the end. Whatever the result, I know that they are (alleged) sexual predators, and I am grateful for an opportunity to put that on the record.”

At the same time, the Reverend Phyllis Smith-Seymour, the acting president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica, said the latest development in the sex scandal plaguing the church was regrettable. 

Sighs punctuated Smith-Seymour’s comments as she expressed disappointment at the unfolding saga.

“We don’t like it; (sigh) we don’t like to hear it; (sigh) …getting feedback (from members of the church), persons are disappointed in terms of having the church’s name in the limelight in an infamous way,” she expressed to The Gleaner.

She said a planned meeting of the Provincial Elders Conference, the executive body of the Moravian Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which was first set for February to discuss the allegations against the ministers in the church, will be held tomorrow. The acting president said the conference will discuss the way forward at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Corporate Communications Unit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force reported yesterday that 36-year-old Gibson of Lyndale Close in Kingston 20 and 54-year-old Gardner of Burbank Avenue, Kingston 19, will appear in the Manchester Parish Court next week to answer the charges.

The incidents, which date as far back as 2002, revealed that Gibson had a sexual relationship with the woman who was 12 years old at the time. When she was 14 years old, Gardner also allegedly developed a sexual relationship with the then teen.

Declarations of innocence

However, the lawyers representing the clergymen called the allegations “vile, malicious and tenuous”.

“From our examination of the allegations, the available evidence is riddled with inconsistencies and is bereft of credibility, cogency or corroboration,” said Lambert S. Johnson, the churchmen’s attorney.

He insisted: “Our clients are steadfast in their declarations of innocence and, having regard to the circumstances, we have been instructed to file suit for defamation, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment."

The arrest and charge of both Gardner and Gibson bring to three the number of Moravian ministers to have been recently slapped with charges relating to the alleged sexual intercourse with a minor.

Sixty-four year-old Rupert Clarke, a Moravian minister, was recently charged with having sex with a minor.  Clarke was granted bail in the sum of $800,000 when he appeared in the St Elizabeth Parish Court.

The sex scandals rocking the Moravian Church has triggered national debate on the issue of child abuse and measures being pursued by the Government to increase penalties on persons found guilty of abusing children.

Last week, minister with responsibility for gender affairs Olivia Grange urged her colleagues on a Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act to fast-track its deliberations so that tougher laws can be passed to deal with persons who abuse children.

Gardner and Gibson were both granted bail late yesterday.