Moravian Leaders Step Down As Church Reels From Sex Scandal


President of the Moravian Church in Jamaica Rev Dr Paul Gardner.

President of the Moravian Church in Jamaica Dr Paul Gardner and his deputy, Jermaine Gibson, have stepped away from their positions on the Provincial Elders Conference to facilitate a probe into more allegations of sexual misconduct within the church.

The conference is an executive supervisory body for the church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

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The news broke yesterday amidst the turmoil surrounding the church, stemming from charges of carnal abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl in St Elizabeth against Moravian minister Rupert Clarke.

The Jamaica Observer was told that the probe stems from a formal letter that was written to the church board. Numerous calls to both Dr Gardner’s and Rev Gibson’s mobile phones went unanswered yesterday.

However, reliable sources confirmed that both men had resigned and that the church was reeling from the scandal.

Responding to the development, former Moravian minister Dr Canute Thompson told the Observer that it is now a time for the church to look inwards.

“It’s a time for deep contemplation and reflection,” Thompson said yesterday afternoon. “The situation in which we find ourselves has been brewing with us for some time. What we are facing now is not related to the recent development with Rev Clarke; what we are facing is a deeper issue related to how we lead, how we make decisions, how we manage conflicts and crises, and how we relate to each other.”

Earlier this week Thompson accused the church leadership of being inconsistent in how it deals with misconduct, including those of a sexual nature. He claimed that as far back as the 1980s he had consistently raised what he considers to be a double standard within the church on those issues, but that it had not been addressed.

According to Thompson, Gardner had promised, in 2014, that he would investigate allegations against Clarke, and called on him to say whether a probe had been carried out.

But Gardner dismissed the allegations, stating that he had received no such complaint. However, Thompson claims to have e-mail correspondence with Gardner to back up his story.

The Moravian Church has been at the centre of negative attention since January 3 when news of the allegations against Rev Clarke emerged. Rev Clarke was offered bail when he appeared in the St Elizabeth Parish Church on January 4.

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But on his way out of court, Hampton School Principal Heather Murray, a long-time friend, tried to block a television cameraman from recording him, an act that pulled her into the controversy and triggered calls for her resignation.

She has since apologised, and late Wednesday night the education minister said that she had been advised to take two weeks’ leave and seek professional counselling services, given what was described as her recent emotional stress.

In the meantime, the school board has been given until January 30 to submit a full report to the ministry on the actions of the principal.

More developments also came on Wednesday with the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse indicating that it intends to slap Clarke with an additional carnal abuse charge.

The family of the 15-year-old girl has complained of feeling ostracised in the community, and she and a sibling have been placed in State care while investigations continue.

Meanwhile, a number of bodies have voiced outrage at the case while cautioning against trying the matter in the court of public opinion. The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society wrote on Wednesday that, “There cannot be any room within church leadership for compromise on the matter of sexual misconduct, especially sexual abuse of children.”

The group also recommended that all institutions, including churches, be pro-active in establishing systems for protecting the children under their care and with whom they come in contact.

Another group, the Christian Brethren Assemblies Jamaica, said it was “gently” reminding the nation that the supposed actions of a few do not represent the Church as a whole, “but highlights the fact that the Church is broken because humans are broken. However, the Church is, and will remain, a place of healing, hope, refuge, and encouragement”.

Information posted on the Moravian Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands website states that the church was established in 1754. It provides active spiritual support to over 10,000 people in 60-plus congregations, served by 38 pastors. “As a Protestant denomination with more than 500 years of history, the focus continues to be on faithful living and Christian unity. We encourage a life of faith through service to those in need, and our mission work is concentrated on the poor and the powerless,” the website states.

ALPHEA SAUNDERS – JAMAICA OBSERVER

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