Moravian Church says it’s committed to maintaining high moral standards

Moravian Church says it’s committed to maintaining high moral standards

Saturday, January 14, 2017

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The Moravian Church in Jamaica has admitted that it was hurting from the allegations of sexual misconduct that have resulted in one of its pastors being arrested and charged, but reiterated its commitment to proclaiming the gospel of Christ for the benefit of mankind.

At the same time, the church said it was re-examining its policies and processes, as it sought to deal with all the allegations made, with the purpose of maintaining the high moral standards that it has always espoused and expected of all its servants and workers.

"As has been done since 1754, we will continue to act with sound governance in a responsible and responsive way. Within this context, the Moravian Church deeply regrets the circumstances that have led to the arrest of a member of its clergy — a matter that is now before the Courts of Jamaica," acting president of the church, Rev Phyllis Smit-Seymour, said in a statement.

The Moravian Church was plunged into controversy on January 3 when news emerged that 64-year-old pastor Rupert Clarke was arrested in December by the police ,who said they caught him in "a compromising position" with a 15-year-old girl in his car in St Elizabeth.

Rev Clarke, who has since been slapped with rape and carnal abuse charges, was offered bail when he appeared in the St Elizabeth Parish Court on January 4. However, 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 last 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.

Last Thursday, the then Moravian Church President Dr Paul Gardner and his Vice-President Jermaine Gibson stepped down from the Provincial Elders Conference to facilitate a probe into more allegations of sexual misconduct within the church.

Jamaica Observer was told that the probe stems from a formal letter that was written to the church board.

Earlier last week, former Moravian minister Dr Canute 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.

Yesterday, in her statement, Smit-Seymour said that the church expected that in this and any other allegations that may arise, the law must take its course. She also said the church was committed to respecting and accepting the due process of the law and the course of justice.

"At this time, we of the Moravian Church must assert our ongoing and unequivocal support for the rights of all people, and especially so of our children, to live free of abuse, and the threat thereof," Smit-Seymour said.

"Undeniably, recent events have left us battered and wounded by the allegations that have been made. We know that we cannot be completely objective about ourselves, and so have sought outside help and counsel, remaining open to criticism and corrections, towards meaningful change," she added.

The church, Smit-Seymour said, "wishes to assure the people of Jamaica of its continued commitment to stand on its mission to proclaim the gospel of Christ and to seek the spiritual, educational and social development of all persons, in Christ’s name".

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