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No end to Anglican clergy wrangle

. . . as priests mull going to court

’Marafaele Mohloboli

SIX Anglican Church of Lesotho (ACL) priests are mulling legal action in their long drawn out wrangle with ACL leader Bishop Mallane Adam Taaso.

According to one of the priests, Reverend Father Maieane Khaketla, their efforts to find a solution within the church had not yielded any results.

The priests, who also include Reverend Fathers Palo Mphethi, Sello Moshoeshoe, Samuel Monyamane, Maseru Mongalo and Molemo Batjies want Bishop Taaso ousted because of a slew of transgressions he allegedly committed.

They accuse the bishop of unilaterally suspending them without following the canons of the church.

“I was suspended in 2011, and the others were suspended around 2013 and 2014,” he said.

“We were eventually reinstated, but not unconditionally. The understanding was that we were going back to our posts. But we were sent to different areas.

“Some were deployed in the mountains where there are no rectories (church-owned residences). It’s unacceptable for priests to be moved to a place without a rectory.”

They also accuse the bishop of corruption, misuse of church funds, dabbling in active party politics and ill-treatment of church members.

The allegations were contained in a 480 page document presented by the priests in 2015 to the Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, the Most Reverend Thabo Makgoba.

“We accused him of embezzling church funds and highlighted transactions he could not account for and other corrupt activities,” said Rev Khaketla.

The six priests also noted a “general feeling around the country” that the bishop was an active member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy.

“Although a person may have particular political leanings, it is not expedient for a bishop to publicly show his preferences,” the dossier reads.

“In April 2015, when then Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) was sworn-in at Setsoto Stadium, Bishop Taaso delivered a homily in which he ‘thanked God for bringing in this new government, which would restore the country’s dignity, which up until now was non-existent’.”

The reverends argued that the statement did not sit well with most Basotho.

They also accused Bishop Taaso of harassing other priests by withholding and cutting their stipends at his whim as well as threatening to physically assault his perceived enemies.

Bishop Taaso vehemently dismissed the allegations saying they were “malicious lies”.

In response to the allegations, an investigatory board was convened in March 2016 and compiled a report that was submitted to the church authorities followed up by a meeting in Maseru on 30 May 2016.

“However, to date, the report has not been published as Archbishop Makgoba blatantly refused to release it as he stated that it was damning and would bring shame to the church,” Rev Khaketla said.

He said the report was a compilation of interviews with the six clergy and scores of church members.

This was followed by a joint statement which was meant to restore peace into the church, signed by the bishop himself and the clergy in October 2016. In the statement, it was agreed that the six clergy would be unconditionally reinstated with immediate effect, they would be paid their outstanding stipends and all unplanned clergy transfers would be halted, according to Rev Khaketla.

“One of the conditions of the joint statement was that if there was a transfer, the bishop should negotiate with the concerned priest. The parish to which the bishop would propose to the priest would also be consulted and agree with the deployment,” Rev Khaketla said.

“Nothing like that happened. It was clear that the bishop’s decision to make the unilateral deployments was a form of punishment.”

He said some of the priest had also not been paid since 2015.

The six priests and their wives have since written to Arch Bishop Makgoba to complain about the non-implementation of the joint statement of October last year.

“None of these letters have been accorded the courtesy of a reply, or even an acknowledgement of receipt,” he said.

“The persecution of clergy continues unabated, and there is tension between the bishop, the clergy, guilds and ordinary church members.”

Rev Khaketla said they became inclined towards seeking legal recourse after one of the six priests unsuccessfully tried to meet Archbishop Makgoba last week during his visit to Lesotho to consecrate a newly-built church in Tšakholo, Mafeteng district.

“We wanted to meet him so that we could discuss the plight of the church in Lesotho, but only to be rejected by the provincial executive officer who referred us to Bishop Ossie Swartz of Kimberly,” he said.

In response Reverend Khaketla wrote: “Dear Father, Thank you for your speedy response to my email.  We do not want to meet Bishop Ossie.

“He has failed us on numerous occasions.  We are still awaiting the follow up visit he promised last year.  We want to meet the Archbishop. Period. I believe that if he can spare an evening to address mining magnates in Sandton, he surely can make time to meet starving abused clergy.”

This was in reference to Archbishop Makgoba’s address to mining magnates in Sandton, South Africa pleading for assistance to assist the needy as he was en route to Lesotho.

“He however does not have a minute to spare to discuss the plight of clergy, whose lives are disintegrating because of our bishop’s cruel reign. We therefore have resorted to take the matter to the courts of law for intervention,” Rev Khaketla charged.

Explaining why Archbishop Makgoba had failed to publish the report, the Provincial Executive Officer, Father Ven Horace Arenz said in an email to this publication that:  “The intervention report is with the bishop of the diocese and his senate and all advisors and the questions and implementations should really be directed to Bishop Adam.”

“His Grace prays that all involved will find themselves and respect the recommendations of the team that His Grace had sent to Lesotho. The report was not for publishing but for the church to understand the issues and make recommendations.”

Bishop Taaso’s mobile rang unanswered, when contacted by this publication with the receptionist at his office saying he was not available as he was on leave.

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