7 Nov 2010

Methodist bishops from southern Africa meeting to discuss claims of serial sexual abuse at one of their churches

IOL News - The Star - South Africa September 19, 2009

Verryn to quit

By Thabiso Thakali

Methodist bishops from all over southern Africa are meeting in Pietermaritzburg this weekend to discuss claims of serial sexual abuse at one of their churches.

But whatever they decide, Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn will quit in November.

Speaking to the Saturday Star on Friday, Verryn said he had decided earlier this year to step down when his term of office expired.

Verryn said he had been under no pressure to do so, but doctors involved with refugees at the church have called for his axing for allowing children to be abused at the church.

The National Prosecuting Authority is now investigating claims that adults preyed on the children at the church - and that Verryn was aware of this but did nothing.

Ross Olivier, head of the Methodist Church's public concern committee, said the church's governing body had been concerned for years about the CBD church being taken over by criminal elements.

He said church leaders had repeatedly asked the government to step in to close the church and find an alternative for those living there.

"That hasn't happened," he said. "We have no doubt that the place is prone to misuse by criminal elements and we are equally concerned about the plight of the refugees - that has bothered us for all these years."

The child welfare doctor who went public about the plight of the children living in the church has called for Verryn's head.

Dr Susan Black, who once ran a clinic at the church, said as guardian of the children, Verryn has to shoulder the blame for some of the incidents that have taken place.

"If he is a guardian he is like a parent. So if a parent doesn't act when wrong things happen before him, then the government must," she said.

Verryn said he was made aware of the first allegation of abuse a year ago which he reported to police and the case was dismissed in court.

"I have not been directly working with the children but when this was brought to me, I took action by reporting it to police."

The Saturday Star has established many organisations working in the church, including the UN Children's Fund, have been aware of the child abuse allegations for at least a year.

Heidi Loening-Voysey, a child protection specialist with Unicef, admitted the organisation had been aware of the allegations of abuse at the church for a while.

"Unfortunately in many places like this, allegations of these nature occur quite often," she said.

"Yes, they should be taken seriously and action must be taken to protect the children. Child abuse is a huge concern."

The Gauteng Department of Social Development has conceded it became aware of this four months ago.

Teddy Gomba, spokesman for the department said about 20 children had run away to a safe haven in Joburg where they made the claims.

"We are not aware of any fresh allegations other than these."

Olivier claimed some of the allegations were being raised because of a fall-out between Verryn and a director of one of the NGOs.

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