Aug 19, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

Tongan upgrade

FOR the first time in more than a century, the Anglican Church in Tonga will have its own bishop. Although men with Tongan heritage – Bishop Jabez Bryce and Archbishop Dr Winston Halapua – have led the Diocese of Polynesia, Tonga has always fallen under the leadership of a primate based offshore. Last month Halapua – only the second Pacific islander to head the church since 1908 – announced he would step down in August 2018.

That means the Diocese of Polynesia’s Electoral College will meet over the next 13 months to choose a successor, most likely from priests from its Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand congregations. A popular candidate is the Vicar of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva – the young, charismatic, Father Claude Fong-Toy.

There is also expected to be a push for a bishop from the ethnic Solomon island community to which the church has ministered since they were black birded in the 1800s to work on cotton and coconut estates in Fiji. Also in contention are women candidates Sereima Lomaloma and Amy Chambers who were among the first female priests ordained by the church in the Pacific.

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The rot under scrutiny

Faith leaders told to address social, political ills

LEADERS of faith-based organisations must address corruption and the unequal distribution of national wealth if social and political crises are to be averted in the Pacific. Bishop Jack Urame of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea has spoken out against division within the Christian faith which has led to stagnated development.  

And he has accused church leaders of seeking short cuts using religion and religious values. “Instead of addressing corruption and unequal distribution of the nation’s wealth which lead to development stagnation and social crisis political leaders attempted to create political holiness to solve social and development issues,” Urame said.

In a paper delivered to leaders of PNG’s main churches at the Melanesian Institute in Goroka, Urame pointed to a number of local approaches including the destruction of cultural symbols in the name of God and for the sake of development. These included the importation of a 400 year old Bible from United States, the supposed dedication of PNG as a nation to God after a mass national repentance and the removal of traditional carvings from Parliament House.

“(The) National Speaker, Theo Zurenuoc, claimed that Parliament House was decorated with motifs of bad spirits,” Urame said.

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Churches fight Indon abuses

A NEW-LOOK Papua New Guinea Council of Churches has vowed to step up the fight against human rights abuses by Indonesian security forces across the border. After more than a week of talks and years of negotiations, leaders of PNG’s mainstream churches gathered at Goroka to discuss the revival of this ecumenical movement which had been dormant for a decade.

Immediately after the gathering the leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and United churches issued a joint statement calling for unity, cooperation and rethinking of ecumenical relations. In a powerful statement the leaders vowed to call on the PNG government – long an ally of Jakarta out of fear of the Indonesian military, a need for economic support or a combination of these factors – to consider supporting full membership of West Papua in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Along with Fiji, PNG has for the last three years blocked attempts by Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to allow Papuan dissident groups into the MSG.

Pacific Conference of Churches Programmes Officer, Sirino Rakabi, was a key figure in bringing the PNGCC back to life and was critical of the Fiji-PNG stand on MSG membership.

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PNG bishops stop the rot

People focus of new laws

LAST year the Roman Catholic Church in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati moved swiftly to put in place guidelines to stop sexual abuse by priests and teachers on orders from Pope Francis. Deeply concerned about attempted cover ups within the global church, the Argentinian Pontiff has been at the forefront of moves to ensure transparency within the institution of about 1.2 billion people.

In Fiji, the Archbishop of Suva, Peter Loy Chong, directed the formation of a Professional Standards and Resource Group to handle allegations of misconduct within the church. The groups comprises experts in the field of law, medicine, investigations and theology.

It has already successfully handled a number of cases which have seen priests defrocked over their impropriety. Archbishop Chong has repeatedly told his congregation that the church system of investigations will not replace the legal system and guilty parties will need to face criminal prosecution if this is warranted. In the past many Catholics have chosen not to address sexual abuse by priests for fear of being ostracised by members if the congregation.

This is one of the issues addressed by a recent meeting of PNG and Solomon Islands bishops who designed a process to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has finalised its policy on tackling sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.

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Pope suspends bishop

Church takes hard stand against abuse

THE head of the Roman Catholic Church in Guam has been suspended over allegations of sexual impropriety. Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, who has led the Agana Archdiocese for 30 years, has stepped down temporarily – the first Roman Catholic leader in the region to face new tough steps put in place by Pope Francis.

Last month Islands Business highlighted the growing allegations against Apuron which culminated in public claims that he had molested at least one altar boy in the 1970s.

Now the Vatican has ordered Apuron to stand aside while investigations are carried out ton determine the veracity of claims made by 52-year-old Roy Taitague Quintanilla.

In a public statement, Qunitanilla claimed that while he was an altar boy Apuron molested him. “I cried then, and I’ve never stopped crying,” Quintanilla said. Pope Francis has named a Vatican official to oversee the Catholic Church in the Pacific island territory while the charges are investigated.

The decision came less than a month after the Vatican announced that the Pope had signed off on new measures to remove bishops who fail to respond to abuse allegations. In Guam, however, the accusations are that Apuron himself abused boys while he was a parish priest during the 1970s. 

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