Fiji police probe alleged sex abuse against Methodist Church

By Christine Rovoi, of RNZ.co.nz. This story is republished with permission

Fiji Police are investigating allegations that a member of the Methodist Church clergy sexually assaulted 14 boys while serving on an outer island.

A Methodist church in Fiji.
A Methodist church in Fiji. Photo: Facebook / Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.

Police said the alleged incidents happened on Levuka, Ovalau, in the south of the country.

Police spokesperson, Ana Naisoro, said the latest alleged acts were committed between 2018 and this year.

“There is a report being investigated by Levuka Police,” she said. “The 14 victims are boys and juveniles.”

This is not the first time a member of the clergy in Fiji has been accused of sexually abusing children.

Just last year, the Catholic Church was rocked with allegations of sexual abuse against boys at a school decades earlier.

A man had claimed he was molested by a priest at the school when he was a student there.

The head of the Catholic Church warned any priests found to have abused children would be severely dealt with.

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said he empathised with the victims of sexual abuse “with their hurt, anger, trauma and feelings”.

“I empathise with the pain that victims and their families have experienced and continue to experience”.

“On behalf of the church, I express our remorse for past failures and extend our sincere regret and deep sympathy to the victims of sexual abuse. The church apologises for any abuse perpetrated by clergy or religious workers.

“Sexual abusers have failed the Sixth Commandment – you must not commit adultery.”

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong. Photo: Supplied/Archdiocese of Suva

In July last year, Archbishop Chong met with leaders in the Archdiocese of Suva to address the issue.

He said the church in Fiji is committed to dealing with allegations of sexual abuse against minors by priests and religious workers.

The archbishop said the church would work closely with the arms of the law to ensure that justice is served at all levels.

He said the church would also provide pastoral care to the victims and their families.

More than a dozen priests in Fiji’s Central Eastern region underwent a Safeguarding and Training Workshop in Suva.

According to Archbishop Chong, the workshop focussed on the topic of sexual abuse against minors by priests and religious workers.

Methodist head warns against sexual misconduct

Meanwhile, the Methodist Church is yet to take any action against the clergyman at the centre of the latest allegations of sexual abuse.

The head of the church, the Reverend Ili Vunisuwai, said they would first await the outcome of the police investigations.

Speaking at this week’s retreat for church ministers and divisional heads, Vunisuwai said he would act once a report was received from the superintendent on where the alleged incidents happened.

“These are still allegations and if the reports say to be sexual assault, then we will take serious actions,” he said.

“The church is clear cut on our code of ethics. We will not condone such acts in our church.”

Vunisuwai said concrete evidence had to be produced to the Standing Committee, then the next cause of action would be decided upon.

“The normal procedures of the church begins when a report comes in from the Divisional Superintendent, that is my channel of procedure on how the person will be dealt with,” he said.

From left, Methodist Church president Reverend Ili Vunisuwai, vice-president Apisalome Tudreu, Prime Minister  Frank Bainimarama, and former church presidents Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa and Tevita Banivanua,
From left, Methodist Church president Reverend Ili Vunisuwai, vice-president Apisalome Tudreu, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and former church presidents Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa and Tevita Banivanua, Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Vunisuwai, who has only been in the job for a week, said he has his work cut out for him.

He was the former General Secretary and was elected by the church’s Standing Committee – via a secret ballot – on 24 February.

The Reverend Iliesa Naivalu has been elected as the new General Secretary while the Reverend Semisi Turagavou is his deputy.

His induction service was held on Sunday at the Centenary Methodist Church in Suva.

Outgoing President, Epineri Vakadewavosa, said the church was living in perilous times.

Reverend Dr Vakadewavosa said it was imperative for the church to fulfil its role in bringing people into God’s kingdom.

Archbishop Chong and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama were among those who attended the ceremony.

Vunisuwai said the violation of ethical practices such as sexual assault would be dealt with severely by the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma.

He urged ministers to abide by the church’s code of conduct, no matter the circumstances.

The church is very clear on its ethical stand on that and we stand against any sexual issues because we do not condone those types of issues, he said.

“I am thankful to the church and the Standing Committee for putting their trust in me to lead the church into the new year along with the responsibilities bestowed upon me.

“We are letting our young ministers to take note of the code of conduct that will be part of my visitation into the 59 divisional levels and circuits.”

This is to raise awareness on sexual issues and code of conduct, Vunisuwai said.

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