Priest wins K-word case, then loses his job

Anglican Church punishes reverend for going to court

12 November 2017 - 00:02 By SIPHE MACANDA
Brian Stephen from the Saldahna Bay diocese, has been fighting for justice after a fellow priest called him the K-word.
Brian Stephen from the Saldahna Bay diocese, has been fighting for justice after a fellow priest called him the K-word.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

When Anglican priest the Rev Brian Stephen complained that a colleague had called him the K-word, he never imagined he would lose his job over it.

An order by the Equality Court in July instructed lay minister Trevor Kordom to publicly apologise to Stephen for racist comments, be fined R5,000 and be suspended for three months, and undergo sensitivity training. Despite this, no action has been taken by the church against Kordom. But Stephen has effectively been axed for taking his complaint to court.

A frustrated Stephen said this week he had become a "house husband" since the church stopped his salary in September.

This followed a letter from the head of the Saldanha Bay diocese, Bishop Raphael Hess, saying he was not prepared to nominate Stephen for any parish in the diocese because he had "chosen not to use the processes for healing and reconciliation provided for in the canons of the church".

Stephen said he was particularly upset that Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba's office had refused to get involved.

This week, a spokeswoman in Makgoba's office, Wendy Kelderman, said it was "a diocesan matter".

However, the Sunday Times has seen correspondence dated July 2017 from Makgoba's personal assistant, Nobuntu Mageza, acknowledging receipt of the court order and promising to alert the archbishop.

Stephen told the Sunday Times this week his experience had left him questioning "if this is the same Anglican church of Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu, who fought against racism and who was willing to put his life at risk to see a nonracial society".

Kordom refused to comment this week. The lawyer for the church, Lloyd Fortuin, said the matter was sub judice because he was "drafting a response to the court order".

The spat began in 2010 when Stephen became rector at St Joseph the Worker parish in Bishop Lavis in the Western Cape.

He said he was regularly referred to by his colleagues as the "black priest" or the "African priest". One told him: "The problem with you is that you don't understand coloured people." In 2013, Kordom had called him the K-word but later apologised.

However, in 2016 he was told by a colleague that Kordom often referred to Stephen as "a k****r priest". Stephen reported this to Hess, but it was not addressed.

Stephen approached the South African Human Rights Commission to mediate, but the mediation failed and the case was referred to the Equality Court.

Stephen has opened a separate case with the commission. He accuses Hess of racism after seeing the minutes of a meeting in which the bishop was reported as saying that Stephen could be used as the voice of the "black" clergy and be a conduit to the "black Xhosa-speaking" people in the diocese.

Bishop Raphael Hess is not prepared to nominate Rev Brian Stephen for any parish in the diocese because he has 'chosen not to use the processes for healing provided for in the canons of the church'.
Bishop Raphael Hess is not prepared to nominate Rev Brian Stephen for any parish in the diocese because he has 'chosen not to use the processes for healing provided for in the canons of the church'.
Image: Supplied

South African Council of Churches general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the reality was that there had still not been much socialisation away from the divisive and "socially toxic mindset of the apartheid era", to which the church was not immune.

The SACC did not get involved in the internal management of member churches, but "we can often raise issues with members in the case of national interest matters", he said. "Both race and gender are hot issues that cry out for serious attention at the root. More steps need to be taken to deal with these incidences."

 

The Equality Court ordered Kordom to:

• Attend and “participate meaningfully” in four sessions of sensitivity training at the South African Human Rights Commission, to be completed in three months;

• Apologise in writing to Rev Brian Stephen within one month of the completion of the sensitivity training. The apology should be read to the congregation at a Sunday service and should include that the court found the words he used to be hate speech;

• Be suspended for three months and only reinstated after an inquiry into his fitness to hold such a position; and

• Pay Stephen R5,000 in compensation.


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