K-WORD POI­SONS CHAL­ICE

Axed priest gives Angli­cans a rev

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SIPHE MACANDA

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.

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.”

Bishop Raphael Hess

Brian Stephen

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