Priest seeks R4m from Anglican church over loss of job
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Cape Town - The Anglican Church of Southern Africa faces a civil action of over R4 million from one of its former priests following differences with the church which span a period of more than 10 years.
Reverend June Major, who now lives in Durban, is suing for alleged financial loss, impairment to her dignity and emotional stress, allegedly as a result of a job she applied for in Australia and then did not get.
She has blamed the church’s failure to provide important “information timeously” to the Diocese of Wangaratta, for her inability to secure the job, which would have earned her R42 000 a month and other benefits.
Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba (the head of the church in SA), the Bishop of Table Bay Bishop Garth Quinton Counsell and the Diocese of Cape Town are also cited as defendants in the lawsuit.
It is understood both Makgoba and Counsell were served with the summons and this week they gave notice of their intention to defend the action.
In the summons served on the church, Major alleges that between 2004 and 2014 she informed Counsell of several incidents of sexual and verbal harassment against her, allegedly by members of the clergy.
She said the verbal harassment was in response to her pro-Palestinian views.
She said she sought pastoral care and guidance for her emotional and psychological well-being from Counsell and measures by the church to address the complaints.
However, Counsell allegedly omitted or failed in his duty to provide such and as a result, her ministry within the diocese became intolerable.
In August 2014, she held a meeting with Counsell in which she says she consented to resigning as rector of St Matthew’s Church in Claremont.
However, the resignation was on the understanding she would remain a cleric of the church, free to apply as minister at any other parish, church or diocese. Letters allowing her serve as a cleric under the auspices of the church remained valid.
In August 2015, Major requested a letter of commendation from Makgoba with a view to taking up a full-time position elsewhere in the ministry, but she never received one.
Major said no reasons or justification were provided.
A month later, she became aware the Anglican Church in Australia in the Diocese of Wangaratta, had a vacancy for a priest to take up duties in December at a monthly stipend of R42 922, a car allowance, travel costs and pension.
She applied and was accepted for a two-year contract but had to meet certain requirements which included a report of service.
In November 2015, the church in Wangaratta requested the report directly from Makgoba,who in turn forwarded the request to Counsell.
However, according to the summons, both parties failed or refused to do so.
Major says as a result she could not get a temporary working visa and was later informed in May last year by the Wangaratta Diocese that the position was no longer available as it had been filled.
She alleges the church breached the duty of care towards her, that Makgoba and Counsell’s refusal was inconsistent with the constitution and the refusal was therefore unlawful, invalid and unjustifiable as it limited Major’s constitutional right to choose or pursue her career as a priest.
The damages are in respect of medical treatment for emotional and psychological trauma, loss of earnings and earnings capacity as well as infringement of her dignity.
The court action is not the first sign of disagreement Major has had with the Anglican Church.
As a pro-Palestinian activist, she attracted attention last year when she went on a hunger strike in May in support of the Palestinians.
However, the action drew criticism from some quarters where she was accused of not being able to separate the Palestinian issue from her problems with the church.
She ended the strike after a meeting with Makgoba.
Major also told the media last year a priest within the Anglican Church had tried to rape her while they were studying at a theological institution in Grahamstown.
Weekend Argus attempted to reach the Anglican Diocese for comment but was unsuccessful.
Counsell was said to be in a meeting until lunch time on Friday and had not responded by the time of publication.