Court upholds award for damages for priests defamed by their bishop

Kenyan court dismissed appeal of order to reinstate three priests falsely accused of homosexual conduct by their bishop

A Kenyan court has upheld the award of SH6.8 million ($65,000) in damages against the Anglican Church of Kenya for the wrongful dismissal of three priests accused by their bishop of engaging in homosexual conduct.

On 19 October 2017 Justice Byram Ongaya of the Employment and Labour Court in Nyeri dismissed an application from the ACK to overturn his 9 Sept 2016 ruling, ordering the reinstatement of the three priests and finding the bishop had acted improperly.

In its 2016 decision the court found a church tribunal presided over by the Rt. Rev. Joseph Kagunda (pictured) had grossly abused canon law and natural justice in removing the Ven. John Njogu Gachau, the Rev. James Maigua and the Rev. Paul Warui from their posts on allegations they had engaged in sodomy.

On 10 Sept 2015 Archdeacon Gachua was summoned to the diocesan offices for a meeting of senior church leaders and when he arrived he was informed he would stand trial. Archdeacon Gachau told The Nairobian that he would be allowed to plead guilty or deny the charge, but would not be entitled to call any witnesses or prepare a defence.

“I found this absurd since I was ambushed with this allegations and the hearing was being conducted in a swift fashion,” he recounted.

He was then asked to wait outside whilst the 10-member tribunal considered the competing claims, and then was handed a letter informing him of his suspension.

In 2004 the archdeacon came in second to Bishop Kagunda for election as bishop of Mount Kenya West.

The other clergy, supporters and friends of the archdeacon, were also dismissed from office after summary proceedings. All vehemently denied the charges leveled against them.

Justice Ogaya held the church violated canon law in terminating the priests, and questioned the veracity and motives of Bishop Kagunda, noting the offenses for which the clergy had been dismissed were violations of civil as well as church law — yet the bishop did not report the clergy to the police. The judge ordered the church to pay the three Sh2 million each in compensation for slander and wrongful dismissal, and ordered the church reinstate the three.

In its appeal  the ACK, through its lawyer Wachira Nderitu  argued Bishop Kagunda was denied a right of reply before the decree for damages was awarded.  Thursday’s decisions tated the orders to reinstate and compensate the priests were not directed to the bishop in his individual capacity “since he is not the priests’ employer”.

The court said that allowing a review of the judgment would be an abuse of the legal process since the church had already moved to the Court of Appeal to challenge it. “No satisfactory reasons have been given to set aside the judgment. The application cannot be entertained,” Justice Ongaya held.


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