Bishop Verryn suspended

Paul Verryn, the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church bishop, has been suspended from the Methodist Church of SA, a lawyer said on Thursday.

“He has been suspended and charged in an internal process,” said attorney Bongani Khoza, who works for a firm that acts on behalf of the Methodist Church.

Khoza said Verryn was suspended on Tuesday. He said the reasons for the suspension could not be disclosed. Verryn would appear before a church disciplinary committee.

The Central Methodist Church has given refuge to a number of Zimbabwean immigrants and has been at the centre of controversy involving the situation of woman and children at the church in central Johannesburg.

“What is going to happen is that the church is going to put up a structure to take over the running of the Central Methodist Church in Pritchard Street,” Khoza said.

There have been previous reports of tensions between Verryn and the Methodist Church of SA.

Last year Verryn launched a court application to have a curator appointed for children staying at the church.

The application followed ongoing wrangles between the church and the Gauteng government, which accused Verryn of refusing to cooperate with social workers who had wanted to move the Zimbabwean children to proper homes and shelters.

Subsequently, a children’s rights lawyer was appointed by the High Court in Johannesburg earlier this month to act as the legal guardian to 56 unaccompanied Zimbabwean minors.

According to media reports at the time, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa said Verryn allegedly acted unilaterally in launching the application.

The church said it only allowed the presiding bishop or the church’s general secretary to bring an application before a court.

“Mr Bishop Paul Verryn has acted unilaterally and without the support of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa,” the church’s head Ivan Abrahams said at the time.

The curator, Dr Ann Skelton, from the Centre for Child Law, is expected to compile a report on recommendations regarding steps to be taken in the best interests of the children by February 8.

Last October, the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee called for the closure of the church, calling it a time bomb.

Following a visit to the church, chairperson Molebatsi Bopape said at the time: “Children are being exposed to abuse, babies are sleeping on the floor ...
the place is so filthy that we couldn’t even breathe.”

In December, the government said it was considering taking court action to remove children from the church.

At the time, Legal Resource Centre attorney Jason Brickhill said the application for curatorship took place in the context of government’s statements of its intention to move the children to places of safety.

“Bishop Verryn believes that it is essential that someone sufficiently experienced and independent be formally and legally empowered to protect the best interests of the children, to represent their best interests in negotiations with government and investigate the best options available.”

He said Verryn believed he was unable to “adequately safeguard the best interest of the children at the church or if and when they are relocated”.

Last year, the SA Council of Churches said the primary villain in the refugee saga was not Verryn, but the government.

“These people moved into [the church] because it responded to a humanitarian crisis, to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government, responded.”

Verryn was not available for comment on Thursday. - Sapa

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