The AIDS Law Project (ALP) is concerned about irresponsible and inaccurate reporting that has taken place around the suspension of Bishop Paul Verryn as the Superintendent Minister of the Central Methodist Mission (CMM). Media reports have misleadingly suggested that the disciplinary charges are related to allegations of sexual abuse at the CMM.

In fact, as explained by the Legal Resources Centre, on Friday 22 January 2010, the suspension relates to the following two charges:

  • Charge 1 relates to the alleged unauthorised institution of legal proceedings in December 2009 for the appointment of a curator ad litem to safeguard the interests of unaccompanied minors living at the CMM. The allegation is that Verryn instituted such proceedings without authority and/or without doing so in the name of the Presiding Bishop or Executive Secretary.
  • Charge 2 relates to Verryn allegedly making media statements after being instructed not to do so.

The first charge:

  1. It is important to restate that Bishop Verryn made this application in the context of swirling accusations of abuse of children at the CMM, the children’s fears of being relocated, and also to ensure that the process for relocating the unaccompanied minors is done properly and with their wellbeing and access to psychosocial care in mind. An independent court-appointed curator was felt to be the best way to secure the best interests of these children in such a process.
  2. After the Methodist Church of Southern Africa expressed its opposition to Bishop Verryn proceeding with the case, he took no further steps to secure the appointment of the curatrix. Once the ALP learnt that Bishop Verryn was no longer able to proceed with the case, the ALP intervened and was admitted as an applicant. The curatrix, Dr Ann Skelton, was thereafter appointed by the Court. Bishop Verryn has now been charged for bringing the application, although he had taken no further steps since the Methodist Church of Southern Africa expressed its opposition to Bishop Verryn proceeding with the case.
  3. But this aside, all parties, including the government have welcomed the appointment of Dr Skelton, so this was an important case to be brought whether Bishop Verryn had obtained the proper authority or not.Dr Skelton’s report is due on February 8th and will give a clear indication of how to protect the best interest of the unaccompanied inors.
  4. The suggestion that Bishop Verryn has been doing all he can to keep the children at the CMM is false. Various media reports have referred to an “application” or “interdict” brought by Bishop Verryn that the unaccompanied minors should not be removed from the CMM. No such application was made.

The facts are as follows:

    • An application to appoint a curator was set down for 22 December 2009. However, the Department of Social Development requested a postponement until 5 January 2010. An undertaking was given by the Department that no further steps would be taken in respect of the removal of the unaccompanied minors during this time.
    • On 5 January 2010, the AIDS Law Project was admitted as an applicant for the appointment of the curatrix, Dr Skelton. An agreement was reached between the ALP and the respective government departments, which was made an order of court.
      See our press release 5 January 2010:

The second charge:

It seems that Bishop Verryn cannot win: if he refuses to talk to the media he is accused of “hiding”. If he talks to the media, he is punished by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. We call for fair and accurate reporting and an end to insinuations linking Bishop Verryn to the allegations of sexual abuse and other criminal activity within the CMM.

Finally, we would remind all people of the real issues in this case:

People are living at the CMM because of the political crisis in Zimbabwe which has forced refugees to flee their country. This has compounded the homelessness crisis in the inner city of Johannesburg. In this context we all have a moral duty to do what we can to help our fellow human beings. See the civil society statement of 8 December 2009. In our view the conduct of Bishop Verryn is something to be emulated rather than punished.

For further information, please contact:

Mark Heywood

083 634 8806