Church Elders testify in Court hearing
Three members of the Elders Committee of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S) have defended their decision to strip Rev. Kerita Reupena of two senior positions in the church.
This happened on Friday when the Church’s Deputy Chairman, Rev. Elder Tautiaga Senara, Rev. Elder Kerisiano Soti and Rev. Elder Peleti Toailoa, took the witness stand in the hearing of a lawsuit brought against them.
The Chairman, Rev. Elder Tavita Roma, did not give evidence.
The Committee members are being sued over their decision to remove two senior positions from Rev. Reupena of Ipswich, Australia, including the position of Director for Queensland district.
Lawyer, Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe is representing Rev. Reupena while lawyers Francis Cooke, Leota Tima Leavai and Semi Leung Wai are representing the church.
Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu is presiding over the matter.
Rev. Elder Soti recalled the meeting where the conflict within the District of Queensland was raised. At the meeting, he expressed concerns that the conflict within the district could intensify during the annual Malua Conference since the district shares one house at the compound.
“Even though Kerita said it was not in line with the Constitution but the Elders Committee felt that something should be done before anything happens,” said Rev. Elder Soti.
“The Committee then made a decision for the district to reconcile. If they can’t do this, they would have to split.”
A meeting took place but the witness said there were still disagreements.
“It indicated to the Elders committee that there are still differences within the district,” said Rev. Elder Soti.
“It was the first time that something like this has happened (split district) in the church. In other situations they (district) managed to resolve it among themselves.”
During cross-examination, Leulua’iali’i questioned why Rev. Reupena was excluded from the Elders Committee meeting.
Rev. Elder Soti responded that the issue discussed was about Rev. Reupena.
“It was best to excuse him from the meeting so that everyone can express their opinions freely and we felt that (some views expressed) might hurt his feelings”.
He reiterated that what they intended was for the district to reconcile but this was not possible because some members still expressed opposing views.
The event took place in January 2015.
At the time, he said Rev. Reupena and others were informed about the split and were asked to prepare new appointments.
“They were also asked to make preparations about issues they would want to raise in the General Assembly in few months time.”
Leulua’iali’i argued that Rev. Reupena did try to reconcile the district but this was unsuccessful because of the lack of cooperation.
Rev. Elder Soti responded that reconciliation was an option and Rev. Reupena was the leader at the time, which means it was up to him to make it happen.
“That was his role as defined under the church Constitution,” he added.
The lawyer also questioned the Elders’ Committee decision to remove Rev. Reupena’s roles despite a ruling from the Court.
At that point, Chief Justice Patu intervened.
He explained that his ruling was on an interim injunction that no replacement be chosen for Rev. Reupena.
“I did not say that the decision of the Committee be changed or reversed,” said His Honour Patu.
Rev. Elder Toailoa, who was the Chairman of the Committee at the time, also gave evidence.
Leulua’iali’i questioned him about his request to meet with Rev. Reupena to discuss the differences in the district.
“As far as my role of Chairman and a matai, when there is a dispute in the district, I should stand up and do something,” Rev. Elder Toailoa said.
“Kerita said it’s against the Constitution of the church to meet but as the Chairman, I feel that I have to do something and I tried to explain that to Kerita.”
Asked about an apology presentation from Rev. Reupena to him, Rev. Toailoa said he had accepted it. His interpretation was that the apology was for Rev. Reupena not accepting his earlier request to meet.
Rev. Elder Tautiaga, the Deputy Chairman, was questioned about the set up of the new district.
The lawyer argued that Rev. Reupena found it strange that his district was refereed to as a new one when it had the same name, they used the same building and had the same parishes.
Rev. Elder Tautiaga responded that the word new referred to the fact that the district had a new composition. “It’s the old name but new district altogether that is how I understand it.”
He was also asked if there was any significant change on district being referred to as new.
In response he said there are changes considering the number of believers in a district would be smaller. “I guess in terms of providing money and support with whatever the district wants, it would be small and it would not have bigger resources as before to fall back on.”
The last question raised by Leulua’iali’i relates to a meeting where a request was made through former Secretary General, Iutisone Dr. Salevao to accept her visit on 12March 2015.
She asked if the witness could confirm that the request from her was to discuss the Committee’s decision on Rev. Reupena and a possible reconciliation.
But Rev. Elder Tautiaga argued there were in fact three aspects to Leulua’iali’is visit.
He said the third reason was a threat to take the matter to Court.
“I was surprised by the attitude of the lawyer and the way she spoke to us was rather not the type of wording and attitude of a lawyer,” Rev. Elder Tautiaga said.
“I was saddened. She was threatening us and I’m sure that some of us that were there were threatened when she said if we don’t resolve it she was going to go to Court right then.
“We were trying to keep things smooth and she was saying if we don’t reconcile I’m going to go to Court that is how I remember it.”
Chief Justice Patu has adjourned the matter for the lawyers to make their final submissions next month.