Regarding An Unbalanced TV1 Broadcast
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Media release – for immediate use
Last night TV1 broadcast a news item which presented an unbalanced view of a dispute in Christchurch between a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and a significant number of his congregation. This release corrects some of the misinformation broadcast.
In June 2003 written complaints about the Rev Fitifiti Luatua’s behaviour were made by 11 of the 14 Elders of St George Iona Church in Christchurch. In accordance with Church procedure, the Christchurch Presbytery formed a committee to investigate these complaints. The Committee comprised 5 people and included two senior Pacific Island ministers.
The Committee found there was substance to the complaints and suggested Presbytery should consider whether the minister should continue in that congregation.
Presbytery then appointed a Commission to conduct a hearing to consider this matter. The Commission comprised 3 people – the Honourable Justice Colin Fraser (chair), a senior Samoan minister and a senior palagi minister. At the hearing, Rev Luatua’s lawyer asserted that the complaints against her client were racially and maliciously motivated. Hhowever, the commission substantially upheld the complaints and found that the primary cause of the problems in the parish related to the aggressive and overbearing attitude of the minister resulting in an abuse of his power. These findings are currently under review by a Judicial Commission and the Church is unable to debate their merits further at this time.
The complaints did not focus on Rev Luatua’s preaching, but rather on his behaviour and attitude toward his parishioners and those in positions of leadership. The congregation of St George Iona were closely involved with the election of Rev Luatua as their minister in May 2001 and have continued to pay his stipend since he took leave in June 2003. Rev Luatua and his family continue to live in the church manse.
Rev Luatua has appealed the decision of Christchurch Presbytery to the General Assembly. An Assembly Judicial Commission was formed in November 2003. This comprises four people – a palagi lawyer, a Samoan lawyer, a senior Samoan minister and a senior palagi minister. There is also an adviser who is a Queen’s Counsel. This Commission’s primary task is to determine whether the Presbyterian Church followed due process. The hearing was set for March but has been adjourned to April 19 following an application by Rev Luatua’s lawyer.