The Sekondi branch of the Anglican Church has been enmeshed in total confusion emanating from intertwined legal tussles that have resulted in the jailing of a priest of the church and three other members.
A Takoradi High Court presided over by Justice David K. Ofosu Quartey, on Friday sentenced Very Rev. Augustine Welbourne, a former parish priest of the Sekondi Anglican church, to three mouths imprisonment with an additional 10 million cedi fine or in default serve a two-year imprisonment term. This was as a result of a contempt charge brought against him by Rt. Rev. Col. John Otoo (Rtd), the Anglican Bishop of Sekondi-Takoradi.
There was also a seeming drama on the same day when three plaintiffs who had cited the Anglican Bishop and seven others for contempt, had the verdict turned against them and sentenced into a prison term of three months each in hard labour.
The three - Messrs. Emmanuel Papa Assan, Daniel Asefuah and Augustus Quaye were also fined 8 million cedis each or in default serve two years imprisonment. In addition to this, they are to sign a bond worth 100 million cedis with two sureties, to be of good behavior for two years.
Messrs Assan, Asefuah, and Quaye were committed for contempt by the judge after he had dismissed the earlier one they had initiated against the Bishop and seven others, that also included Justice K. E. Amua-Sekyi, a former Supreme Court judge.
The three filed the contempt proceeding against the aforementioned defendants stating they breached the earlier accord reached between them by storming the Sekondi Anglican church to disrupt church service that was being officiated by Rev. Welbourne.
In dismissing their action, Justice Quartey cited law 23 'A' of the Anglican constitution which states that the bishop shall have a place of eminence at the cathedral. Additionally, the Cathedral church and parish shall be subject to direct visitation by the bishop.
This, the judge noted, meant that Bishop Otoo did not breach the law when he entered the church during the day in question to worship.
Relying on the strength of Order 15 rule two, Justice Quartey then cited the three plaintiffs for contempt because their own sworn affidavits indicated that they went to church that day that the bishop entered the cathedral conducting church service, in breach of the same agreement that they signed with the bishop on which they were relying to initiate contempt proceedings against him and the seven others.
“You willfully broke your own terms of settlement and undertaking. You are self-confessed wrong doers according to your own affidavit”, the judge said.
The three then apologized to the court and pledged to work with the new bishop after the judge had pointed out their mistakes to them.
The apology was however turned down by Justice Quartey who subsequently sentenced them.
In the case of Rev. Augustine Welbourne, the former parish priest, the court held the argument advanced by Bishop Otoo that he had refused to vacate the mission house, render accounts for his stewardship and also hand over all church properties in his possession after he had revoked his license and dismissed him as a priest in charge of Sekondi parish.
In his ruling, Justice Quartey noted that Bishop Otoo was still the bishop of the Anglican Church and has authority over the cathedral.
As a result, Rev. Welbourne cannot operate as a priest within the Sekondi-Takoradi diocese. He ordered Welbourne not to interfere with the activities of the cathedral, including church properties.
The judge also ordered the jailed priest to render accounts to the bishop on or before September 1. Welbourne was also ordered to hand over all church properties in his custody to the new Bishop.
The three and Rev. Welbourne were represented by Bodza-Lumor. Mr. Amua-Sekyi, son of the former Supreme Court judge represented the Bishop and his group.
Meanwhile, the national treasurer of the Ghana Timber Association (GTA),
Mr. Isaac Kofi Nketiah, has called on the Chief Justice, Justice George Kingsley Acquah, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Ebenezer Sekyi Hughes and other high government officials who are members of the Anglican church to intervene in the current impasse going on in the church.
Speaking to reporters soon after the court had jailed the former priest and the three others for contempt, Nketiah said it was very disgraceful that such conflict should engulf a church like the Anglican, resulting in jail terms being slapped on some of the feuding parties.
Nketiah noted that apart from the CJ and the speaker of parliament, there are a lot of high-ranking government officials who come from western region and are members of the Anglican Church and called on them to help solve the misunderstanding that has engulfed the church.
He regretted that these leaders, some of whom worship in some of the parishes in Sekondi-Takoradi could not use their influence to have the dispute that engulfed the church resolved amicably, but sat down unconcerned for the case to degenerate to that level.
He noted that for a simple case among Christians that could have easily been resolved to be determined by a court was very unfortunate.
According to him, if nothing was done about the case, a bad precedent would be set for future leaders and members of the church to follow by dragging trivial issues into the domain of courts, instead of settling them at the church level as directed by God himself through the Holy Bible.
He therefore appealed to Justice Acquah, Rt. Hon. Sekyi-Hughes, Mrs. Gladys Asmah, Madam Sophia Horner-Sam and other high government officials who are all members of the Anglican Church to immediately intervene and bring all factions in the church together for the betterment of the Church.