Bishop lifts suspension of Utah pastor

After an investigation, church leaders have closed complaints against the suspended pastor of a Salt Lake City-area Tongan United Methodist congregation after several instances of child sexual abuse there were not reported in a timely manner.

The Rev. Havili Mone, while no longer suspended, will not return as pastor of Laumalie Ma’oni’oni United Methodist Church. He is taking a voluntary leave of absence, retaining his ministerial credentials but not under assignment to a church.

In a letter to church members, dated Nov. 11, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky wrote that she had been praying for the children reportedly abused by an older boy in the church building and for their families, “that they would be healed of the harm done to them and that their trust of their church might be restored.”

Stanovsky presides over the denomination’s Mountain Sky Area, formerly known as the Denver Area, which includes the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone annual (regional) conferences. The letter also was posted online Nov. 14 by the local Fox News affiliate with its coverage of the situation.

The Rev. Steve Goodier was one of three Rocky Mountain district superintendents investigating the complaint against Mone, who was suspended from his duties on Sept. 15 after serving there about 11 years. “The suspension is normal procedure when there are complaints filed against a pastor,” he told United Methodist News Service.

Stanovsky wrote that the situation was “especially difficult” because while Tongan culture tries to bring individuals and families together for conversation “as part of the healing process,” both state and church regulations require clergy to immediately report suspected abuse of children.

“I have no reason to believe that Pastor Hivili Mone intended to do harm to the church or to the boys and their families, but his mistaken actions caused confusion and harm within the congregation and led me to suspend him as the pastor of Laumalie Ma’oni’oni,” the bishop said in her letter.

“As bishop of the church, I am called to be a shepherd of the sheep, in partnership with the district superintendents and pastors,” Stanovsky wrote. “The sheep (needing) to be tended and protected by the shepherds in this situation are first, the boys who were abused; second, the boy who is in jail for the abuse; the families of all the boys and the whole congregation.”

With about 500 members, Laumalie Ma’oni’oni is the largest of three Tongan United Methodist churches in the Salt Lake City area, said Goodier, who also is director of communications for the conference.

Stanofvsky and Mone reached an agreement, effective Nov. 15, which specified the terms of his departure from the church. The Rev. Eddie Kelemeni, filling in as interim pastor, will remain in place until the end of November A new pastor for Laumalie Ma’oni’oni is to be appointed soon, Goodier said.

“Our primary concern is that our churches are a safe place for healing,” he stressed. “There should be a sacred trust between the clergy and the congregation.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 ornewsdesk@umcom.org.

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