The Sierra Leone Conference’s board of ordained ministry defrocked James Sapato Fornah, former pastor-in-charge at Kambia United Methodist Church, after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in his congregation.
In the court hearing in Port Loko, Justice John Bosco Allieu sentenced Fornah to 10 years on a count of sexual penetration of a minor and 10 years for sexual touching, with the sentences to run concurrently.
The conference board —which oversees clergy matters — had suspended the 60-year-old elder and pastor in January 2015 after his arrest for the December 2014 incident.
“There was not much we could do at the time because there was Ebola in the country,” said the Rev. Mariama Bockari, Makeni district superintendent and a member of the board of ordained ministry. The Ebola outbreak that began in 2014 claimed more than 11,000 lives, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
“However, we set up our own internal investigation into the matter because we were all shocked. Our team included congregation members who interacted with the Kambia police and family members of the victim. We stopped Rev. Fornah’s salary in August 2015 when it was becoming disturbingly clear that the pastor who was supposed to be protecting children had indeed violated the child,” Bockari said.
Fornah, a former Yonibana district superintendent, was serving as pastor of the Kambia church, where the conference is building a congregation in a new mission area. The victim was one of many youth in the new congregation.
The Rev. Sylvester Holima, a member of a team that went to Kamina after Fornah’s arrest, said church attendance there has dropped since the arrest. Before that, he said attendance had grown at an impressive rate.
In its July 22 meeting, the board also instituted a process to retrieve all United Methodist property from Fornah, including his license to practice as a United Methodist pastor.
“We have been in prayers with the family of the girl during their period of grief as we awaited court decision … The United Methodist Church wishes it to be known that it does not condone immorality and has a child protection policy, which prohibits any acts of violence against children including sexual, physical, social and rights violation. The consequences for those breaking them are dire. In Fornah’s case, he will forfeit all rights and privileges accorded him as a United Methodist pastor including his end of service benefits and pension,” the board said in a July 25 press release.
“The United Methodist Church greatly regrets, dissociates and condemns the immoral acts of Fornah as we stand for love, peace, development and child protection rather than promoting child violation or protecting child violators,” the press release said.
Published reports of Fornah’s guilty plea said he asked for mercy because of his deteriorating health and old age.
Fornah has pleaded innocent in another case against him for sexual touching and penetration of a 10-year-old girl. It is not clear if the girl had any involvement with the church.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
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