Charges of fraud and misconduct are being traded between the current and former Anglican Bishops in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Bishops trade charges
Already internally conflicted over its relationship with the diocese of Los Angeles, and the political implications of the June GAFCON conference, the civil war between current Bishop Suheil Dawani and former Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal (pictured) adds a further burden to the weakened Anglican presence in the Holy Land.
On Jan 20, Bishop Riah’s office released an “urgent” petition calling for Bishop Suheil to “step down” after he allegedly colluded in the beatings of two Nazareth Anglicans.
The petition said that following a confirmation service at Christ Church in Nazareth on Jan 12, Rafle Abu Al-Assal and his brother Ala’a, confronted Bishop Suheil and demanded to know why the bishop had not confirmed Rafle’s daughter.
The two men were seized and taken outside the church and beaten, the petition said. “While the two were harassed and beaten, Bishop Suheil, turning a blind eye to all that was happening in the church yard, carried on indifferently.”
The two Abu Al-Assal brothers were jailed and the “road was cleared for Bishop Suheil to proceed to a reception,” Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal’s office said.
Bishop Suheil declined to comment on the incident, when queried by The Church of England Newspaper, but on Jan 29 released a statement detailing litigation brought by the diocese against Bishop Riah for fraud.
Upon his accession to office in April 2007, Bishop Suheil said he asked Bishop Riah to relinquish his office at the diocesan school in Nazareth. Bishop Riah declined to go saying the school was his personal property and had been built with his private funds.
Shortly before his retirement, Bishop Riah created a charitable trust entitled the “Bishop Riah Education Campus” and allegedly transferred the assets of the school from the diocese to the trust—of which he was chairman.
“Members of the charity include Bishop Riah’s wife and nephew. Through this charity, Bishop Riah is collecting the tuition from the students and is not depositing the monies in the school’s official bank account, whilst, all the employees at the school are official Diocesan institution employees and receive their salaries from the Diocese,” Bishop Suheil said.
On Jan 22, the magistrate court of Nazareth issued an injunction against Bishop Riah and his family forbidding their use of the school’s facilities and funds until a court had determined its true ownership, he added.
Bishop Riah has steadfastly maintained his innocence and financial probity. Elected coadjutor in 2005 in a contested election, Bishop Suheil has had a difficult episcopate. Coupled with the ongoing Middle East crisis, internal divisions have beset the diocese. His plans for a companion relationship with the Diocese of Los Angeles announced at the December 2005 synod elicited protests from the clergy who objected to links with the American diocese due to its stance on homosexuality.
Bishop Suheil cut short the debate saying those innovations would not take place in Jerusalem under his watch, and has discouraged the gay issue from being revisited, though he has forged links with Los Angeles. Since 1996 the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem have contributed over £11 million towards the operations of the dioceses.
The split between the two bishops had a public airing in the summer of 2006 when Dr Rowan Williams announced the formation of the Anglican-Judaism dialogue commission. Bishop Riah had protested the planned talks with the leaders of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate as being untimely given the unfolding Second Lebanon War however, Bishop Suheil backed Lambeth and was brought into the planning by the Archbishop’s staff while Bishop Riah was sidelined.
In September 2006 a diocesan investigation committee released a report alleging fraud by members of Bishop Riah’s family in the management of the diocese’s finances—charges the Bishop has stoutly denied.
The diocese has since been divided into factions supporting Bishop Riah and Bishop Suheil, as well as those seeking a more activist approach towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The introduction of GAFCON into this mixture, sources in the Diocese of Jerusalem tell CEN, is another political variable that has little to do with the wider Anglican conflict and everything to do with the politics of Jerusalem and Palestine.
How the politics of the Middle East will impact GAFCON is unclear. Organizers are holding a meeting this week to finalize details and set the meeting’s agenda.