THE general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Samuel Kobia, has announced he will not seek a second term in office. The sudden and unexpected announcement on Monday left observers stunned and puzzled.
Dr Kobia, who took up his post on 1 January 2004, told a closed session of the WCC that he was not seeking to extend his leadership of the ecumenical body made up of 349 churches represening 560 million Christians.
Dr Kobia had been expected to continue for a further five years in office. A search committee of 18 has been hurriedly appointed to begin looking for his successor, to be appointed in September 2009. There is nothing in the WCC rules that prevents a woman taking the top job.
Dr Kobia’s announcement came after he had agreed to amend his CV to remove a doctorate awarded in 2004. It appeared that the US college that had granted him his Ph.D., Fairfax University, was no longer recognised by the Maine state authorities. He has also been under attack from the German Churches, one of the WCC’s main funders, for allowing the organisation to have too low an international profile.
A Lutheran Bishop, the Rt Revd Martin Hein, a member of the central committee, said before the meeting that Dr Kobia had been travelling too much outside Geneva.
The closed session at WCC headquarters in Geneva, which had been expected to last for up to an hour-and-a-half, was extended to nearly nine hours as the committee wrestled with the implications of the announcement.
The WCC Moderator, the Revd Walter Altmann, told a press conference that that the central committee had heard Dr Kobia’s decision “with regret”, but had accepted it. He said that when the secretary general had said his decision was “for personal reasons”, he had respected those reasons and had not enquired further. The decision appeared to have been entirely unexpected.
Asked if everything connected with Dr Kobia’s CV was now in the public arena, Dr Altmann explained the background to the controversy over the doctorate.
When the Moderator had told Dr Kobia in December about the status of the college, Dr Kobia was “surprised and disappointed”. He had agreed to remove the qualification from his CV.
“I received information, and I thought it was my duty to look into the matter,” Dr Altmann said. “The person who spoke to me asked for confidentiality, and I respected the promise.”
He told the press conference that the committee had spoken a totally clear “word of gratitude” for the general secretary’s work since 2004, and also for his work with the WCC before that. Dr Kobia had the committee’s “full support” to carry out his duties until the end of his term. An acting general secretary would be appointed in September to take over in January until a successor was in place.