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South African priest testifies on rape

16 October 2020

The Revd June Dolley-Major campaigning outside the Archbishop of Cape Town’s residence

The Revd June Dolley-Major campaigning outside the Archbishop of Cape Town’s residence

A PRIEST in Cape Town who has campaigned since being allegedly raped by a clergyman at the College of the Transfiguration, Grahamstown, in 2002, has appeared before the Anglican Church’s Safer Church Commission.

On Monday of last week, the Revd June Dolley-Major testified to the commission on Zoom. She has accused the church hierarchy in South Africa of being complicit in a cover-up, and has twice — in 2016 and 2020 — gone on hunger strike in front of the Archbishop of Cape Town’s residence, Bishopscourt.

After the 90-minute hearing, she reported on Facebook: “The representatives of the Safer Church Commission were kind and listened to me. I was deeply triggered in sharing the rape experience. This very institution silenced me and now I am reporting to a division of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. It was painful.

“Recalling that night in detail was very traumatising for me and I broke down, I literally broke down.”

On Tuesday of last week, she said: “I think they knew my public persona, and now they saw the devastating personal effects this had on me.”

Some church leaders have criticised Ms Dolley-Major for making her rape public. South Africa has some of the highest rape statistics in the world. It has been suggested that half of all women there are raped at least once.

In August, on South Africa’s Women’s Day, women protesters, including Ms Dolley-Major, hung underwear on the fence of Bishopscourt, to draw attention to church sexual-abuse cases.

In response, a former Rector of the the theological college, the Revd Dr Barney Pityana, a well-known anti-apartheid activist with links to Southwark Cathedral, wrote on Facebook: “This has gone too far. I think the Church must now simply tell June Dolley-Major to go to hell.”

He argued that she could not blame the current Archbishop, who was not in office when she was raped. “She needs to be honest with her supporters and declare what her motives and intentions are. What she is doing is diabolical and satanic.”

Ms Dolley-Major was ordained in 2004. Ten years later, working as Rector of St Saviour’s, Claremont, in Cape Town, she says that she was unable to cope any longer psychologically with working in the same diocese as her alleged rapist, whom she was regularly required to meet.

She told the then Bishop of Table Bay, the Rt Revd Garth Counsell, about her situation before resigning. She says that he told her to “keep quiet for the sake of the Church’s reputation”, and then withheld her letter of commendation for a new post in Australia.

Ms Dolley-Major believes that it is unfair that her alleged rapist continues to work in the Cape Town area. “I’m unemployed, I’ve lived on the street, I’ve been in shelters, my money has run out. I’m 51. All I’m asking for is justice,” she said on Tuesday of last week.

In July, she ended her hunger strike after the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, came out of his residence to talk to her, and asked her to make a formal complaint. She says that he also promised her that she would get her letter of commendation, without which she can not apply for any new post.

Dr Makgoba has apologised for past wrongs of the Church and its failure to address sexual-abuse claims (News, 6 April 2018).

On 31 July, the Provincial Deputy Registrar, Rosalie Manning, who chairs the Anglican Safe and Inclusive Church Commission, announced that it was investigating the complaint.


Read a letter from the Anglican Safe and Inclusive Church Commission here

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