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Tribunal clears South African priest of rape

01 October 2021

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

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

AN ANGLICAN priest accused of raping a fellow priest was found not guilty of rape in a judgment by a diocesan tribunal of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) on 30 September.

For the past five years, the Revd June Dolley-Major has used social media to accuse the Revd Melvin Booysen of raping her in August 2002 on a trip to the Anglican seminary in Makhanda, previously known as Grahamstown (News, 16 October 2020).

Delivering Thursday’s judgment online, the president of the tribunal, the Rt Revd Peter John Lee, said emphatically: “Booysen is not her rapist.”

The statement of the five-person tribunal, consisting of two women and three men, said: “This tribunal unanimously finds the Revd Melvin Booysen not guilty of sexually assaulting June Major in Grahamstown in 2002. There is no evidence of the complainant laying allegations or informing her Bishop prior to 2016, and no corroboration of them; we do not find her account consistent with a series of circumstantial factors in the story.”

Mr Booysen was also cleared for a further charged of sexual harassment, though there was one dissenting opinion. It is not disputed that Mr Booysen approached Ms Dolley-Major’s room that night, though he maintains that he did not enter. On this charge, the tribunal found him guilty of unprofessional clerical conduct “giving just cause for scandal”.

Bishop Lee, who is the retired Bishop of Christ the King diocese, Johannesburg, was appointed to lead the tribunal by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, after the Safer Church Commission, under Canon Rosalie Manning, handled the earlier stages of the investigation and decided that there was a case to answer.

The tribunal explained: “The main reason why we do not believe that rape took place that night, is that Major never alleged that until after 2016. It is just not there. The second is that her account still goes entirely uncorroborated.”

None of those to whom Ms Dolley-Major says that she reported the assault agreed to testify; and the judgment states that: “COTT [the College of the Transfiguration] is a small college with 60 students and few teaching staff and families, living in close proximity and allegedly all knowing each other’s business. It is inconceivable that if such a major and violent crime had taken place in a staff home, no trace would have been left.”

The tribunal was also critical of the way that Ms Dolley-Major elaborated on her first description of the assault in subsequent accounts. It was first logged by the police in 2016 as attempted rape.

Ms Dolley-Major has been running a campaign in collaboration with gender-justice groups to highlight her plight. The tribunal in its judgment commented on “her campaign, her ‘story’ and her ‘truth”’: “We were unable to secure clarity on whether this use of language is a post-modern philosophical subjectivity, or perhaps a therapeutic ploy which can be powerfully used to enable victims to ‘own’ their experience and pain in face of pressure to deny it,” they wrote.

“Oddly, if her posts are to be believed, this behaviour seems to co-exist with an obsession with lies, lying, liars, lying under oath and blatant lies. Everyone is lying except me.”

The judgment went into great detail on Ms Dolley-Major’s mental state and past experiences with violence. It also raised questions about whether she was still a member of the clergy. “Mrs Major continues to represent herself as an active Anglican priest in good standing, which by her own choice, she has not been since she resigned some years ago. We recommend that the Bishop of Table Bay clarifies the truth to the public.”

In a response, Ms Dolley-Major called the judgment “a travesty of justice, and an abuse of process”. She said that “there are no blessings in covering up the vulgarity and immorality of a small section of the clergy, some of whom preyed on their victims with impunity. Melvin Booysen is a serial sex pest who violated me and that will never change.”

The tribunal recommended that Mr Booysen remain under suspension for a few months “to enable him to attend an extended retreat under guidance, therapy from an experienced senior person, and retraining in the expectations laid upon a priest of ACSA by the Canons.

“Thereafter he should be exonerated and reinstated to ministry on condition of good behaviour.”

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