Bishop Joseph Kagunda of the Anglican Church, Mt Kenya West Diocese, has opposed the hearing of a defamation case filed against him by three priests he attempted to suspend over allegations of engaging in sexual immorality.
Bishop Kagunda argues that the suit is an attempt by the priests to gag him from discharging his canonical duties.
He says the issues in the suit are similar to those in another case heard and determined by the Employment and Labour Relations Court, where the priests were reinstated and awarded Sh6.8 million in compensation.
Bishop Kagunda, who was recently committed to a civil jail for failing to reinstate the priests, filed the preliminary objection through the Church Chancellor Wachira Nderitu, following permission granted by Justice Abigail Mshila on June 16, 2018.
The objection has, however, opened a new legal battle with the priests — Reverend Paul Warui, Archdeacon John Gachau and Reverend James Maigua — arguing that the issues in the two cases are completely different.
“The issue before the High Court is that of defamation and damages thereto. Those at the Labour Court are constructive termination of employment and unfair hearing by the church tribunal,” said the priests through lawyer David Onsare.
Bishop Kagunda urged Justice Mshila to find out whether the suspension letters he issued to the priests on August 22, 2015 were published anywhere as to constitute defamation in law.
According to him, there was nothing defamatory, malicious or ill-intended by the letters.
When suspending the priests, Bishop Kagunda said, he acted in his capacity as the Diocesan Bishop and not in his individual capacity, in good faith and without malice.
He cancelled the priests’ contracts on recommendation from a tribunal that investigated the sexual immorality claims.
“The Bishop is bound by the Church constitution and in exercise of his powers under Canon 15 of the constitution appointed a tribunal to look into a complaint he had received with respect to the plaintiffs.
Bishop was not a member of the tribunal and could not be said to have control over the proceedings and outcome of the said tribunal,” said the church chancellor.
“He only implemented the decision,” maintained Mr Nderitu.
Mr Onsare, the priests’ lawyer, maintained that the letters were defamatory, malicious and aimed at painting the clerics as people of bad repute and corrupt morals.
He added that the Bishop cannot raise the preliminary objection at this point during trial.
“The Bishop cannot abuse court process by raising a preliminary objection three years after the matter was instituted, examination-in-chief already conducted and the defence hearing being part heard,” said Mr Onsare.
The hearing of the case will resume on October 23, 2018.