Australian FWC church fear the worst as Pulelaʻā leaders refuse to step down

PHOTO: L-R: Rev Sione Mataele Pīnomi and Rev Matafonua Fotofili

There are fears the scandal-ridden Pulelaʻā congregation in Sydney could split after reports that its two suspended leaders have refused to stand down.

Kaniva News understands the suspended church leaders, Rev Matafonua Fotofili and Rev Sione Pinomi, have claimed they are bound by the law to continue as leaders of the FWC church in Australia.

Rev Dr Siotame Havea from the Free Wesleyan Church Theological College in Tonga has been appointed by the Tongan conference to become the new church leader of the FWC community in Australia.

He is expected to start the job on August 2.

Some members of the congregation have declared their support for the suspended leaders and have even talked of taking back the church buildings, which were sold by Westpac after a financial collapse that left the church Aus$21 million in debt.

The FWC congregations in Melbourne and Brisbane refused to send representatives to a meeting called by Rev Fotofili and Rev Pinomi  on Sunday 19 in Sydney after they returned to Sydney from  the Tongan conference last week.

At the meeting Rev Fotofili, the former superintendent of the Australian FWC Tongan congregations implied he and Rev Pinomi would not give up.

Senior FWC officials in Australia have predicted that if the church members cannot reach a mutual agreement after Dr Havea arrives in Sydney the situation will lead to the creation of a new church.

Rev Fotofili would not respond to our request for comments.

Some members of the FWC congregations in Australia have declared they would break away and follow Rev Dr Havea if Rev Fotofili and Rev Pinomi and  their followers would take control of the FWC Church buildings.

Senior FWC church officials in Australia have arranged for alternative buildings to cater for those who want to break away from the congregation on the first Sunday of August if the two sides cannot reach an agreement.

Rev Fotofili and Pinomi are supposed to refrain from providing any further religious services to FWC congregations in Australia as their positions as ministers were declared  invalid at the FWC conference in Tonga.

Since they arrived in Sydney from the conference they have continued to conduct Sunday sermons and funeral services for the community.

The setuata (stewart) of the FWC church of Minto in NSW, Rev Manulevu Fifita,  told Kaniva News this afternoon he strongly believed the community would split because Rev Matafonua and Rev Pinomi would not back down.

“What he told the meeting was: ‘I feel for the Rev Siotame Havea’ when he would arrive next week,” Fifita said.

Fifita said most of the congregation inferred from Matafonuaʻs statement that he and Pinomi would not listen to the Tongan conference and would not step down.

He said Rev Matafonua claimed they were still bound by the Australian law to continue as FWC church leaders for Australia.

Rev Fifita said Rev Matafonua and Rev Pinomi were disobeying the Tongan conference because they were not meant to call meeting or conduct any services for all the FWC congregations in Australia.

He said the church’s procedure was clear and simple. Once a minister was suspended his responsibility would immediately be taken over by the faifekau hoko (assistant minister). In this case Rev Haʻofanga Faingaʻa or ‘Isileli Tongatuʻa were supposed to be the care takers for the church until Rev Dr Havea arrives.

Background

In the past three years the Pulelaʻā  FWC congregations in Australia has been gripped by a financial crisis that led to them owing Westpac and another financial provider AUS$21 million.

The crisis came to a head when Westpac seized the Pulelaʻā church and property and sold them to a new owner. Five other church properties which had been used as security for the loans were also lost.

However, the sale of the church properties did not end the controversy because the Pulelaʻā church leaders, the Rev Matafonua, Rev Pinomi and Rev Viliami Tuʻakoi, who was called by the previous conference to take up a new role in Vavaʻu Islands, continued to make promises to the Pulelaʻā community that some financial investors would donate millions of dollars to the church which would enable them to buy back their property.

Critics have described their actions as a way to allow to keep them in the church offices in Australia.

Since the repeated failure of their promises to come true, an investigation was launched in Australia last year by a team led by the Secretary General of the Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga.

The findings were officially released to the FWC’s annual conference in Tonga last week.

Rev Pinomi, Tuʻakoi and Matafonua were suspended by the conference.

The conference said the promises they made to their congregation were “make-believe”, “untrue” and “thoughtless.”

The main points

  • There are fears the scandal-ridden Pulelaʻā congregation in Sydney could split after reports that its two suspended leaders have refused to stand down.
  • Some members of the congregation have declared their support for the suspended leaders and have even talked of taking back the church buildings, which were sold by Westpac after a financial collapse that left the church Aus$21 million in debt.
  • Rev Matafonua Fotofili and Rev Sione Pinomi were suspended by the Free Wesleyan Church conference in Tonga after an investigation into their role in the scandal.
  • The congregation lost its church and five properties that had been used as securities for the loans.

For more information

Troubled Tongan church project in Sydney collapses (Radio Australia) 

Failed promise: Top church leader probed (Kaniva News)

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