Free Wesleyan Church name can still be used in Australia, but way is open for legal action

Church in Sydney previously known as Pulelaʻā. Photo/Kevin Debaune (Facebook).

The fractured Free Wesleyan Church (FWC) in Australia can continue to use that name, even though it was de-registered on April 27, according to a New South Wales government spokesperson.

However, it appears the way is now open for the rival sides of the church in Australia to take legal action to stop the other side from using the name.

The FWC was de-registered after legal action by Westpac to recover millions of dollars owed to the bank by the Pulelaʻa church. The church lost its multi-million dollar church in Sydney and five other properties that were used for security of a loan.

The FWC in Australia is now split, with some staying under the leadership of the disgraced former FWC Superintendent of the Pulela’a church Matafonua Fotofili and others following the Rev Dr Siotame Havea, who was appointed by the church’s conference in Tonga to take over from Fotofili.

A spokesperson for New South Wales Fair Trading told Kaniva News that although the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga was no longer incorporated in New South Wales, it could continue to use the name.

An unincorporated entity could call itself whatever it wanted, she said.

Inevitably, questions have arisen over which congregation has the legal right to use the name.

“If another body with a same or similar name objects to the unincorporated association using the same or a similar name, the other body must take civil action to prevent the use of the name by the unincorporated organisation,” the spokesperson said.

The cancellation of the Association’s registration under the Act did not prevent the FWC in Australia from continuing its activities as a church, the spokesperson said.

An association did not gain authority or permission to undertake activities simply because it is registered under the Act.

“It is not compulsory for a not for profit organisation in NSW to register as an incorporated association under the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 (the Act),” the spokesperson said.

Tongan conference

Rev Fotofili has publicly claimed he and his FWC followers are in the FWC in Australia and that Rev Dr Soatame had defected and started a new church.

However, the Tongan conference’s General Secretary, Dr Tevita Havea, stated on Facebook last week that the only congregation the Tongan conference controlled in Australia was the congregation where Rev Matafonua Fotofili was previously superintendent.

Dr Havea said that the Tongan conference had decided to replace Matafonua with Rev. Dr Siotame Havea.

Dr Tēvita said there were other three FWC churches in Australia: These were the Fakaongo from the Tongan Parish (Uniting Church in Australia), and two congregations that broke away from Pulela’a church, the SUTT NSW led by Rev Tau Sailosi and the Nuku’alofa Church in Brisbane.

Dr Tēvita said these churches were free and not under the Tongan conference up to the present.

History

The loss of the Pulelaʻā caused disarray among church members that culminated in many breaking away, while some stayed in the church because they were promised benefactors would pay off their loans and brought back their properties.

However the Free Wesleyan Church’s 92nd conference in Tonga in July announced that the promises made to the Pulela’a congregation were untrue.

The conference was also told the ministers mismanaged the church’s properties in New South Wales. They were found guilty of professional misconduct by a team of investigators led by the Church’s Secretary General, Dr Tevita Havea in 2014.

As a result the conference decided to recall Rev Matafonua and his assistants to Tonga where they were supposed to work under the scrutiny of the President and attend counselling services.

However, since Rev Dr Havea started work in Australia in early August, Rev Fitiofili has continued to service some of the Pulela’a church followers and claimed they were the ones who held legal right to operate the church in Australia.

  • The main points
    The fractured Free Wesleyan Church (FWC) in Australia can continue to use that name, even though it was de-registered on April 27, according to a New South Wales government spokesperson.
  • However, it appears the way is now open for the rival sides of the church in Australia to take legal action to stop the other side from using the name.
  • The FWC was de-registered after legal action by Westpac to recover millions of dollars owed to the bank by the Pulelaʻa church. The church lost its multi-million dollar church in Sydney and five other properties that were used for security of a loan.
  • The FWC in Australia is now split, with some staying under the leadership of the disgraced former FWC Superintendent of the Pulela’a church Matafonua Fotofili and others following the Rev Dr Siotame Havea, who was appointed by the church’s conference in Tonga to take over from Fotofili
  • For more information
    Tonga pastors get counselling but no ministries (RNZI)

Rev Fotofili claims FCW in Australia has split (Kaniva News)

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