Oct. 29, 2012
By Neill Caldwell*
ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. (UMNS) — A dispute regarding how United Methodist church funds are handled in East Africa has been deferred by the denomination’s top court to next April.
The United Methodist Judicial Council heard arguments Oct. 25 on the matter, which was brought before the court by the Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference. The conference is challenging the East Africa Conference’s handling of designated funds.
During the hearing, East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula defended his actions and provided Judicial Council members with a thick binder of documents related to a church-building project that involved the Pittsburgh East District in Western Pennsylvania. The use of $110,736 is in dispute.
“These (accusations) paint me in an extremely negative light,” Bishop Wandabula told council members. “There is no evidence that funds were misused. The fact of the matter is that the church was constructed, although is not completed. … Whatever was done to build the church was done in good faith.”
Wandabula also complained that he had not received pertinent documents until Oct. 10 and did not have sufficient time to review them.
The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference had asked the Judicial Council to rule whether funds given to the East Africa Conference were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by Paragraph 258.4 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.
Suspension of funds
“The question is how we handle funds; dollars given for designated mission projects must be used for those projects,” said the Rev. Robert Zilhaver, speaking for the Western Pennsylvania Conference during the hearing. “The brief submitted to the Judicial Council contains clear evidence that significant funds donated by members, churches, and other entities of the Western Pennsylvania Conference for specific work in Uganda were not accounted for and available to do the work for which they have been donated.”
Zilhaver also cited United Methodist News Service reports about a Board of Global Ministries audit committee report on East Africa, a General Council on Finance and Administration complaint against the bishop and the suspension of funds sent to East Africa.
One of the key figures in the conflict, Uganda mission coordinator Nancy Denardo of the former Pittsburgh East District, was not at the oral hearing for medical reasons. Zilhaver told the council that Denardo had been stonewalled in her attempt to reach a resolution of the concerns about the funds sent to East Africa by the district, which was dissolved in 2005.
In response to a direct question, Bishop Wandabula denied that charge. “Nancy responded that she received the accounting,” he said. He also said that the Rev. Jeff Greenway, the former district superintendent in Western Pennsylvania who sought answers to accounting questions with East Africa starting in 2004, had been notified as well.
“The crux of the accusation by Nancy Denardo becomes that the Namboole Church was not completed with the total of $110,736,” Wandabula said. “She may fault the bishop for sanctioning the construction of a building that has turned out to cost more than the donated total of $110,736, but this is not misuse.”
Complaint against bishop
In appealing to the Judicial Council, the Western Pennsylvania Conference is seeking to include questions about the complaint process against bishops found in Paragraph 413 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of policies and law.
A complaint against Bishop Wandabula was forwarded to the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops, but Zilhaver said that “simply a statement from (then college president) Bishop (Gaspar Joao) Domingos is not what is prescribed in Paragraph 413, and that statement denied access to Ms. Denardo for a just resolution of disputed facts.”
Zilhaver said the Western Pennsylvania Conference appealed to the Council of Bishops but was told the council did not have jurisdiction.
*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine.
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