A Kampala civil court today dismissed a lawsuit seeking to compel the Church of Uganda to appoint a bishop. The Hon. Justice Ssekaana Musa of the High Court ruled in the case of The Rev. Charles Oode Okunya vs. The Registered Trustees of the Church of Uganda the church’s decision to set aside his election as he was underage was right and proper under the terms of the Church of Uganda’s constitution.
The House of Bishops elected Mr. Okunya on 7 Nov 2019 to be the second Bishop of Kumi. Questions were raised shortly after his election about the bishop-elect’s moral fitness, and on 16 Dec 2019 the then Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, wrote to Mr. Okunya seeking an explanation.
In the course of reviewing the accusations, it was discovered that there was a discrepancy about the date of the bishop-elect’s birth. His birth certificate and school certificates showed him to be less than 45 years of age while the statutory declaration he filed at the time of his candidacy said he was over 45 years of age.
Article 13(6) and Provincial Canon 3.6.2 provides: No person shall be elected to the office of Bishop unless he or she has attained the age of forty five (45) and is a holder of at least a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, or a first degree in any other field with an additional Diploma in Theology from a Theological Institution recognized by the Church of Uganda, provided that a Bishop shall retire after serving for a period of fifteen (15) years or upon attaining the age of sixty five (65) years, whichever comes first.
The House of Bishops subsequently nullified the election and barred him from seeking re-election due to the fraudulent declaration about his age, prompting Mr. Okunya to sue. He asked the civil courts declare the decision of the House of Bishops barring his name from ever coming up among any future candidates unlawful.
He asked the court to enter a permanent injunction restraining the Defendant from conducting the search and subsequent appointment of another Bishop of Kumi Diocese until the determination of the suit; and further asked the court to order the defendant to consecrate and enthrone him as Bishop of Kumi.
In his 30th June ruling the High Court Judge Justice Ssekaana Musa ruled the House of Bishops was justified in revoking the election of Mr. Okunya, and he further ordered the suit be dismissed with costs in favor of the defendants.
In a statement released today, the Most Rev. Stephen Kaziimba welcomed the church’s legal victory.
“This lawsuit has held the Diocese of Kumi hostage for more than a year and a half and has prevented them from moving forward as a diocese. I am very grateful for retired Bishop Charles Odurkami for his willingness to come out of retirement and serve as the Caretaker Bishop while this case worked its way through the court system. He has done a great job of providing Gospel leadership in a challenging situation, and I thank him so much for his commitment to the Lord and the Lord’s people.”
The Archbishop continued, “It’s always a great source of shame when Christians, especially clergy, take the church to court. We encourage grievances to be resolved outside of the courts in the way Jesus commanded us. Kumi Diocese has been through a challenging season and it will take time for healing to occur. We encourage the various factions in the Diocese to accept the ruling of the High Court and to begin the process of reconciliation and healing. The process for electing a new Bishop will begin in due course.”