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Former Bishop told to return £1 million: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2010 p 7. April 14, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Corruption, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East has asked the former Bishop in Jerusalem to return £1 million to the diocese, or explain why he is entitled to keep the money.

In a letter dated March 20, the President Bishop of the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis of Egypt explained he was entering the fray between retired Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal and his successor, the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem in order to “clarify the situation” in light of “disturbing news” being disseminated about the dispute.

He also asked supporters of the diocese to “pray that this dispute would come to an end” as it was a cause of embarrassment and scandal for the church in Jerusalem.

Over the past three years, accusations of fraud and violence have been traded between the two bishops and their supporters over the control of a school in Nazareth.

In his letter, Dr Mouneer stated that shortly before his retirement, Bishop Riah authorized a review of the school’s finances. However, when the report was completed, Bishop Riah threatened to take the committee members to court, and accused them of slander.

The dispute was brought to the 2007 meeting of the Middle East’s House of Bishops which agreed to maintain a “dignified silence” over the matter, with the “assurance that no legal actions would be taken, and no further actions will be continued either in public or in private, and that assurance be given that [Bishop Riah's] family would not be unjustly targeted in any way.”

However, the accord broke down after Bishop Riah claimed ownership of the Nazareth school.

“I was also informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Riah has collected five and a half million NIS shekels (£1 million) in tuition fees from the parents while his son continued as the Principal of the school. I was also informed by the Diocese of Jerusalem that Bishop Suheil, as the newly consecrated Diocesan Bishop, was prevented from entering the school with the members of the Board.”

Dr Mouneer stated the dispute between the two bishops was brought before a civil court which awarded ownership of the school to the diocese. The ownership of the £1 million collected by Bishop Riah is currently the subject of a second lawsuit.

The dispute was brought before the October 2009 meeting of the Provincial Synod. The Diocese stated it would settle all outstanding lawsuits against Bishop Riah if he would return the £1 million. However, Bishop Riah responded on Oct 20 stating he was “dismayed at the biased decision of the Provincial Synod. Endorsing hearsay rather than valid evidence is neither just nor acceptable.”

The battle between the two bishops was a scandal for the Anglican Church in Jerusalem, Dr Mouneer said, and was “breaking the heart of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.”

At this stage, the matter must either proceed through the Israeli courts, unless settlement can be reached, Dr Mouneer said. “I understand that the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Standing Committee is insisting that Bishop Riah has the obligation to return Funds kept in his possession that rightly belong to the Diocese and the return of such funds is a condition to settling this most unfortunate matter. If Bishop Riah does not think that the claims of the Diocese of Jerusalem in regards to these funds are true, he should present the evidence of this.”

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