(This story was updated)
During our reporting on Anita Trto’s domestic abuse case, we were alerted to allegations of abuse raised against Pastor Raafat Kamal during his re-election in 2010. We immediately contacted the Office of the General Counsel at the General Conference and never received any communication from them.
Background to the Allegations
The victim(s) testified to the executive committee with their therapist(s) providing expert testimony. The victim(s) came forward and reported their allegations to the police. The police reportedly filed a report, and Kamal was barred from leaving the United Kingdom. This prevented him from attending the General Conference Session in 2010.
At the meeting, the allegations were reportedly “cleared” by the General Conference General Counsel, Mr. Karnik Doukmetzian. Kamal was re-elected to office in his position as Field Secretary of the division.
According to our policy on providing anonymity to victims, Intelligent Adventist is withholding the victim(s) identity(ies.)
We found this story relevant to our coverage of Trto’s case because
we heard from multiple witnesses who reported that the Union president announced in a committee that Kamal “wanted Robert (Trto’s father) gone.” Following a call from the Division President, to the Union President in Serbia, Pastor Robert Erdeg was voted out of office not fifteen minutes later. The Union President also discussed, at times, the Division President’s pressure, and the Serbian president was taped during some of these discussions. Intelligent Adventist has access to these conversations. [Please see our note below]
Given the way the Conference and Union handled Anita’s case and her father’s firing, we believe that according to the current GC Working Policy, they both are eligible for an appeal at the Division level. However, we are not confident that they will be given a fair hearing. There is no provision for division presidents to recuse themselves from the process in the policy handbook.
Finally, while we agree with the principle of the presumption of innocence, we believe that the standard for human conduct should be Scripture and not human courts. There are many activities that the Bible condemns that human courts would find no objection to, such as affairs, incest with adult children, other immorality, etc. At the same time, the Bible would strongly object to such behavior.
We are choosing not to divulge the details of the allegations at this time. But we are aware that these allegations are of a serious nature and they do cast doubt on the way these allegations were handled and presented and “cleared” for the committee for decision.
Elevation to the TED Presidency
The executive committee of the Trans European Division met on June 27, 2014, to replace Dr. Bertil Wiklander, the longest-serving President of the TED, who decided to retire to Sweden, his home country, with effect from July 31, 2014.[i]
The General Conference Executive committee voted to accept the Division Executive Committee’s decision to elect Pastor Raafat Kamal as President on July 10, 2014. According to the Division News site, Pastor Ted Wilson, President of the General Conference, chaired both committees.
President Ted Wilson described the process for the election in a news article:
Kamal was nominated at a June 27 meeting of the Trans-European Division’s Executive Committee at the St. Albans headquarters. Wilson, who attended the meeting, said committee members made a list of all the desired characteristics for the new division president and compiled a list with a number of candidates’ names.
“We took time to pray a lot during the proceedings,” he said. “We had different people praying. We had silent prayer. … Then we nominated Raafat Kamal on the first vote and prayed for him.”[ii]
It isn’t clear whether the allegations were disclosed to the General Conference Executive Committee before their vote and if not, why not.
Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church should ask whether the leaders we have placed in leadership positions match voted policy with practice. And, whether the public slogans of our church’s top leaders are in sync with their actual actions behind closed doors in committee meetings. And, whether our stated policy of “Zero Tolerance for Abuse” and our commitment to “End It Now” is just as good for the officers and pastors of the church as it is for rank-and-file workers, members, and volunteers.
Further, we must ask what continuing impact our culture of silence regarding abuse in the church has on victims and their loved ones.
Accountability can begin when all members of the Adventist Church and the public have access to the General Conference Working Policy. According to the Secretariat of the General Conference,
The General Conference Working Policy contains the policies adopted by Annual Councils of the General Conference Executive Committee. It is therefore the authoritative voice of the church in matters relating to the work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in all parts of the world.
Due to the administrative nature of the Working Policy, it is only distributed through the divisions to the administrative entities of the world church.
We find that holding the leaders of the church accountable is impossible without knowing the policies and procedures by which the work of the church is accomplished. We, therefore, call on the General Conference to make the General Conference Working Policy freely available to the public, just as our statements of belief and our statements on mission are publicly available.[iii]
We also find a pattern of denominational leaders glossing over contentious hearings and spiritualizing such events while minimizing the testimony of victims, as demonstrated here in this article and in this series, to be harmful to victims and an abuse of power and of process.
We, therefore, call on delegates at the Session to rectify these abuses of power and provide for policy language that clearly defines rape and sexual assault and provides a process for victims to be recompensed and for their rights to be preserved in hearings. We suggest that victims be provided with an attorney who has access to the church’s working policy and guides the victim through their appeals.
The imbalance of power between victims and the office of legal counsel at all levels of the church must be rectified. We believe the GC working policy manual language should have a complete overhaul in the section that deals with the Office of the General Counsel. We believe greater oversight is required.
We have come to realize this office by its very nature writes the rules (policy language through committees) and then defines their meaning as well. This can and has led to abuses of power.
We call on the General Conference Session to investigate the circumstances surrounding this re-election decision of 2010. We find these victim(s) testimony credible.
Our church needs to overhaul the entire process of victim confrontation and appeals. We also need to establish anonymous reporting channels and an independent agency that investigates fraud and collusion at the highest levels of our church organization.
While we cannot say that Kamal is guilty of the allegations he was charged with, we believe that the church warrants further investigation in the process that was undertaken to examine the victim’s claim(s). Our church needs an independent investigator. And all communication, emails, phone data, and other memoranda must be scrutinized to determine the level of culpability of current President Ted Wilson, and General Counsel Karnik in this and other similar cases of abuse charges against leaders.
We also believe that the culture at the very top of the church’s organization, as demonstrated in other articles in this series, is to minimize and hide the mistakes of the church. We believe this stems from a desire to not only not admit to the failure of leadership but also protect the church from massive financial losses in the legal system.
We find such behavior unethical, and we find it un-Adventist at its very core.
We find vast similarities between the church’s handling of abuse claims with those of the Catholic Church and the recent revelations of the Southern Baptist Church.
We also believe that through ministries such as End It Now, the Adventist Church has compiled a list of credibly accused pastors and denomination leaders and actively works to delay, prevent, or persuade Adventist members from taking the church to Court. All our attempts to warn the church and the office of legal counsel of fraud and abuse have never been addressed. Our calls and emails have never been returned by the communication offices of the General Conference or the Office of Legal Counsel.
Updated Note/Retraction: Our sources are now unwilling to share their recordings of the meeting in which Pastor Robert Erdeg was removed and other recordings. We were planning on releasing the transcripts of these recordings. We can only report what we know until we have possession of the recordings (not just promised access). We know that during the meeting, the union president turned over the meeting to the General Secretary and stepped outside to take a call from the then-Division President. We cannot independently confirm the substance of that conversation. If/when we receive the recordings, we will publish the recording transcripts in their entirety.
[i] Raafat Kamal Newly Elected President of the Trans-European Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe: https://ted.adventist.org/news/raafat-kamal-newly-elected-president-of-the-trans-european-division-of-the-seventh-day-adventist-church-in-europe/
[ii] Raafat Kamal elected president of Trans-European Division:
[iii] Resources: https://secretariat.adventist.org/resources/
Image source TED Website: https://ted.adventist.org/departments/administration/presidential/