WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - The pastor of a Tongan church in West Valley City has been fired after church officials say he didn't report child sex abuse soon enough.
The United Methodist Church tells FOX 13 pastor Havili Mone knew an older boy sexually abused other boys inside a church building but Mone waited several months to report the abuse.
The organization, National Tongan American Society, is counseling the victims and their families. It says the suspect is 16 years old and found his victims through church youth events at the Tongan United Methodist Church at 1553 West Crystal Ave.
“For many of these kids the church is a second home so they would sleep over and he would wake them up and take them into other rooms in the building,” said Ivoni Malohifoou-Nash, program director at the National Tongan American Society.
Church officials say there may be as many as ten victims and, according to NTAS officials they’re all boys, ages 6 to 10, and they were molested over a two-year time frame.
NTAS officials say the 16-year-old suspect is in jail awaiting trial. West Valley police confirmed that detectives have already investigated allegations of sex abuse at the church and some cases are still open.
NTAS officials say when parents told pastor Havili Mone about the abuse he said, "Let’s just talk about it amongst ourselves," Nash said. “It’s just a game that kids do.”
Pastor Mone is now in Hawaii on what the Methodist church calls a voluntary leave of absence. He spoke over the phone with FOX 13.
“They accuse me of not doing my duty but I did my duty reporting it to police. I did my ministerial duty and I think it’s really unjust,” said Mone.
Church officials say Mone reported the abuse months after he learned of about it. The pastor was suspended in September. Church members protested saying they wanted him back and many still stand behind him. Some are upset they learned about this from FOX 13, not church leadership.
“This is falling apart like hell. People are mad and upset because they haven’t come and told the people what’s really going on,” said church member Manase Vailiea
Others say the pastor’s firing is a long time coming.
“The people against him say it’s about time. They need change. They need new rules, someone who will speak up for the victims,” said Nash.
Church leaders have already begun looking for a new permanent pastor. The United Methodist Church did not strip Havili Mone of his pastoral credentials so he could become a pastor at a later point if church leaders reinstate him.
It’s unclear if Mone will be prosecuted for failing to report the abuse sooner. West Valley police have investigated the pastor and turned over their findings to Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill, who will make the decision.
The firing came to light after FOX 13 received an anonymous tip, a letter signed by Bishop Elaine Stanovsky. Read the full letter here (PDF).