An American Christian missionary has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in February to sexually assaulting a girl while he was working as a missionary in Uganda.
A US district judge sentenced Eric Tuininga, 45, of Georgia to the jail sentence and ordered him to pay $20,000 in restitution and spend a lifetime on supervised release as a registered sex offender after getting out of prison.
Prosecutors said that an American citizen had contacted the U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda in June 2019 to tell officials that Tuininga was having sex with Ugandan girls as young as 14 who were under the care of the U.S.-based Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Mbale, Uganda.
Tuininga was one of the church’s ministers. In Christianity, ministry is an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith. The Encyclopedia of Christianity defines it as “carrying forth Christ’s mission in the world”, indicating that it is “conferred on each Christian in baptism.” Tuininga even has his own personal blog where he talks about his missionary work.
Authorities said they found Tuininga had already returned to the United States, but federal agents identified the minor and kept investigating. Tuininga admitted to the conduct, with prosecutors saying he told them that the victim would often visit the church property in Mbale. It is not known why he was not prosecuted for raping more girls as the original complaint had alleged.
The recommended sentence for Tuininga was seven to nine years, but the judge sentenced him to a decade in federal prison.
“I want to recognize the true bravery displayed by the Ugandan girl for speaking out when she was assaulted by a trusted person of power from another country, courageously seeking justice across continents,” U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary said in a statement. “Law enforcement — both abroad and here at home — took on a challenging international case.”
Tuininga was removed from missionary work in 2019. He was only later removed entirely from ministry and excommunicated from the church based in Pennsylvania. Tuininga joined the church from a separate but affiliated denomination in Oregon. A website chronicling Tuininga’s work in Uganda said he began working there in 2012 after previously working as a minister at Immanuel’s Reformed Church in Salem, Oregon.
Presbyterian means belonging or relating to a Protestant church, found especially in Scotland or the United States. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church website states that it was founded in 1936, “in the aftermath of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen (longtime professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also founded Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929)” to counter “the infiltration of theological liberalism” in the the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA.
It claims to have been “vigorous in its defense and propagation of the historic Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.”
Lesson for Bharat’s judiciary
Bharat’s CJI NV Ramana had recently toured the USA and praised the “tolerance and inclusive nature of American society” while lecturing Bharatiya citizens on need for inclusivity. He had berated Bharat’s general public for their ‘ignorance’ and ‘lack of proper understanding’ about the Constitution and the functioning of democratic institutions.
Ramana further claimed that this alleged ignorance among citizens is aiding forces whose ‘only aim is to run down the only independent organ’, i.e. the judiciary. It is pertinent to note that in the last few years, the judiciary is facing pointed questions from all sides about the bizarre collegium system through which Bharat’s SC judges appoint other senior judges since 1993. It is also ironic that Ramana delivered this address just days before USA witnessed widespread gun violence over the July 4th weekend.
However, seeing how CJI Ramana appreciated the American legal system, will be take note of how the American judge in this case gave a harsher punishment to this rapist than what the law recommended. The American legal system, while far from perfect, often comes down hard on sexual assaults especially those against children. Life sentences without chance of parole are quite common there, and in one case a man was sentenced to 1503 years!
Contrast this to our SC’s recent commutation of a death sentence to just 20 years in the rape and murder case of a 4-year-old, while rubbing more salt into the victim family’s wounds by flippantly quoting British playwright Oscar Wilde’s “every saint has a past, every sinner a future” line. Or to how our courts have failed the brave nun who stood up against the powerful Catholic Archbishop Franco Mulakkal for repeatedly raping her.
Rather than deliver homilies to citizens from a foreign land, CJI Ramana would do well to introspect on the state of our judiciary and its obsession with prioritizing liberty of those accused of serious crimes over the right to justice of ordinary victims.