Zimbabwean Priest Defends Harassed Anglicans

Zimbabwe Anglicans take communion outdoors from Bishop Chad Gandiya after being locked out of Harare Cathedral. (Photo: Alex Duval Smith/GlobalPost)

A Catholic priest in Zimbabwe has urged fellow clergymen to speak up against the oppression facing Anglicans in Zimbabwe, who have been continually harassed by an excommunicated bishop and his political allies.

"The Anglicans are still being politically abused by the party that continues to rule in contradiction to the General Political Agreement which promised to restore the rule of law," Fr. Oskar Wermter said in a statement.

"Most unfortunately, leaders of other Christian churches remain silent and do not declare their solidarity with suffering fellow Christians because they are under the erroneous impression that this is an internal affair of the Anglican Church in which they, naturally, should not get involved,"

Former Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who is an ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, was excommunicated from the Harare diocese in February 2008 after he created his own church province following disputes over the ordination of homosexuals.

Since his dismissal, Kunonga has used his political ties to harass Anglicans in the region, the most recent case being last December where police prevented church goers from attending a Christmas service.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, and other church leaders condemned the police actions as "completely unacceptable and indicative of the continued and persistent oppression by state instruments of those perceived to be in opposition."

Furthermore, Zimbabwe's Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba ruled on May 2 that improper procedures taken by the official Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) to defrock Kunonga have rendered the excommunicated bishop as the official leader of the Diocese of Harare and manager of the church's assets.

According to Wermter, while politicians seem to be unclear about Kunonga's position in the CPCA, the church itself "settled the issue long ago" with there being "no dispute within the Anglican Church."

Wermter further appealed that the members of the CPCA should have access to church assets just as the followers of Nolbert Kunonga do until a final and definite decision is taken about who owns the assets.

"Kunonga, not being Anglican bishop of Harare any more, has no right to control the assets of the diocese," Wermter said. "It is mischievous for government (through the ZRP) to support Kunonga and bar the Anglican Church proper from its churches and church premises."

Wermter noted that while the disputes continue, some churches, including Catholic parishes, are playing host to displaced Anglican congregations and associations when asked to do so.

"There is at least some quiet solidarity at ground level," he said.

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