Churches raided in Zimbabwe for opposing disgraced bishop
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent of The Times
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, issued an unprecedented condemnation of a former Anglican bishop today after police in Zimbabwe used force to intervene and stop official Anglican church services from going ahead.
Dr Williams said he was “appalled” by reports of Zimbabwe police forcibly stopping Anglican church services where clergy had publicly refused to acknowledge the authority of the deposed Nolbert Kunonga.
At least three priests and several parishioners opposed to Kunonga were dragged out of church and arrested after truncheon-wielding police in roit gear disrupted Anglican services in Harare on Sunday. Their “crime” was to hold services without the authorisation of Zimbabwe’s police or government.
Kunonga, a close ally of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and a supporter of the ruling Zanu-PF party, has had his Anglican priestly licence removed and was replaced as Bishop of Harare last December after he illegally separated from the Province of Central Africa. He has subsequently announced the setting up of a new, independent Anglican Church of Zimbabwe of which he has declared himself the Archbishop.
After Bishop Sebastian Bakare has been appointed acting Bishop of Harare, police sent round leaflets advising congregations that only clergy loyal to Kunonga were authorised to hold services.
The conflict, essentially a political one, has become muddied by Kunonga’s attempt to represent the dispute as a further escalation in the row over homosexuality that is splitting the Anglican Communion. He has attempted to claim he is on the side of Biblical orthodoxy. In fact, the Province of Central Africa is among the most conservative of all 38 Anglican provinces.
Dr Williams, who did not invite Kunonga to this year’s Lambeth Conference, said he stood “in solidarity” with the province, which covers Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana.
He said Kunonga’s position has become “increasingly untenable” within the Anglican Church over the last year, as he has consistently refused to maintain appropriate levels of independence from the Zimbabwean Government.
Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, also condemned Kunonga and the actions of the Zimbabwe authorities.
He said: “The situation with respect to the Anglican Church in Harare is a matter of grave concern to all in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Kunonga’s close ties with President Robert Mugabe are of deep concern to many and the resort to violent disruption has been widely deplored.
“His unilateral actions with respect to the Diocese of Harare and his own status within the Province of Central Africa are, to say the least, questionable and have brought embarrassment to many. Above all, I am concerned for the well-being of faithful Anglicans who seek to practice their faith in peace and free from violence.”
Churches disrupted included St Elizabeth church in Belvedere, St James’s Church Warren Park and the church in Marlborough, all suburbs of Harare.
Bishop Bakare, who was preaching at St Luke’s in Greendale suburb, was permitted by police to hold a service in the church hall while Kunonga preached inside the church. A spokesman, Christopher Tapera, said the hall was packed, while three people were in the church with Kunonga.
Kunonga announced on Saturday that he was creating a new province. “History has been made today,” the state-controlled Sunday Mail quoted him as saying. “We have formed our own province. It has been painful and sorrowful but out of that came the joy of our own province,” he said.
According to reports from the region, Kunonga’s actions while Bishop of Harare included expelling several priests and ordaining government ministers in their place. For this he was rewarded with a farm, from which he promptly expelled the 41 black families living there. In 2006, Kunonga faced a number of serious charges, including inciting members of the Central Intelligence Organization and war veterans to kill 10 prominent Anglicans including priests and churchwardens. He was cleared of all charges by the Archbishop of Central Africa, Bernard Malango, who retired at the end of December.