ANGLICANS in Harare run the risk of excommunication by default, if they agree meekly to be banished from the province of Central Africa, Robert Stumbles, Chancellor of the diocese of Harare and Deputy Chancellor of the province, has warned.
His wake-up call includes urgent advice that a “special synod” that the discredited Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, has hastily planned for tomorrow cannot legitimately be held without 90 days’ notice. The meeting follows the Bishop’s announcement last month that his synod had “unanimously mandated” him at its August meeting to withdraw the diocese from the province of Central Africa, supposedly because the province held liberal views on homosexuality (News, 21 September).
The Bishop, an apologist for Robert Mugabe, lives on a white farm from which he evicted black workers. He is still answerable to
the Church on 38 serious charges, including incitement to murder, following a farcical non-trial in September 2005 and closure of the case by the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Bernard Malango (News, 25 November 2005).
After the move to form his own province, he is now being pursued by lawyers for the province of Central Africa for the return of assets, including three vehicles, and for surrender of his authority as signatory to two bank accounts.
Anglicans in Harare must be made aware of the truth of the present situation and the relevant church laws before Saturday’s proposed synod, Mr Stumbles warned on Monday.
Parishioners in the intended breakaway diocese could all, “through the choice of their synod and Bishop, be excommunicated from Anglicanism”. Clergy ran the risk of being charged with schism, apostasy, wrongfully contravening the laws of the province, and conduct unbecoming of a clergyman. “Resignation or withdrawal from the province does not stop a court enquiring into these offences,” Mr Stumbles writes.
The Bishop has already flouted synod rules, by handing out agenda papers on the day of the August meeting, instead of the required 18 days in advance. Mr Stumbles notes that no copies of the laws of the diocese have been available for nine years. As a consequence, most members are ignorant of the way the synod should operate, and of their rights and duties as members.
Mr Stumbles notes, “almost incredulously”, that a resolution appeared after the synod which had not been on the agenda at all. “It is apparently attached to a letter of 21 September 2007, written by Bishop Kunonga to Archbishop Malango. It reads that “. . . this Synod unanimously agreed to make a Diocesan Act that with immediate effect the Diocese of Harare disassociates itself and severs relationship with any individual group of people, organisation, institution, Diocese, province or otherwise which sympathises or compromises with homosexuality. The House of Bishops consented.”
In the letter, Bishop Kunonga described the resolution as: “the full text of the Act as it was passed by Synod”. Mr Stumbles questions whether it was lawfully passed by the synod, and identifies many flaws. He concludes: “Nowhere does it categorically empower the Bishop to sever relations with the Province of Central Africa.”
He concludes: “The sad saga of the Bishop’s apparent ambitious autocracy continues. Anglicans in the diocese of Harare and elsewhere have the right to speak out instead of passively holding their breath and closing their eyes to what may lie ahead through default.”
Pauline Makoni, one of a number of parishioners banned from Harare Cathedral by Bishop Kunonga five years ago, and a witness at his aborted trial in 2005, said of the Bishop’s latest action: “Several years ago when I wrote that he intended to form the Church of Kunonga in Central Africa, little did any of us realise we would see that day come.
“The refusal of Archbishop Malango to appreciate the severity of the charges that are still pending has brought us to this pass,” Mrs Makoni said on Monday.
The Bishop of Manicaland, the Rt Revd Elson Jakazi, followed Bishop Kunonga’s lead later last month by writing to Archbishop Malango withdrawing his diocese from the province. Bishop Jakazi’s own election was overshadowed by controversy, as he was on the governing body that elected him Bishop.
Bishop Kunonga’s seconder for the withdrawal motion is another confidante, the Archdeacon of Harare, the Ven. Harry Mambo Rinashe. The standing-committee spokesman who afterwards sought to justify the withdrawal was the Revd Morris Brown Gwedegwe, vicar-general to Bishop Kunonga. Mr Gwedegwe, who has a criminal record, was Bishop Kunonga’s election campaign manager, and was rewarded with ordination and the post of diocesan secretary after the Bishop’s consecration.
Bishop Kunonga has no support from the other three Zimbabwean bishops: the Rt Revd Godfrey Tawonezvi, Bishop of Masvingo; the Rt Revd Wilson Sitshebo, Bishop of Matabeleland; and the Rt Revd Ishmael Mukuwanda, Bishop of Central Zimbabwe.
They issued a joint statement after the Provincial Synod, reaffirming their membership of the province of Central Africa.