Kunonga attempts to stop Bishop’s enthronement

29 July 2009

by Pat Ashworth

Joyful: the new Bishop of Harare at the sports stadium USPG

Joyful: the new Bishop of Harare at the sports stadium USPG

THOUSANDS of people from parishes all over Harare gathered in the city on Sunday to celebrate a double ceremony.

In the morning, the city’s sports stadium was packed for the consecration of the new Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, which took place during a jubilant four-hour eucharist. The preacher, the Rt Revd Khotso Makhulu, the former Primate of Central Africa, said: “Chad, you have your work cut out. But love God, proclaim Christ, and help your people understand the respons­ibilities of discipleship.”

Canon Edgar Ruddock, the deputy general secretary of USPG, described the atmosphere throughout the service as “at times electric, always prayerful, and above all pervaded by a sense of hopefulness”. Messages of solidarity included one from the Arch­bishop of Canterbury.

In the afternoon, the enthronement was set to take place in St Mary’s Cathedral. Last-minute attempts by the excommunicated former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, to stop the event meant that bolt-cutters had to be used to gain access to the cathedral; but the ceremony went ahead as planned.

Kunonga, an apologist for President Mugabe, has waged a campaign of violence against Anglicans in Harare.

On Friday, he applied to the High Court for an injunction to prevent Bishop Gandiya’s enthronement.

Justice Ben Hlatshwayo ruled in favour of Kunonga in what the Bishop of Botswana, the Rt Revd Trevor Mwamba — a former barrister — described as “a political ruling devoid of any grains of law”. The courts have no jurisdiction over internal church matters. The diocesan lawyers had foreseen the ruling, and had an appeal ready to submit to the Supreme Court. The judgment is now in abeyance until the case is heard. Bishop Mwamba said: “There is no way this judgment will be upheld on the basis of law. We pray for the triumph of justice and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”

News reports, knowingly or unknow­ingly, confused this case with the out­stand­ing case over the diocesan assets and property illegally retained by Kunonga. Under the headline “Kunonga Wins Church Battle”, The Sunday Mail announced that the judge had granted an interim order banning Bishop Gandiya’s ordination, and reported that the ruling had “also dealt with the issue of control of the church properties”.

Similar stories rapidly circulated online. A story headlined “Kunonga given control of Anglican property” reported: “Anglican parishioners were horrified over the weekend when the ousted Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was given control of church property by High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo.” Another report said that Kunonga “was given latitude to take control of all the church properties within the next seven days”.

In an extraordinary announcement, Kunonga has apparently accepted it was not lawfully possible to withdraw the diocese of Harare from the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA), but insists he is the Bishop. The Deputy Chancellor of the CPCA, Bob Stumbles, said last week: “He ignores the fact that he, and all his associates, clergy and laity, are no longer recognised as Anglicans, and are held to be parties to a schism from the Anglican Church.”

Kunonga still has 38 charges against him, including incitement to murder. In August 2007, he held a diocesan synod, and forced through a motion that stated: “The diocese of Harare does not recog­nise homosexuality as an acceptable Christian norm, and hence does not recognise marriages from such relationships.”

On the pretext that “homosexuality was a seriously insurmountable and divisive issue between the diocese and the CPCA”, he wrote to say: “We are withdrawing from the Church of the Province of Central Africa.”

Clergy and laity were bullied and intimidated out of their churches. The High Court ruled that until a decision could be made, there must be shared access for services. Kunonga responded by increasing the persecution of those who remained loyal to the CPCA.

On 15 March 2008, he announced that he had formed his own Church, of which he was Archbishop. He was excommun­icated from CPCA and the Anglican Communion in May 2008. The “Board of Trustees” he set up, now called “The Dio­cesan Trustees for the Diocese of Harare”, filed the application to stop Bishop Gandiya’s consecration taking place.

The Provincial Dean, the Rt Revd Albert Chama, has invited Kunonga to write to the CPCA acknowledging his error in trying to withdraw the diocese and acknowledging that CPCA owns the property and assets.

Kunonga should unconditionally restore and account for all the Church’s assets and monies since 21 September 2007, and withdraw all court actions against CPCA, its dioceses and parishes, the Dean suggests.

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