Skip to comments.Church court puts Anglican bishop of Harare on trial
Posted on 08/24/2005 7:22:02 AM PDT by sionnsar
An Anglican bishop who is a vocal supporter of President Robert Mugabe went on trial before an ecclesiastical court in Harare yesterday after an investigation into a range of charges including incitement to murder.
The Anglican Church of Central Africa took the unprecedented step of convening a trial under canon law at which the Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, became the first Anglican priest on the continent in more than 100 years to face prosecution by his peers.
As well as the most serious charge of incitement to murder, he is accused of sinning against the church, its officials and its flock. He rejects the charges.
If found guilty, the controversial priest could be expelled from the church, and may even face civil charges if allegations of missing church funds are proved.
The 55-year-old clergyman arrived wearing a jewelled cross over his dark suit and crimson shirt at the hearing held at the Royal Harare Golf Club, in the shadow of Mr Mugabe's official residence.
The first of 11 charges against Bishop Kunonga is that he sought the assistance of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organisation and militant "war veterans" to "incite or seek to incite" the murder of 10 prominent Anglicans, including priests and church wardens.
But the charge was temporarily withdrawn yesterday after Bishop Kunonga said he would not accept evidence by telephone from London where an Anglican priest, Father James Mukonga, who fled Zimbabwe last year, was waiting to testify by video link to support his affidavit.
Jeremy Lewis, for the prosecution, told the court: "We withdraw without prejudice but are free to lay a future complaint in another jurisdiction."
After proceedings were adjourned until tomorrow, Mr Lewis said that Father Mukonga could give evidence in person in Malawi.
Other charges faced by Bishop Kunonga are that he tore up the infrastructure of the Harare diocese by sacking 19 priests or church officials, dismissed heads of most of the church's institutions and banned the choir from singing in Harare's Anglican cathedral.
He is also accused of banning a predecessor, Bishop Peter Hatendi, from participating in services; of abusing the use of church property including vehicles and funds; falsifying minutes of church meetings; and of having removed and "disposed of memorabilia, plaques, tablets from the cathedral", some of historical interest.
Bishop Kunonga's appointment five years ago was accompanied by accusations that he bent canon law to become Zimbabwe's senior Anglican.
He went on to enrage his flock by preaching support for the lawlessness of the Mugabe regime and endorsed the seizure of white-owned farms.
He also preached "racial hatred" according to a group of parishioners, mostly black, who have gathered in Harare to give evidence against him.
Bishop Kunonga, unlike most senior Zimbabwean churchmen, has refused to criticise Mr Mugabe's human rights abuses and became the first priest openly to help himself to two of Zimbabwe's best equipped white-owned farms.
The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, now desperately short of funds, sought donations from around the world to pay for the landmark trial, which is being heard by Judge James Kalaile, a leading Anglican and justice of Malawi's Supreme Court, and two Zambian bishops.
Bishop Kunonga has always maintained that his detractors were "racists". If convicted, he can appeal within the church.