Williams Condemns Harrassment of Churches in Zimbabwe

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams has condemned the Zimbabwean Government following reports of authorities disrupting church services and intimidating opponents of an ousted bishop.

In a statement Monday, Williams – who is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion – said he "condemns unequivocally the use of state machinery to intimidate opponents of the deposed bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga."

On Sunday, police in the capital burst into a number of services being held at churches aligned with the Rt. Rev Sebastian Bakare, who was appointed acting bishop of Harare. At least three priests and several parishioners were arrested in the raids on the charge of holding services without the authorization of police or government. Only clergy supporting Kunonga may legally continue to hold services, police warned parishioners in leaflets.

Williams said he was "appalled" by the reports of Zimbabwean police forcibly stopping the Sunday services in Harare "where clergy have publicly and bravely refused to acknowledge Kunonga's Episcopal authority."

Kunonga, a close ally of President Robert Mugabe, had his priestly license revoked last December after illegally separating from the Anglican Central African Province. He announced on Saturday that he had formed his own Anglican Church of Zimbabwe and installed himself as Archbishop.

Williams called Kunonga's behavior and consistent refusal to maintain appropriate levels of independence from the Zimbabwean Government "untenable." Kunonga was one of a small number of bishops who did not receive an invitation to attend the Anglican Communion's decennial 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The Archbishop went on to express his "solidarity" with the Province of Central Africa, which covers Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, in supporting Bakare.

In the divide over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, Kunonga has attempted to claim he is on the side of biblical orthodoxy, according to the Church Times.

Meanwhile, he appears to have little support from parishioners. Around 20 parishes in Harare openly declared their support for Bakare by deciding to hold their own services on Sunday, instead of seeking state authority.

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rev. Kenneth Kearon, said that the situation of the Anglican Church in Harare was "a matter of grave concern to all in the Anglican Communion" and that Kunonga's actions were an "embarrassment."

"Bishop Kunonga's close ties with President Robert Mugabe is of deep concern to many and the resort to violent disruption has been widely deplored," Kearon said.

"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," he added. "Above all, I am concerned for the well-being of faithful Anglicans who seek to practice their faith in peace and free from violence."

He assured Anglicans in Zimbabwe of his prayerful support.