Bishop suspends priest over Mugabe row

The Bishop of Harare has suspended a parish priest for allowing an opponent of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to worship at his parish.

Bishop Nolbert Kunonga removed the Rev Paul Gwese of St Francis of Assisi in Glen Norah, Harare, from office after an MP from the MDC party, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, attended services on December 12.

An outspoken ally of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe, Bishop Kunonga has been at odds with much of the diocese over his ties to the regime. Last year President Mugabe gave the Bishop St Marnock’s farm after the government confiscated it from its white owner, Marcus Hale. Bishop Kunonga, who has been banned from travel to the United States for his complicity in the Mugabe regime, has also been charged with financial misconduct and incitement to murder by other members of the diocese -- charges that have yet to be adjudicated by the House of Bishops of the Province of Central Africa.

Over the protests of the congregation, on December 22 Bishop Kunonga suspended Fr Gwese for permitting opposition party members to attend church. Matters reached a climax on January 2 when Harare’s vicar-general, the Rev Harry Rinashe, took services at St Francis of Assisi.

As Fr Rinashe entered the sanctuary at the start of Sunday services, the congregation rose en masse and left, leaving only the altar servers and the suspended priest’s wife in the congregation. When Fr Rinashe proceeded to give his sermon to the deserted church, the churchwardens, accompanied by several members of the congregation returned and expressed their displeasure.