Enemy of liberal Anglicans was poisoned

London, England - A British missionary was fatally poisoned after helping to prevent a London vicar from becoming a bishop in Central Africa, The Times has learnt.

Relatives of Canon Rodney Hunter, 73, believe that his food was contaminated by supporters of the Rev Nicholas Henderson in a battle between the liberal and conservative wings of the Anglican Church.

In November Canon Hunter was found dead at his home in Nkhotakota, Malawi, with a strange black substance around his mouth. The day before his death he had complained of severe stomach pains, and postmortem examination has now shown that he was killed by three poisons.

Malawi police have charged his cook with murder and are investigating rumours that the poisoning was organised by supporters of Mr Henderson, who had no knowledge of the alleged plot.

Canon Hunter was an outspoken critic of plans to appoint the liberal Mr Henderson as Bishop of Lake Malawi. The Province of Central Africa is at the heart of conservative evangelical opposition to the liberal Anglican outlook in the West on homosexuality.

Mr Henderson, Vicar of St Martin’s Acton West and All Saints’ Ealing Common, was elected as Bishop of Lake Malawi last August. He had known the region for 18 years, raising funds for religious, social and humanitarian projects, and was learning the local language, Chichewe. At the time, few in Malawi knew of his record as a leading liberal theologian and that he had been chairman of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union. There was also concern in Africa at reports that he had a male lodger.

As a result, the Primate of Central Africa, the Most Rev Bernard Malango, wrote to Mr Henderson asking him to confirm that he subscribed to the Creeds, the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles and that he “fashions his own like and his household according to the doctrine of Christ”.

The diocese’s Court of Confirmation blocked Mr Henderson’s consecration, deeming him “a man of unsound faith”, and instead appointed the retired Bishop of Zambia, the Right Rev Leonard Mwenda.

Canon Hunter, who had been living in retirement in Malawi, was made assistant priest at All Saints Cathedral. He faced continuing violent protests against his opposition to Mr Henderson and had been physically attacked in the pulpit.

His nephew, Mark Hunter, an accountant from Bristol, told The Times that he had received an initial postmortem report which confirmed that three poisons had been used, and believed that his uncle had been murdered. He said: “I understand that in the last months of my uncle’s life, local supporters of Mr Henderson made his life hell. I know he spoke out to the bishops, saying he should not be appointed. My uncle’s beliefs were strong. If he believed something, he would not give way.”

Canon Hunter had previously served as a cathedral dean in the diocese. He had been appointed after three priests died in strange circumstances and witchcraft was suspected.

His nephew said: “He would come back to England every couple of years, but his work was very important to him and he was highly thought of in Malawi. He loved Malawi. He thought of himself as Malawian, not English.”

Archbishop Malango said of Canon Hunter, who had trained him for the priesthood at a seminary in Lusaka: “He was brilliant, a good philosopher. I owed him a lot — he was my mentor.”

Mr Henderson told The Times: “I have not got anything to say. I have not seen the autopsy report. I heard accusations were going round that he was poisoned. Ihad a very high regard for Canon Hunter. But I am here in England, 5,000 miles away. I do not know what is going on. I have not been to Malawi for months.”

A requiem for Canon Hunter is to be sung at Pusey House, Oxford, this Saturday.