Zimbabwe Archbishop Resigns in Scandal

Vatican City - An archbishop who was an outspoken critic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe before becoming embroiled in a sex scandal has resigned, saying Tuesday he wanted to shield his church from attack.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Archbishop Pius Ncube, 60, under the article of church law that says a bishop should retire if he is ill or if "some other grave reason" had made him unsuitable for office, a Vatican statement said.

In a separate statement released at the Vatican, Ncube said he had offered to resign because of what he called a "state-driven, vicious attack" on himself and the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. The state media in Zimbabwe has closely covered a civil adultery suit filed there against Ncube by a railroad worker who alleged his wife, a secretary in Ncube's office, had a two-year affair with the archbishop.

"In order to spare my fellow bishops and the body of the church any further attacks, I decided this was the best course of action," he wrote.

He said he would continue speaking out in favor of the poor and suffering in Zimbabwe "who sadly become more numerous and more impoverished every day."

"I have not been silenced by the crude machinations of a wicked regime," he wrote.

In July, Zimbabwe state media showed images allegedly taken with a hidden camera in Ncube's bedroom and purportedly showing him with the woman. Ncube's lawyer has called the airing of the video an "orchestrated attempt" by the government to embarrass the prelate, who has long been critical of Mugabe.

In August, Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops Conference accused the government of making "crude attempts" to divert attention from the nation's political and economic crisis by publicizing the affair allegations.

The bishops said Ncube, archbishop of Bulawayo, had shown courage, moral authority and fearlessness in exposing massacres by government troops in the western Matabeleland province during an armed rebellion after independence in 1980 and a brutal countrywide slum clearance operation in 2005.

Ncube has accused Mugabe of human rights violations and has called for him to step down. He has also urged Zimbabweans to demonstrate in the streets against the government amid the nation's worst economic crisis since independence.

The archbishop has been largely silent since the allegations surfaced, declining to answer questions about his private life in a state television interview, but speaking of the importance of forgiveness.

He didn't refer to the allegations at all in his statement Tuesday, speaking instead about his future. He said he would continue working for greater humanitarian support for Zimbabweans, in particular for food and medical supplies.

"Recent events have brought me closer to God and have given me a clearer sense of mission," he said.

The archbishop's troubles come at a time when Mugabe's political opposition has been weakened by internal rivalries.

Zimbabwe suffers runaway inflation that the International Monetary Fund expects to hit 100,000 percent by the end of the year; collapsing infrastructure; mass unemployment; and shortages of everything from bread to tractor spare parts. Mugabe, meanwhile, has muzzled the opposition with curbs on speech and gatherings, and has applauded police for beating opposition activists.