Nuns, priests evicted from Zimbabwe church missions, orphanage as Anglican schism deepens

Murewa, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe’s top Anglican bishop says an excommunicated church leader close to the country’s president has taken over an orphanage housing 80 children as part of a schism over gay marriage.

Bishop Chad Gandiya, leader of the mainstream Anglican group, said Tuesday that the breakaway leader also has seized mission schools and priests’ homes on the church premises near Murewa, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of the capital, Harare.

Worshippers now congregate instead under the shade of trees beside a dirt road.

Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was excommunicated four years ago after he was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting longtime President Robert Mugabe’s party. Kunonga, though, still has the protection of police loyal to Mugabe, and already has taken over the main Harare cathedral and church bank accounts.

Kunonga insists he split from the Anglican church because of its position on gay marriage. However, the reverend who was forced to leave the mission church near Murewa insists it was not marrying gay couples.

Leaders of the global Anglican Communion have condemned gay relationships as a violation of Scripture. However, the Anglican Communion is loosely organized without one authoritative leader such as a pope, so some individual provinces have decided on their own that they should move toward accepting same-gender unions. In 2003, the U.S. Episcopal Church caused an uproar in the worldwide fellowship by consecrating its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of the state of New Hampshire.

Sister Dorothy, one of the three nuns in charge of the care of orphans at the Shearly Cripps home near Murewa, told The Associated Press local officials and followers of Kunonga told the orphanage staff they were under orders to leave because they “support homosexuality.”

“We refused to listen to Kunonga but he says this place now belongs to him,” said the elderly sister, who has served at the home for three decades.

Local officials in this longtime Mugabe party stronghold showed an unsigned court eviction order when the caregivers were bathing, feeding and giving medication to children last week, she said.

The nuns later moved to find shelter in a house several miles (kilometers) away. Visitors to the orphanage have since reported that children appeared not to have received regular meals and it was not clear whether qualified replacement staff were at the historic Shearly Cripps home.

The Rev. Richard Mombeshora, who was forced to leave the mission church, said pleas for police to intervene to stop the takeovers were ignored. Mombeshora said Kunonga’s followers forced their way into the church rectory, and police were brought in to oversee the evictions.

“These people confess openly they don’t fear the law. So you just put your faith in God,” he said, adding: “We don’t marry homosexuals here. We don’t approve of it at all.”

Gandiya on Tuesday told the nuns and caregivers an appeal against the evictions and other property seizures is scheduled before the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court, later this month.

“We haven’t forgotten you or the children. Who is looking after them and giving them medicine?” Gandiya said.

Some of the children are AIDS orphans and need regular treatment and HIV/AIDS medication.

In 2007, Kunonga was excommunicated by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa and the worldwide Anglican Church after he was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe’s party.

The head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is scheduled to visit Zimbabwe in October and wants to meet with Mugabe, 87, a Roman Catholic, to discuss an end to the disruptions.