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Kunonga Loyalists Plunge Zimbabwe's Anglican Church Back Into Turmoil

Backers of Bishop Kunonga say the law is on his side, but Father Paul Gwese of the Central Africa Province said Kunonga is abusing the legal system and causing confusion to further his own interests

Members of the Harare diocese of Zimbabwe's Anglican Church Monday were regrouping in an effort to regain control over - or at least access to - churches after weekend clashes in which police brandishing court documents disrupted services in a number of locations and forced worshipers to leave.

Sources said the police, apparently acting on behalf of ousted former Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, interfered with or halted Sunday services around the diocese.

Such an intrusion at St. Michael’s Parish in Mbare drew fierce resistance from parishioners who resisted police efforts to prevent them from worshiping.

Kunonga, a staunch supporter of President Robert Mugabe, clashed with his Anglican superiors of the Province of Central Africa over issues ranging from the human rights record of the Mugabe administration to the question of the ordination of homosexuals, and was dismissed by them.

But Kunonga refused to relinquish control of churches in the diocese, leading to protracted lawsuits and clashes between his supporters and opponents.

Supporters of Kunonga claim a July ruling by High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo gave him control of a number of church properties. But parishioners loyal to the Church of the Province of Central Africa challenge this contention.

Father Paul Gwese of the Central African Province, whose parishioners risked another contfrontation with police over an all-night prayer vigil, said officials of his church have been to the police and courts seeking information on the supposed judgment but failed to find any evidence it exists.

Gwese said Kunonga might have moved to seize control of the churches in a bid to capture donations from parishioners in the Christmas season.

Kunonga spokesman Bishop Alfred Munyanyi said there was no going back on the decision to bar opponents from holding separate services.

He said if parishioners want to remain Anglicans, then they should start attending churches controlled by Kunonga and priests loyal to him.