Embattled Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, confirmed on Tuesday that the Vatican has accepted his resignation two months after he was hit with a lawsuit alleging he engaged in an adulterous affair with a parish secretary. He promised to remain an ardent critic of President Robert Mugabe's government.
The Vatican earlier announced Ncube's resignation in a statement saying that Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation under an article of church law covering clergy who must retire because of illness or "some other grave reason."
The Vatican named Father Martin Schupp apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo, effective immediately, church sources in Harare said.
Ncube did not appear at a news conference at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Zimbabwe's second largest city from whose pulpit he had often protested the policies and alleged human rights abuses of the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Church officials handed reporters a written statement by Ncube in which said he had offered Pope Benedict his resignation shortly after the broadcast and publication of state media reports in July on the lawsuit, accompanied by damaging images.
Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from Bulawayo.
The husband of the woman with whom Ncube is alleged to have had an affair lodged a suit against the archbishop seeking damages of Z$20 billion (US$80,000).
Ncube said in Tuesday's statement that, “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 said he waited for the Vatican to confirm his resignation before announcing it, and added that he believed he should face the court case as an individual so that the "Holy Catholic Church of God should (not) seem to be on trial."
Ncube said he would remain a Catholic bishop in Zimbabwe and “continue to speak out on the issues that sadly become more acute by the day.”
One of the most outspoken critics of President Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party, Ncube once announced that he was praying for Mr. Mugabe to die.
Many in Zimbabwean civil society and the political opposition have rallied behind Ncube, contending that the accusations and extensive coverage in state media were politically motivated. Referring to this aspect of the case, Ncube said “recent events have brought me closer to God and have given me a clearer sense of mission. I have not been silenced by the crude machinations of a wicket regime.”
Ncube said he would build on his experience to lobby for increased humanitarian aid, in particular food and medical supplies, and was considering options both inside the church and in civil society and would decide on his next step in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop Pius Ncube Solidarity Coalition, a local support group, said it would continue continue to stand by the cleric and back him in his work. For the past month the coalition has been holding weekly prayer meetings for the cleric.
A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference said the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe respects Ncube’s decision, which he said would give him time to deal with the suit by Onesimus Sibanda alleging an adulterous liaison with his wife.
Frederick Chiromba told reporter Carole Gombakomba that Ncube’s resignation has no bearing on the adultery charges and the pending legal case.
The Catholic Bishops Conference said it would continue its own investigation into the adultery allegations against Ncube.
Some in Zimbabwe consider Ncube to have fallen prey to a well-orchestrated sting operation mounted by the ruling party, in which cameras were placed in his quarters to record alleged sexual liaisons with Rosemary Sibanda and other women.
Executive Director Farai Maguwu of the Civil Alliance for Democracy and Governance, said the cleric’s resignation of his post as archbishop was an honorable decision - but was not likely to silence him as a critic of the Mugabe administration.