BY CHRISTINA WHITE
A PRIEST who was forced to flee from his parish in Zimbabwe after repeated harassment from Zanu PF supporters has accused the local bishop of failing to support him.
Fr Joseph Patrick Kelly, 60, a member of the St Patrick Missionary Society, has said he is unhappy at the way Bishop Alexio Muchabaiwa dealt with his enforced removal from his parish St Gabriel, in Nyanga in the eastern province of Mutare diocese.
Fr Kelly was forced into hiding in August this year after receiving death threats from members of a militant group loyal to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. He said Bishop Muchabaiwa had failed to investigate the case and he had been left to deal with the crisis alone. Fr Kelly is now in a safe house.
Bishop Muchabaiwa said the issue was "private" and he insisted he was not at liberty to discuss the details. He said: "We have a very different way of dealing with issues." But fellow missionary priests condemned the bishop's lack of action and said he had "acquiesced" in Fr Kelly's departure. Earlier this month Bishop Budd of Plymouth attacked the treatment of Fr Kelly who he said was only trying to speak out for justice.
A fellow missionary priest who had worked alongside Fr Kelly insisted the priest was being penalised for a scathing attack which he made against the ruling Zanu PF party in March this year.
The priest, who for safety reasons asked not to be named, told reporters in Harare that Fr Kelly had distributed a homily to parishioners condemning the violence and human rights violations being publicly sanctioned by the Mugabe regime. Parishioners were assaulted by Zanu PF supporters and Fr Kelly was accused of distributing anti-government literature. Armed militia forced their way into his house and demanded that he leave. He was also interrogated by members of Mugabe's feared Central Intelligence Organisation. This is not the first time the hierarchy has failed to offer priests support in the face of government opposition. In August last year a Redemptorist priest in Harare who had preached anti-government sermons was deported. Sources said a senior minister in the Mugabe cabinet had complained to the bishop and demanded that the priest be removed.
Earlier this month Zimbabwe 's bishops condemned high-level corruption in the ruling administration. They alleged that food aid pouring into Zimbabwe was being illegally distributed among Mugabe's henchmen.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Harare says the government is wary of the political clout wielded by the Church. The support of bishops for the nationalist cause put pressure on Ian Smith's white minority government. And Mugabe has been swift to suppress any efforts by the clergy to whip up "the emotions of the masses to rise against a legitimately elected democratic government".
In June this year, Zanu PF threatened to ban the CCJP for allegedly supporting the opposition MDC party in Matabeleland. Opposition to Mugabe is now starting to divide along racist lines. The most vocal condemnation of the brutal landseizure programme has come predominantly from white missionary priests.