Worldwide head of Anglican church meets Mugabe

October 10, 2011 - 3:20 PM
Zimbabwe Anglican Church

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, left, meets with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been divided since breakaway Bishop Nolbert Kunonga's excommunication in 2007. He has taken over the main cathedral, schools and the church's bank accounts. The Archbishop and Mugabe are expected to discuss an end to the disruptions. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The head of the worldwide Anglican church met Zimbabwe's longtime ruler on Monday and criticized abuse and intimidation against his church's worshippers in the southern African country.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is paying a two-day visit to Zimbabwe. After the meeting, he said that President Robert Mugabe told him he was not familiar with the scale of the intimidation.

Anglicans in Zimbabwe have been divided since a breakaway bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, was excommunicated in 2007 for inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe's party. But Kunonga says he left the Anglican church because of its position on same-sex marriages.

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.

Mugabe, a Catholic, is a bitter critic of homosexuality.

Williams said he presented the president with a dossier on the abuse and intimidation mainstream Zimbabwean Anglicans are suffering.

Kunonga's followers have seized the country's main cathedral and church bank accounts. His followers also have taken control of an orphanage, and evicted nuns and priests who do not recognize Kunonga.

The schism has left mainstream Anglicans without places of worship, and they have experienced intimidation and alleged threats of violence.

On Sunday, Williams told more than 15,000 mainstream Anglican worshippers gathered for mass at a city stadium that Anglican worshippers are constantly "tortured by uncertainty and risk of attack" and have endured "mindless and Godless assaults" in Zimbabwe.

He said he met Mugabe with the hope that he will "use his powers to guarantee the security" of mainstream Anglicans in Zimbabwe.

"He (Mugabe) expressed concern and said he will speak with Kunonga," Williams said. "Anglicans must be allowed to carry out their mission in peace."

Kunonga led demonstrations against Williams' visit on Sunday, saying it is a "crusade for gays."

Williams said Kunonga's accusations are "fictitious" and a "distracting tactic to take people's attention from the real problem."

"The Anglican church doesn't allow homosexuality, but places like the U.S. and Canada have a more relaxed atmosphere. But we regard homosexuals as human beings deserving of love," Williams said.

Williams met later with Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader. Mugabe was forced by regional leaders to join a coalition with Tsvangirai in 2009 after violent and disputed presidential elections in 2008.

Williams told reporters the discussion dealt with security for Anglicans.

"We deeply deplore the manner in which many of the historic assets of the church, hospitals, schools have not only been seized by the breakaway group, but (are) no longer used for the purpose for which they were designed," he said.

Tsvangirai said the matter had been discussed in Cabinet.

"The state has no role in the church, but to protect people when they do pray," he said. "I hope we do find a solution to this, people are suffering needlessly."

Williams began his southern African tour in Malawi last week. He is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Zambia, the last stop.