The Anglican Church drops murder charges against Zimbabwe bishop

The Anglican Church has dropped charges of incitement to murder and besmirching the name of the church leveled against a Zimbabwe bishop, church officials said Friday. Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who is a strong supporter of Zimbabwe's autocratic President Robert Mugabe, appeared before an ecclesiastical court in August. He was also accused by parishioners of intimidating critics, ignoring church law, mishandling church funds and bringing militant ruling party politics to the pulpit.

But the court hearing collapsed in disarray when Judge James Kalaile of Malawi refused to continue presiding after a dispute over the admission of evidence. Officials at the Harare diocese office said the head of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, Archbishop Amos Malingo of Zambia, informed church leaders throughout the province that the case against Kunonga had been dropped.

"The matter is closed and cannot be revived," said Malingo in a letter dispatched to the region's 12 bishops on Dec. 19. Supporters of Kunonga, a former African liberation theology professor in the United States, claimed the case was racially motivated though all but three of scores of complainants in 38 charges were black parishioners.

Lawyers for Kunonga accused Jeremy Lewis, appointed the prosecutor by Archbishop Malingo, of not handling the case correctly under the church's canon law. Lewis, contacted at his Harare home Friday, said he had not been officially informed of Malingo's ruling that dropped the charges nor censure of the prosecution in Malingo's letter to church leaders that led the case being closed. "I would have expected His Grace (Malingo) to have communicated such censure," he said.

Kunonga was elected Harare bishop in 2001 amid accusations he used his influence with the ruling party to secure the post. He did not face criminal charges in August but could have been expelled from the church, defrocked or reprimanded. In the key charge, Kunonga was accused of urging a priest to instruct ruling party militants to kill 10 of the bishop's critics in the local Anglican hierarchy, reports the AP. N.U.

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