Archbishop Robert Ndlovu heads the Harare diocese of the Roman Catholic Church which covers 63 555 square kilometres and boasts of a Catholic population close to 500 000 people. The Standard deputy Editor Walter Marwizi, was granted an exclusive chance to meet the man of cloth, and in excerpts below he speaks candidly about errant priests, politics and the future of the church.
WM: What is the state of Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe: Is it growing or declining in terms of numbers?
ARN: Well, I would say it’s growing judging by the number of people and records that we have, of those that are being baptised, those that are being confirmed it’s grown, but there is an element that we have to look at. In the past few years, within the last 10 years or so, a good number of Catholics have gone to the diaspora and we can feel that in our parishes. But otherwise in terms of growth, I can say it is balancing.
WM: There are critics who say the church is losing members especially the youth because it has remained too conservative on matters such as condoms and birth control. What is your comment?
ARN: We believe that sex is something sacred and it is to be used within a relationship, and therefore it’s an expression of love of two people and they realise in so doing they are co-operating with their creator. And that is God…So if it is morally wrong it does not become morally right because someone has invented a condom…
WM: Let’s turn to the problems in the priesthood. The church has been criticised for failing to rein in wayward priests. Is the church addressing these problems?
ARN: You always have problems and a rotten apple here and there because we are human beings and I think action is being taken, a good number of priests have been suspended once they were found out. A good number have just been told to leave the priesthood.
WM: Do you have numbers?
ARN: Well, I wouldn’t give you statistics but I know for instance since I came to Harare, I can say more or less with certainty five or six priests have been told to leave the priesthood. And I think two or three were sent on suspension because it depends on the gravity of the matter, some of them are not really (serious offences) but for discipline’s sake we have to do that… But also look at it from this point of view; we are recruiting from a society that we all know. I like to use the term a wounded society, so sometimes these temptations don’t stop because someone has become a priest…
WM: We have this case of former Archbishop Pius Ncube. Here is a head of the church who got involved with a woman, what do you think about his conduct?
WM: Well, I get your point and I know the gravity of the situation especially as it was reported. But as I said there is a human side to all things and sometimes people can exploit that, I wouldn’t know the details of it, you know it was really a private life, how he came to be hooked into that situation, was it something set up, it is very difficult to get, he knows the rest but I always said, I look at myself and say it could happen to me, I am still a human being I can still get attracted to a person of the opposite sex …And we have to also realise that celibacy itself is not an easy life and I think anyone who tells you it’s an easy life, will not be truthful. Celibacy is not an easy life but is a life that is worth living with the grace of God. It can be, it can be done.
WM: And what would you say is the damage that was caused by to the church by the Pius Ncube saga.
ARN: Well, as I said the issue of what happened to Archbishop Ncube has a lot of question marks that we still cannot answer. That is why I use the word, was he trapped into that… but you know it had also, some people will still think it had a political dimension, true or false I don’t know.
WM: But he confessed when he went to Vatican
ARN: Yah, but you see he confessed having, it’s not to deny that something happened that he had an affair with her but how it came about. This is what I don’t know and how do you get to that, he is the only one who knows what happened. How he met that woman and how he managed to reach that stage with a married woman for that matter, I don’t know what transpired there. But definitely I would be naïve about it, we have to accept that it scandalised the faithful.
Rome decided Ncube’s fate
WM: Can a person like that be rehabilitated, can he preach again?
ARN: I think it is possible, I don’t think if Jesus could forgive a thief (who was there at the cross with him) and say today you will be with me in paradise, no sin is big enough and cannot be forgiven by God. I mean he can still do that, I don’t see that being an impediment but definitely it was a big blow, even for him as a person. I knew Archbishop Pius Ncube even before he became a bishop. Really he was an exemplary man, what happened in this case is very difficult to tell, and that is why I said, all of us, I don’t think I am immune to that.
WM: What is Pius Ncube doing these days now, is he still a priest?
ARN: Oh yes, he is still a priest and still preaches, for your information.
WM: Do you bend your rules because you said the other priests when there are involved there are kicked out of the church?
ARN: No, Archbishop Pius (Ncube) was stopped from exercising his life as a bishop, you get the point, but he is just there, being kept there doing his life, he was given a life of prayer and from time to time he says mass to a limited number of people who would know him but at the moment he is more living a life of prayer, I visit him quite often, practically every time that (I go there). He is staying not in Bulawayo diocese but in Hwange diocese in a house there… and in fact, I should say as person he has somehow recovered. The decision about Archbishop Pius Ncube is a decision that had to be made by Rome not by a bishop here about how he has to proceed from now on, but as I said for me if it’s a priest here I take action, as I said it depends also on the gravity of the situation, some I suspend, try to find a way whether they can be received back but if it is a scandal, then I have to take action.
Gukurahundi: Compensation needed
WM: The Catholic Church has over the years issued pastoral letters commenting on the social, economic and political situation in the country. What do you think about President Mugabe’s leadership of the country?
ARN: The church has been consistent (on issuing pastoral letters). So even after 1980, there are certain events that took place that the church has not been silent; we had the disturbances in Matabeleland and Midlands, the church made a comment and I think it was a pastoral letter that opened eyes of the people really that something wrong was happening, the nation needed to address it and I think the President, am sure he was also grateful. I don’t think he knew everything that was happening but the church helped him even to understand what was happening on the ground. Even before … the church had already warned about inequality when it comes to land ownership … So the church is not against what happened therefore in terms of land reform but the way it was done. The end does not justify the means, you don’t kill so you can repossess what you believe is yours and in some cases some of the people who suffered were innocent people.
WM: You also talked about Gukurahundi, what went wrong in Matabeleland and how can this be addressed?
ARN: It was just after independence and maybe we failed to find each other as it were, you know as a new nation and you know it is always easy to exploit ethnic differences sometimes and blame everything on ethnicity but I think we failed to find each other after independence really…It’s a pity that so many people lost their lives but I said if there are some genuine grievances that have to be addressed, I will be for that myself.
WM: How can that be addressed?
ARN: A question of compensation has to be done. People who lost breadwinners mind you, how could these people be helped to rebuild their lives, I think that for me would be more practical.
WM: And how can we address national healing…?
ARN: I more inclined to talk about a truth and reconciliation commission. Let people pour out their hearts about what they went through, what happened. If really during the process it is found that there are people who have to answer for their deeds, then it doesn’t become a question of revenge but a question of justice: that is how I see it. But at the moment sometimes you feel that people are talking about revenge, I think it has to be a question of justice…
WM: Is Zimbabwe ready for elections?
ARN: Well, I don’t know who has to make us ready for elections. I think we ourselves have to make ourselves ready for elections. There are still skirmishes here and there that are starting to happen, which in my opinion is really sad, I must say. It’s a lack of maturity on our part, but that said if there is goodwill on all the political parties, I think we can have elections.
No grounds to expel Mugabe from church
WM: The president calls himself a devout member of the church but he has been preaching violence, aren’t those grounds for ex communication?
ARN: No, no excommunication is a different matter altogether. You wouldn’t excommunicate someone for that thing… I think the President, maybe his faults are more visible because of his being the president, just like Archbishop Pius Ncube, his fault was so great because he was archbishop, he was the head of the church. But he is also a member of the faithful like anybody else, if he makes mistakes I think he just has to be helped like everybody else out of the situation and that’s why I have said am a bit reluctant to zero in, even matters of violence on one man. There I am a bit reluctant; as I said violence has become a culture I think we have to address it as a nation.
WM: What about the GNU are you happy with its work so far?
ARN: I think it has made some progress in a number of issues…it has stabilised the economy, don’t remind me of 2007, 2008… Now we can speak about a country with economic growth. That is an achievement on its own but maybe there is a still a problem of lack of trust, maybe our political leaders don’t trust each other enough in the GNU and maybe that has been a drawback.