HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Zimbabwean court has ordered a breakaway Anglican bishop to return church property he seized after his excommunication in 2007.
Supreme Court Judge Yunus Omerjee ruled Monday that Bishop Nolbert Kunonga has no right to the church property because he left the mainstream Anglican Church.
Zimbabwe’s Anglican Church has been divided since Bishop Kunonga, a loyalist of President Robert Mugabe‘s, was excommunicated in 2007 by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa and the worldwide head of the church for inciting violence in sermons supporting Mr. Mugabe’s political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Political Front (ZANU-PF).
Bishop Kunonga broke away from the Anglican Church and formed an independent Harare diocese. He held the Anglican Cathedral in Harare and several other churches, with the help of police.
The schism left mainstream Anglicans without places of worship, and many were subjected to intimidation and violence.
Judge Omerjee’s ruling stated that Bishop Kunonga did not have the right to the Anglican Church property.
“When one leaves a club, one does not take its property with him or her. It has long been established as a salutary principle of law in this area of property ownership that, when one or more people secede from an existing church, they have no right to claim church property, even if those who remain members of the congregation are in the minority,” said the judgment.
After the ruling Monday, Anglican worshippers sang, danced and ululated outside the court.
The head of Zimbabwe’s mainstream Anglicans, Bishop Chad Gandiya, described Monday’s ruling as a “pleasant surprise.”
“We prayed, we waited, and we have been vindicated,” Bishop Gandiya said. “This is God’s doing.”
An earlier ruling made in August last year by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, another open supporter of Mr. Mugabe’s party, had allowed Bishop Kunonga to retain the cathedral and its administrative offices, bank accounts and vehicles.
During the past five years, Bishop Kunonga had intensified seizures of the Anglican Church property, taking over orphanages, church buildings and schools countrywide with the help of police loyal to Mr. Mugabe.
Bishop Kunonga claims he left the mainstream Anglican Church because of its position on gay marriage.
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 accepted same-sex unions. In the United States, an openly homosexual man was the bishop of New Hampshire.