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Clergy are employees, says Botswana judge: CEN 10.24.08 p 9. October 24, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa, Ecclesiology.

Clergy are church employees and are subject to the protection of state labour and contract laws, a high court judge in Botswana has ruled. In a case brought by seven suspended priests, Judge Key Dingake held that the Diocese of Botswana must comply with its internal constitution as well as state law in clergy disciplinary proceedings and ordered Bishop Trevor Mwamba to restore them to office.

Last year, Bishop Mwamba suspended the seven priests, stopping their pay and ordering them to vacate their rectories, after they turned to former Harare bishop Dr. Nolbert Kunonga for aide.

The seven, ethnic Batswanas-the dominant tribal group in Botswana-had charged Bishop Mwamba, a native of Zambia, with favoring foreigners in church patronage appointments. On Aug 25, 2007 six of the seven priests, wrote to the Primate of Central Africa, Archbishop Bernard Malango, stating they had no confidence in Bishop Mwamba’s leadership.

They charged Bishop Mwamba with being profligate with church funds, and for having brought “shame” onto the diocese by appearing in a BBC film adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s 1998 best-seller, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” which was filmed in Botswana. They also charged their bishop with backing the line on “homosexuality as propounded by the American Anglicans.”

Dr. Kunonga came to the aide of the seven priests at the 2007 provincial synod, denigrating Bishop Mwamba in a speech to the gather, while his surrogates in Harare attacked the bishop through the state controlled press.

However, when the Province removed Bishop Kunonga from office, Bishop Mwamba revoked the licences of the seven rebel priests prompting the lawsuit.

In testimony before the High Court in Gabarone in February, Bishop Mwamba stated diocesan canons granted him the authority to “grant, withhold, revoke or renew” a priest’s license “as he may see fit.” The seven had been engaged in “factionalism in association with a certain Dr Kunonga, who is a schismatic and not recognized in the Province and the Anglican Communion Worldwide,” he said.

However in his ruling, Judge Dingake held that the diocese had not complied with the government’s laws regulating charitable organizations nor its own constitution in suspending the seven priests. The judge further held that the bishop should have granted a hearing to the seven priests to respond to the charges leveled by Bishop Mwamba.

Judge Dingake rejected the argument proffered by the diocese’s lawyer that “because the church is a voluntary association, the principles of natural justice do not apply to it.” Voluntary associations were obligated to treat their members fairly by conforming to their constitutions.

The judge also rejected Bishop Mwamba’s third defense, saying that priests were church employees, not independent contractors employed at will.

“The decision by the bishop to withdraw and revoke applicants’ licenses to practice as priests of the Anglican Church is hereby set aside as being contrary to the Acts of Diocese of Botswana and or the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church,” Judge Dingake said.

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