Officers from Zimbabwe’s security agency have warned Catholic priests not to distribute local language versions of a pastoral letter that is highly critical of the deepening political and economic crisis here.
Zimbabwe’s bishops’ conference issued a pastoral letter, “God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed,” just before Easter that said Zimbabwe's crisis is one of governance, leadership, spirituality and morality.
To avoid "further bloodshed and avert a mass uprising," a new constitution is needed to guide democracy "chosen in free and fair elections that will offer a chance for economic recovery under genuinely new policies," the bishops wrote.
The letter is the strongest statement the bishops have issued since the country began an economic meltdown some two years ago. The unemployment rate of 80 percent and an inflation rate of more than 1,700 percent has "made the life of ordinary Zimbabweans unbearable, regardless of their political preferences," the bishops said.
The letter is seen as critical of the government of Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.
The letter was initially issued in English, but the bishops have had it translated into two of the main indigenous languages, making it widely available to Catholics across the country. It is the translations that security officers have been trying to stop.
A priest who spoke to NCR said he was visited last week by plain-clothes security agents who warned against distributing the letter.
Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo confirmed he has received reports from priests that they had been visited by security agents. He added that this will not deter the church from speaking out on human rights abuses and social injustice.