Zimbabwe's Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday that President Robert Mugabe and other politicians had lost the moral right to govern by permitting violence and lawlessness for political gain.
In a pastoral letter to be read in churches across the country, the nine bishops said Mr. Mugabe - a Catholic - and other holders of political power had abused their countrymen by denying them "the inherent right" to take part in political activities.
"We are telling them these things they are doing are wrong and that they hold no morality at all," said Bishop Patrick Mutume, head of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
The letter particularly denounced the seizure of white-owned farms by ruling party militants and a resulting escalation of political violence over the past year. Violence during elections in June killed at least 32 people, mostly opposition supporters.
"There was no need for anyone to die. We should be able to live together ... and not victimize, instill fear, mutilate people, and kill them," Mutume said.
Mugabe has refused repeated requests over the past four years to meet with a delegation of bishops. In 1996, he received a blessing from Pope John Paul II when he married his former secretary in a Catholic mass.
The Rev. Oskar Wermter, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference, said a head of state can be excommunicated only by the pope. Catholics account for about one-fifth of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people.
The letter, which said the sometimes violent seizure of white-owned farms exacerbated social strife and economic decline, denounced the government for not enforcing the law.
Mutume said the bishops called on the government to allow law-enforcement agencies to perform their duties without interference born out of "political expediency."
Mugabe has ordered police not to remove the militants from more than 1,700 white-owned farms they have occupied. He has described the seizures - led by veterans of the bush war that led to independence in 1980 - as a justified protest against unfair land ownership by the descendants of British colonial-era settlers.
The government has ignored six court orders to evict the occupiers.
"We just want our soil," Mugabe said yesterday at the funeral of a major ruling party official. "It belongs to us. Let those who think a job on a white man's farm is worth the price of the landless, who are the vast majority of our people, think again."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor