Former UPND vice-president for politics Dr Canicias Banda has charged that former Archbishop of Lusaka Telesphore Mpundu is preventing his successor from being in charge of the Archdiocese because he still has a hold on power.

But the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) says Dr Banda’s allegations are a joke of the century.

Speaking when he featured on Pan African Radio’s The Peoples’ debate, Wednesday, Dr Banda charged that there were some administrative challenges in the Catholic Church as Archbishop Mpundu was still holding on to power, instead of paving way for Archbishop Alick Banda.

“The Ambassador of the Vatican to Zambia has been spoken to that he must put the Catholic Church in order in Zambia. There is a degree of dysfunctionality in it at the moment administratively. There is a new Archbishop in Lusaka Archdiocese, Archbishop Alick Banda, he is from Ndola. I have met the man; he is a fine man. But functionally he is not operational. The one before him, Archbishop Teresphore Mpundu still wields power,” Dr Banda said.

“This is what people don’t know. So the Vatican must act to ensure that Archbishop Mpundu vacates where the new Archbishop must occupy. Go to Kalingalinga, you will find Archbishop Alick Banda renting a house there. Observe the functioning of the office of the Archbishop of Lusaka and you find that the current Archbishop is not as functional as he ought to be. So it is important to address these concerns because the impact on dialogue, because the Church is involved.”

And Dr Banda said it was not the church’s mandate to lead the dialogue process.

“And by the way, the Church must know that the dialogue can go ahead without them and we should learn to conduct dialogue without them. President Edgar Lungu has been given authority by the people of Zambia to ensure that this country remains unitary and peaceful, and that there is dialogue and there are institutions for that. And President Lungu is the chief superintendent and it is his mandate to ensure that there is dialogue. It is not the mandate of the Church. The Church’s mandate is to pray for people and tell them, hey, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, because we are going to heaven someday. Politics is a different field all together,” he said.

He accused the Church of creating an impression that there was a crisis in the country when in fact not

“The Church is guilty of being divisive. The Church brokered the dialogue process in 1990 when we needed to transition from one party state to multi party state and it happened. There was a crisis then, but there is no crisis in Zambia now. The country is peaceful and united despite a few challenges that the PF is frank about and they are addressing them. So the church must not give the impression that this country is in a crisis, it is collapsing. Even in Congo, the church was admonished for conduct unbecoming of the church, these are the sins of the church. The trust and confidence that people have in the church as an important part of their lives leads to abuse. The Church should stay out of politics. The church is a partisan entity that belong to one idea of winning souls for the Lord,” said Dr Banda who also said he could only return to the UPND if he was invited to be president.

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But ZCCB Secretary General Fr Cleophas Lungu described Dr Banda’s allegations as a joke of the century.

“When you mentioned that to me yesterday, I laughed. And when I read through what was said, I also laughed because indeed, it is laughable. It is the joke of a century,” Fr Lungu said in an interview, Thursday.

“It also exhibits, unfortunately, for a learned man of that calibre, total ignorance of how the church, in particular the Catholic Church operates. And of course, there is a fundamental difference between the church and politicians. How we treat each other in the church, especially leaders, the former and the current will relate, is different from in the political arena. In the political arena there is always this thing of revenge, acrimony and I can rest assure you that that is not the case for us. In terms of the two Archbishops being mentioned, I believe that they would be the best persons to comment and render their opinion but from where I stand, and I am speaking as the secretary general of the bishops conference, in other words, the chief executive officer, I know what is going around and I can rest assure you that the church is on top of the game, the church is not as disorganised as some people purport it.”

Fr Lungu said it was not surprising that Archbishop Banda chose to stay away from the Diocese because even Archbishop Mpundu’s predecessors had done the same.

“You may wish to know that it is not surprising at all that an Archbishop will choose not to live near the Cathedral. If you go down history of the arch diocese of Lusaka, there was Archbishop Elias Mutale, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, Archbishop Medado Mazombwe, Archbishop Adrian Mungandu, all those archbishops, none of them were staying at the Catherdal. They have a choice to live in a house, sometimes there is a residence for the archbishops, Archbishop Mpundu, happened to be unique in the sense that he said ‘I want to be near the office’, and he chose to occupy a very small part of a house of priests, and was comfortable there. When the new Archbishop came, he had a choice and he has chosen to live somewhere else. So it is not absolutely connected to the fact that Archbishop Mpundu is refusing to vacate and give room, that’s absolutely not true, it is total falsehood and it also exhibits the high levels of ignorance of how the church operates and I have talked to both Archbishop Alick Banda and I know, even yesterday I was with people in one parish where they are busy preparing because he is going to make his first visit to that parish, he is operating freely. If you go to the offices, you will not find Archbishop Mpundu, so it is quite alarming, and laughable to hear that Archbishop Mpundu is interfering,” he said.

“And you may wish to know, even in the national dialogue process, he has not been involved at all. The president of ZCCB Bishop George Lungu is the one who is leading the process, from the Catholic point of view, he was mandated by other bishops because of his office as president of the catholic bishops. And so, it is absolutely laughable that someone can insinuate, out of the blues, out of ignorance, that such is the case. I hesitate to say that but I have to name what it is because it is sheer ignorance.”

He said the Catholic Church respected former archbishops because they were a well of wisdom.

“Also to mention that in the catholic church, we have great respect, if someone has held a certain position, for example we have Benedict the 16th who was pope emeritus, when we say pope emeritus, we are not going to throw that person to say that he must be thrown to the furthest end of the world, no. This person has knowledge, this person has experience. This person can contribute, this person can be an advisor even to the person who is holding the position. So we have great respect for former bishops, former in inverted commas because that is not the term in the church, the emeritus, and they play a critical role as silent, but calm, staying in the background but providing that spiritual support, praying for the bishops, where there is need, they go to them and say ‘there is a situation here, how did you handle in the past such a situation?’ And this person will provide guidance but people will not know. And sometimes, these meetings, retired bishops, retired archbishops are invited to come and attend because they can contribute, they can add some wisdom that comes with age because they have seen it all. So we are not going to treat archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu as though he is an alter boy, we are not going to kick him out, no! In fact, the Archdiocese of Lusaka has a responsibility to take care of him, he cannot be thrown as insinuated by the learned, or rather the less learned in the Catholic terms, Dr Canisuis Banda,” said Fr Lungu.