The Blantyre synod of the Presbyterian Church of Central Africa, in Malawi, has criticised the country's Roman Catholic bishops for issuing a pastoral statement critical of the government - writes Frank Jomo .
The synod represents most of Malawi's Presbyterians, who make up the country's second biggest church after Catholics. It says the bishops' statement lacked protocol and was disrespectful to the head of state, President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Blantyre synod moderator the Rev Reynolds Mangisa told journalists on 11 November 2010 that the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, representing the Catholic bishops, could have raised the contents of its letter with the government and President Mutharika privately before making it public.
"There are many people who find it easy to open their mouths and talk on issues but we feel it takes more wisdom, courage and discipline to know when to keep quiet and when to talk," said Mangisa at his synod's headquarters.
In a pastoral letter read in Catholic churches on 31 October, Malawi's Catholic bishops called on their government not to use its numerical parliamentary strength to suppress minority views about the way the country should be run.
In his criticism of the bishops, Mangisa said, "As officials of the Blantyre synod, we believe that the issues at hand could have been better handled than they have been now. We believe that mutual coordination, contact and dialogue between the public offices, and the office of the prophet and the priest is crucial towards the smooth running of the affairs of any nation."
The Catholic bishops have refused to respond publicly to the synod's attack on their letter. The General Secretary of the bishops' conference, the Rev George Buleya, told Zodiak, a privately owned radio station in Malawi, that the public will be the judges of the bishops' statement, which was, he said, about encouraging dialogue between local people and their leaders on issues of national interest, rather than the church talking specifically about any individual government official.
The pastoral statement read out in all Catholic churches in the country, criticised Malawi's government for disrespecting the country's vice president, Joyce Banda. Her supporters say Banda has become the target of a smear campaign by leaders of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Some party members are promoting President Bingu wa Mutharika's brother, Peter Mutharika, to replace the national leader when he steps down in 2014.
Mangisa said, "We thought that with the president being a member of the Catholic Church, it would have been much easier for the bishops to approach him as one of their own flock, and not go public with the letter."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]