Church-State Controversy in Zambia: Catholic Bishops Assume Responsibility

Bishop Benjamin Phiri of Zambia’s Catholic Diocese of Ndola. Credit: Ndola Diocese/Facebook

Catholic Bishops in Zambia have taken upon themselves the responsibility to handle the controversy that has emerged between the Church and the political leadership of the Southern African nation. 

In a memorandum shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, June 14, Bishop Benjamin Phiri of Zambia’s Catholic Diocese of Ndola communicates the directive of the members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) in which members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and the Laity are not to make “any public statements” on the Church-State controversy.

The Church-State controversy in Zambia started on May 22 when Fr. Anthony Salangeta criticized President Hakainde Hichilema’s government for using graphs to explain Zambia’s economy. 

Fr. Salangeta who was preaching at Holy Mass said Zambians are more interested in issues directly affecting them and not in graphs, remarks that President Hichilema later responded to, describing Fr. Salangeta as a joker. 

Coming to the defense of the Parish Priest of Regina Pacis Chawama Catholic Church of Zambia’s Archdiocese of Lusaka (ADL), the Local Ordinary, Archbishop Alick Banda faulted the President for associating his Priest with jokers. 


Archbishop Banda insisted that that Catholic Priests are shepherds of God’s flock, live among those they shepherd, and understand and know the needs of the people they shepherd.

Archbishop Banda’s remarks provoked a reaction from the Secretary General of the President Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND), Batuke Imenda, who went on to describe the Local Ordinary of Lusaka as “the Lucifer of Zambia”.

In his memorandum, Bishop Phiri cautions that if not well managed, the current state of affairs between the Church and State has the potential to strain the cordial and consultative relationship that has existed between the Catholic Church and the Southern African government.

He says, “The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, through its President Most Rev. Ignatius Chama has directed that we all leave the issues raised to the Bishops to resolve through engagement and dialogue with the Government.”

“The Diocesan Bishops have been requested to communicate to their constituents to refrain from making any public statements on this matter until the Bishops issue further instructions after looking at the matter,” the Local Ordinary of Zambia’s Ndola Diocese adds. 

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He continues, “I hereby ask you my dear collaborators (Priests, Religious, and laity) in the Catholic Diocese of Ndola to desist from issuing any statements regarding the same."

Members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and the Laity have "a huge responsibility to safeguard the life and peace in our communities by prudently preaching peace, justice, and unity on all occasions,” the Zambian Catholic Bishop who turned 64 on June 14 says in his memorandum addressed to the people of God under his pastoral care. 

He adds, "We all know that it is through engagement and dialogue that we can address the challenges or differences being faced without compromising our prophetic role."

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