Ethiopia's Orthodox Church lashes out at PM over rebel clergy

AFP , Thursday 2 Feb 2023

Ethiopia's ancient Orthodox Church has accused the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of interfering in its affairs as tensions mount over a breakaway group of bishops.

Ethiopian Orthodox priests
Ethiopian Orthodox priests chant and dance during the burial ceremony of the late Abune Merkorios, fourth patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, at the Trinity Cathedral of the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 13, 2022. AFP


The Church is grappling with an internal crisis after the rebel clergy last month created a new synod in Oromia, the largest and most populous region in Ethiopia.

Leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which accounts for about 40 percent of the country's 115 million population, have declared the move illegal.

The patriarchate has also accused the rebel clergy of forcefully entering church property in Oromia, and called on the government to take action to protect "legally recognised churches and administrative buildings".

In a statement on Wednesday, the patriarchate -- headed by Patriarch Abune Mathias for 10 years -- charged that Abiy had made comments that effectively recognised the now-excommunicated "illegitimate group".

"The government should not interfere in the religious and canonical affairs of the church," it said.

Addressing cabinet members earlier this week, Abiy -- who is himself from the Oromo community -- called for the rivals to engage in dialogue and said both sides had their "own truths".

The breakaway bishops accuse the Church of discrimination and linguistic and cultural hegemony, saying congregations in Oromia are not served in their native language, claims rejected by the patriarchate.

Orthodox leaders have long complained of religious persecution, including the burning of churches several years ago, and relations with the government have been tense in the past.

In May 2021, Abune Mathias accused the government of wanting to "destroy" Tigray, a rare public criticism of the brutal two-year war in the northernmost region of Ethiopia.

"In all parts of Tigray there are killings. They mean to wipe Tigrayans from the surface of the earth," the ethnic Tigrayan said at the time.

The guns have now fallen silent after a peace deal signed in November last year between the government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

But fighting has continued in Oromia, a region haunted by a long-running insurgency. The Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, have long complained of marginalisation.

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