BY FREDDY GRAY
POP( R.F.NEDIC1 XVI was upbraided by Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo for praising Zimbabwe's rigged elections, it has emerged.
Archbishop Ncube, an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe's regime, has admitted that on June 27 he reprimanded the Pope for speaking positively about Zimbabwe as government bulldozers demolished the homes of the country's poor.
The Archbishop referred to an address by Benedict to Zimbabwe's new ambassador to the Holy See, David Douglas Hamadziripi. Although the Pope told Mr Hamadziripi that "concern must be shown for the poor, the disenfranchised and the young", he added that "with the elections of March 31, Zimbabwe made a new beginning in confronting the grave social problems that have affected the nation".
Critics said that the elections had in fact been rigged to give Mugabe's Zanu-PF party a sufficient majority to amend the constitution. Some observers were astonished that the Pontiff did not mention the regime's "Operation Drive out Trash", which left thousands homeless.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Archbishop Ncube, during an ad litnina meeting
between Benedict and Zimbabwe's bishops, told the Pontiff: "Seeing as you were so optimistic in your speech, it may be that you don't know what's happening; when I left, they were smashing houses."
In an interview with the Tablet, the Left-leaning Catholic weekly, the Archbishop said he also gave Benedict a double-sided A4 sheet of paper detailing human rights abuses under Mr Mugabe. The document referred to demolitions, government-sponsored theft, political suppression and the food crisis in Zimbabwe.
When the bishops met the Pope again on July 2, Benedict said he felt better informed about the country. He offered support to the bishops' public appeal for a fair election and their pastoral letter "The Cry of the Poor", which highlighted the "gross injustice" of "Operation Drive out Trash".
But the Pope reiterated his hope that the elections had provided a platform for a "new beginning in the process of national reconciliation and the moral rebuilding of society".
Archbishop Ncube expressed concern that the Pope Benedict had been inadequately briefed by his Secretariat. He said that he understood the need for good diplomatic relations but added that "every tacit approval is driving one more nail into the coffin of many Zimbabweans".