A Zimbabwean archbishop who was an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe before becoming embroiled in a sex scandal resigned on Tuesday, but vowed to continue championing his countrymen facing political and economic crises.
Pius Ncube, who once said he was ready to lead a popular uprising against Mugabe, said he offered his resignation to the pope "within days" of being accused of having an affair with a parishioner in July. Zimbabwe's state media has closely covered the case.
In the statement released by his office, Ncube said he believed there was "a state-driven vicious attack not only on myself but by proxy on the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe."
The Vatican, in the first public confirmation of Ncube's resignation, said Pope Benedict XVI accepted the offer under the article of church law that says a bishop should retire if he is ill or if "some other grave reason" had made him unsuitable for office. Neither statement addressed the affair accusations.
Still a bishop
Church officials in Bulawayo said Ncube, 60, planned to remain an ordained bishop and lead a new charity group known as the Zimbabwe Humanitarian Support Trust.
Ncube's troubles come at a time when Mugabe's political opposition has been weakened by internal rivalries. It is unclear whether Ncube will emerge from the scandal an effective activist.
In his statement, Ncube said he would use his experience working among the people to lobby for aid "in particular for food and medical supplies at this time of national crisis."
In resigning, Ncube "acted honorably," said David Coltart, an opposition lawmaker and close friend. "I think he was concerned about the damage this was doing to the church and he has decided to direct his attention toward humanitarian issues."
Coltart said other Catholic leaders were members of the trust Ncube founded Tuesday to draw international attention to the plight of Zimbabweans suffering from extreme poverty, malnutrition and the high prevalence of AIDS and related illness that go largely untreated in the crumbling economy.
There has been little public outrage so far at Ncube's alleged affair in a society where it is not unknown for priests to father children and where men frequently have mistresses or more than one partner. Mugabe, a Catholic, fathered children with a married woman while his first wife was dying and then went on to marry his longtime lover.
But in his statement, Ncube said many would be disappointed by his resignation.
Photos were shown
In July, the state media in Zimbabwe published and broadcast images purporting to show Ncube undressing and naked in his bedroom with a woman. The woman's estranged husband lodged the July civil suit alleging adultery and claiming damages from the archbishop.
The photographs and video were said to have been taken with a hidden camera by a private investigator, a former police detective Ncube's supporters alleged was hired by the government.
In August, Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops Conference accused the government of making "crude attempts" to divert attention from the nation's political and economic crisis by publicizing the affair allegations. A Catholic pastoral letter the conference circulated at Easter had called for an end to state oppression in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is suffering acute shortages of food and basic goods in the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. The decline has been linked to the government-ordered, often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms that disrupted the farm-based economy starting in 2000.
Ncube has repeatedly blamed Mugabe for economic policies that have led to shortages and starvation among children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups across the nation.
Ncube also demanded disclosure by Mugabe on the massacre of thousands of civilians in the western Matabeland province by troops who crushed an armed rebellion there that ended in 1987.