By Mark Michael

Protesters in Malawi’s Diocese of the Upper Shire are calling for the removal of their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Brighton Vitta Malasa, alleging that he committed adultery with the wife of a diocesan priest and has fathered children out of wedlock. John Awadi, a diocesan lay leader and the spokesman for the protestors, held a press conference at St. George’s Church in Zomba on November 11 to level a series of accusations against Malasa, who has led the diocese for 11 years.

According to the Nyasa Times protestors allege that Malasa has been involved in a sexual relationship with Alice Matewere, the wife of the Rev. Clement Matewere. The group claims to have a copy of a letter that Matewere wrote to Bishop Malasa demanding that he return a chasuble the bishop had taken from Matawere’s house while meeting with his wife. “The evidence we have in possession through the letter by our fellow priest indicates that Malasa is an adulterous man,” said the Rev. Dyson Chambo, a diocesan priest who joined Awadi at the press conference.

The protesters also allege that their bishop had a sexual relationship with the former diocesan secretary and that he mismanaged diocesan funds. They criticize the delay in completion of an audit of the diocese’s accounts, which has been promised since March 2019. They claim that almost all the diocese’s 41 parishes support their call for the bishop’s resignation.

Malasa’s leadership has been strongly criticized by a faction within the diocese since his ministry began in 2009, when, aged only 30, he was chosen as the Anglican Communion’s youngest bishop. In December 2018, representatives of 37 of the diocese’s 41 parishes met at St. George’s Church in Zomba to issue a vote of no confidence in the bishop’s leadership. The Nyasa Times reported on a series of accusations raised then, which included adultery and financial mismanagement. Those gathered at the 2018 meeting petitioned Archbishop Albert Chama, the primate of the Province of Central Africa, of which the Diocese of the Upper Shire is part, asking that he remove Malasa from office.

Chama responded the protestors in a pastoral letter of March 10, 2019, clarifying that the church’s canons do not allow a bishop to be removed by a vote of no-confidence. He promised an audit of the Diocese of the Upper Shire’s accounts and urged that the dispute be settled by the diocesan standing committee.

The Diocese of Upper Shire issued a press release on May 15, 2019, which criticized Malasa’s opponents for holding unauthorized meetings and St. George’s Church for withholding its assessment payments. The press release urged clergy and lay leaders to “refrain from acting on the basis of innuendo, baseless allegations and generally actions clearly calculated to bring the Church and others into disrepute.”

In September 2019, Bishop Malasa issued a decree of “greater excommunication” against 17 priests and 11 lay leaders of the diocese who had participated in the meeting in Zomba in 2018. He rescinded the decree three days later on Chama’s advice.

“We still believe that as a Church of God there must be room for dialogue and resolve the issues at hand as opposed to using some mob justice and unrest which only causes an embarrassment to the Church of God,” Malasa wrote in his letter rescinding the excommunication.

“For how long are we going to continue fighting? We therefore request that all stakeholders should desist from wounding the Church of God more than healing her. We further, as before, extend an olive branch to all.”

In May 2020, Malasa was forced by provincial officials to take a leave of office to allow the promised financial audit to begin. Malasa was on leave until the auditors completed their work

Awadi said at the recent press conference that the protestors that they have contacted Archbishop Albert Chama about the new allegations against Bishop Malasa, but he has not responded. They promised to continue their efforts until Malasa steps down or is removed from office.