The Orthodox Church accuses the Prime Minister of interfering in its affairs
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government of interfering in its affairs amid growing tensions with a group of dissident bishops.
The Church has faced an internal crisis since the establishment in January of a new synod in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest and most populous region. Church officials have accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government of interfering in its affairs amid growing tensions with a group of dissident bishops.
Leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which accounts for about 40% of the estimated 115 million Ethiopians, have declared the schism illegal. Patriarch Abune Mathias accused dissident clergy of illegally occupying places of worship, calling on the government to take action to protect “legally recognized churches and administrative buildings”. In a statement on Wednesday, he blamed the prime minister for offering a form of recognition to the now excommunicated “illegitimate group”.
Discrimination within the Church of Ethiopia
Earlier this week, in the Council of Ministers, Mr. Abiy, himself from the Oromo community, had invited the two parties to dialogue, both of whom, according to him, carry “his own truth”. “The government should not interfere in the religious and canonical affairs of the Church,” the patriarch said. The dissident bishops denounce the discrimination of the Church of Ethiopia, claiming that services in Oromia are not held in the Oromo language.
Relations between the Church of Ethiopia and the government of Abiy Ahmed had deteriorated due to the war in Tigray, which from November 2020 opposed the dissident authorities of this northern region to the federal power of the first minister. Patriarch Abune Mathias, himself from Tigray, had strongly criticized the government in May 2021, accusing it of wanting to “destroy Tigray” and deploring the damage caused to the famous Orthodox monasteries in the region, as well as the massacres perpetrated on land belonging to the Church.
A peace agreement has since been signed, in November 2022, between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). But clashes continue in Oromia, home to the longtime Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebellion, spearheading Oromo nationalism that feeds on growing local resentment towards Addis Ababa and the prime minister.
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