The Church of Pakistan (CoP) is in crisis after the Diocese of Lahore elected its bishop allegedly in violation of the CoP constitution and relevant rules, putting at risk the over 50 years old church union, sources said.
According to sources, the controversial election conducted by the diocesan council and consecration of Reverend Nadeem Kamran as the 10th Bishop of Lahore by three retired bishops on Jan 18, was unprecedented in the history of the CoP.
The church union was consummated on Nov 1, 1970, with the merger of the Anglican Communion of Pakistan, the Methodist Church in Pakistan, the United Church of Pakistan, and the Pakistani Lutheran Church. The CoP currently comprises eight dioceses, including the Diocese of Lahore, the Diocese of Raiwand, the Diocese of Peshawar, the Diocese of Karachi & Balochistan, the Diocese of Hyderabad, the Diocese of Multan, the Diocese of Sialkot, and the Diocese of Faisalabad.
According to the CoP Constitution, the Synod headed by the moderator is the supreme supervisory and legislative body of the union and it makes the arrangements for the election and allocation of bishops.
In late 2022, at the time of the election of the Bishop of Lahore, it was revealed that the Diocese of Lahore led by then Bishop Alexander John Malik had deviated from the Church of Pakistan’s constitution by amending its original constitution of 1982 in 1996.
The 1982 constitution of the Diocese of Lahore states its name as the “Diocesan Council of Lahore of the Church of Pakistan”, similar to how the other seven dioceses name themselves. It also stated that the diocesan bishop shall be elected by the “electoral body” appointed under Section 7 of Chapter IX of the CoP Constitution.
However, in 1996, Bishop Malik and the diocesan council drastically amended the constitution changing its name to “The Church of Pakistan Lahore Diocesan Church Council”. The amended constitution, registered in 2017, also declared the Diocese of Lahore as an “autonomous church free from any control, legal or legislative or administrative of any church or council or Synod or society external to itself”.
Meanwhile, Article 3 of the amended constitution relating to the election of bishop states that the “Executive Committee of the Church of Pakistan Lahore Diocesan Council shall determine rules and procedures as to the election, consecration and enthronement of Bishop from time to time”.
Although the Lahore Diocesan Council led by Bishop Malik declared itself autonomous in electing its own bishop in the amended constitution, Malik revised the CoP rules for the election of bishops in 2007, when he was the moderator of the Synod. The revised election rules state that the Synod Executive Committee of the CoP shall form the electoral body and the moderator shall preside its meeting.
Election for all bishops thereafter – Peshawar’s Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters and Lahore’s Irfan Jameel in 2010, Multan’s Leo Roderick Paul and Hyderabad’s Kaleem John in 2011, Sialkot’s Alvin Samuel in 2015, Raiwind’s Azad Marshall in 2017, Karachi’s Frederick John in 2021, and Faisalabad’s Aleem Anwar in 2022 – were conducted by the Synod of the CoP, presided by the then moderators according to the revised rules.
Interestingly, the Diocese of Lahore actively participated in all these elections contrary to its own amended constitution.
Kross Konnection made repeated attempts to obtain Bishop Malik’s point of view on the election and amendments to the constitution but he did not respond to phone calls or messages sent via WhatsApp and text.
VOLTE FACE ON COMMITMENT
On Oct 27, 2022, two days before the CoP Synod had announced the holding of the election for the Bishop of Lahore upon the retirement of Rev Irfan Jameel on Aug 2, 2022, a meeting of the Bishops Council of the CoP chaired by the incumbent moderator, Bishop of Raiwind Azad Marshall, decided to postpone the election until the Diocese of Lahore addressed the concerns raised by the other bishops regarding the sections and clauses that were in conflict with the CoP constitution.
Sources said that during the meeting, three representatives of the Lahore Diocese, including Anthony Lamuel (who was also the secretary of the CoP Synod), Treasurer Wilson Massey, and Reverend Irshad John conceded that the bishops’ concerns were legitimate and committed to rectifying the anomalies in their constitution.
“The council gave the Lahore Diocese 90 days to rectify the constitution so that the election for the bishop could be held as soon as possible, however, the three representatives sought 180 days to complete the process which was granted.
“However, a month later the Lahore Diocesan Council rejected the commitment its representatives had made to rectify the constitution and demanded the Synod moderator conduct the bishop’s election within 20 days,” a church official confided to Kross Konnection on condition of anonymity.
Another source said the confrontation escalated in December when the Executive Committee of the CoP Synod removed its secretary, Anthony Lamuel, for allegedly canvassing in favour of now bishop, Nadeem Kamran – before the election was postponed.
‘ELECTION IS LEGAL’
Lamuel told Kross Konnection that he was suspended from the Synod on Dec 15, 2022, because of his opposition to the manner in which the incumbent moderator, Bishop Azad Marshall was conducting the affairs of the Church of Pakistan.
“It’s true that we had committed to rectifying the constitution but our executive committee opposed this decision and decided to hold the election under its own constitution since the Synod was unnecessarily blocking it. The election of Bishop Nadeem is legal and constitutional in all aspects,” he said.
Lamuel added that a civil court in Lahore had granted him a stay order against his suspension as the Synod secretary on Jan 17, 2023, and the Synod and moderator could not hold their special meeting scheduled for Jan 21, without his consent.
The letter also noted that Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters will retire on Jan 25, 2023, after attaining the age of 70.
The newly-elected Bishop of Lahore, Nadeem Kamran echoed Lamuel’s stance, saying his election was in accordance with the Lahore diocese constitution.
“The diocesan council took this step due to the situation prevailing in the CoP. We do not intend to harm the unity of the church and look forward to working closely with the other dioceses for the betterment of the community,” he said.
Bishop Nadeem defended his consecration by three retired bishops, saying the diocesan executive committee could determine rules and procedures regarding the election, consecration, and enthronement “from time to time”.
An official statement issued by the Lahore diocese quoted Bishop Nadeem as saying that he would carry on the mission started by Lahore Diocesan ancestors.
“The word responsibility comes from ability and eligibility. I know there may be great challenges for me. But I promise to work as the Bishop of Lahore under fear of God and to the best of my abilities with commitment, dedication and devotion,” the statement quoted him.
Several CoP sources told Kross Konnection that though Bishop Nadeem was already leading the race for the Lahore bishop’s office, the manner in which the election was conducted had caused the crisis.
“Bishop Nadeem is the best man for this position and the Lahore diocese will progress under his leadership. However, legal challenges are likely to affect the relationship of the Lahore diocese with the Synod leadership and we are hoping that better sense will prevail on both sides for the sake of church unity,” a CoP member said.
Pointing to the plethora of issues that have marred the Diocese of Karachi since Bishop Malik’s controversial consecration of Bishop Sadiq Daniel in 2022, Gerald Vincent, another CoP member, said that they feared that the Lahore diocese would also plunge into a similar situation if the election matter was taken to court.
“It’s high time these retired bishops should stop meddling in church affairs. Such ham-fisted actions will ultimately destroy the church in Pakistan. Those playing politics at the cost of the church need to do some serious introspection,” he said, adding that the main beneficiaries in such litigations are the diocesan legal advisers who thrive on prolonged legal battles.
‘SYNOD WANTS TO MAINTAIN CHURCH UNITY’
CoP Moderator Bishop Marshall told Kross Konnection that Bishop Nadeem’s election was “illegal and unconstitutional”.
“The Lahore diocesan officials bypassed the Synod’s direction despite having committed to fix their constitution. The bishops condemn this illegal action,” he said, adding that the Synod would consider the future line of action in the next few days.
He also rejected the allegation that the Synod had blocked the election with malafide intentions.
“We are committed to maintaining the unity of the CoP and holding the election as per the constitution. As the moderator, I’ve conducted two elections — in Karachi and Faisalabad – transparently and by the book.
“The Lahore election would also have been conducted according to the constitution had the other bishops not pointed out the serious anomalies in the diocese constitution. It’s very unfortunate that the Lahore diocese broke the tradition and conducted an unconstitutional election and three retired bishops carried out this illegal consecration,” he said.
LEGAL STANDING OF THE COP
Though the Lahore diocesan officials claim that the Church of Pakistan is not a registered entity with the government and has no legal effect on diocesan matters, the Sindh High Court in Nov 2020, while hearing the Bishop Sadiq Daniel retirement case, opined in its judgement that the CoP was a “constructive trust”.
Explaining the legal standing of the CoP, Advocate Zeeshan Ijaz told Kross Konnection that the high court order endorsed the legal position of the church.
“The bishop’s election conducted by the Lahore diocese is an attempt to derail the church from its historical statement and objective resolution, which declares that the Church Union of 1970 is irrevocable and undissolvable,” said Ijaz.
“The office of bishop is both historical as well as constitutional, and by departing/derailing from the constitution, such election lacks succession and continuation and will cause critical legal consequences,” he added.
The lawyer criticised retired bishops, Alexander Malik and Samuel Azariah, for creating another crisis for the church by repeating their act of 2002, when they installed Sadiq Daniel as Bishop of Karachi.
“Though the 2002 election of Karachi diocese was annulled by a civil court on June 30, 2010, the diocese continues to suffer due to the ill-intentioned action of these two bishops,” he said.
Kross Konnection contacted retired Bishop Azariah for his point of view but he did not take the call.