The Church of Pakistan (CoP) has terminated the memberships of three retired bishops who consecrated the Bishop of the Lahore Diocese after an alleged illegal election earlier this year caused schism in the mainline church body, sources said.
Sources said that a special meeting of the CoP Synod held on May 10-11 in Lahore unanimously approved the termination of the Synod memberships of former Bishops of Lahore, Alexander John Malik and Irfan Jameel, and former Bishop of Raiwind Diocese, Samuel Robert Azariah, for violating the constitution and rules by consecrating Reverend Nadeem Kamran as the 10th Bishop of Lahore Diocese in absence of a Synod representation and serving bishop of the CoP.
“The Synod has also suspended the priesthood of Rev Kamran for participating in the illegal and unconstitutional election,” CoP spokesperson Rev Emmanuel Khokhar told Kross Konnection.
All three retired Bishops and Rev Kamran did not respond to queries sent to them in this regard.
READ MORE: Church union teetering on the brink of collapse
Rev Khokhar said the Synod had also unanimously approved the termination of Anthony Lamuel as secretary of the Synod for propagating against the senior church leadership and engaging in frivolous litigation that has tainted the church’s name both locally and globally.
“The Synod issued a show cause to Lamuel last year to explain his irrational attitude and attempts to hinder the smooth functioning of the premier supervisory body but instead of responding to the charges, he filed a court case against the Synod’s officers.
“On May 9, a civil court in Lahore declared Lamuel’s petition ‘non-maintainable’ in view of his conflicting statements given in the court and before the Sindh High Court regarding the character of the CoP.
“In his petition in the civil court, Lamuel denied that the CoP was a ‘constructive trust’ but during the hearing of five identical petitions in the Sindh High Court in 2020, Lamuel had recorded a statement contrary to his current stance,” the spokesperson added.
Rev Khokhar said that Civil Judge Adnan Yousaf in his May 9 order also noted that though Lamuel conceded that a Synod court was the proper forum to judge the allegations against him, the latter did not appear before it despite giving his consent by email.
“It is unfortunate that Lamuel indulged in negative propaganda against the Synod, bishops, particularly the moderator, both on social media and in letters to international partners of the CoP. This behaviour not only put the CoP in bad light but also contributed to divisions in the church unity.
“Lamuel was also the driving force behind the illegal election in the Diocese of Lahore even though he had conceded in writing that the Lahore diocesan constitution was not in conformity with the CoP constitution and needed to be rectified before the election. This volte-face on his part and continued propaganda against the affairs of the Synod ultimately resulted in his suspension as the Synod secretary in Dec 2022,” he said.
READ MORE: Court takes action in Lahore bishop’s election controversy
Kross Konnection made repeated attempts to contact Anthony Lamuel for his version on the developments, but he did not respond.
Meanwhile, sources privy to the decisions taken in the Synod’s special meeting held in Lahore on May 10-11, revealed that the House, which met with majority, unanimously approved extensions in the retirement age of bishops – from 70 to 73 – and for clergy from 67 to 70.
“The Synod proceedings were very smooth, and most of the decisions were unanimously approved by the House. The Synod was scheduled to meet on January 20-21, 2023, but Lamuel had obtained a temporary court injunction against it. The meeting, in which all seven bishops and diocesan representatives participated, was held after Judge Yousaf ruled against Lamuel’s petition,” the sources said.
“The detractors are again propagating against the Synod’s decisions and are trying to instigate the community against the approval in extension of retirement age but the fact is that this decision was taken due to the crises and current situation of the Lahore Diocese in the larger interest of the church,” the sources claimed.
Shahzad Khurram, the newly-elected general secretary of Synod, did not respond to questions sent on his WhatsApp number by the time this report was made.
CHURCH UNION AT RISK
Observers say the church union in Pakistan, formed in 1970 through the merger of several Protestant denominations, is on the verge of collapse due to the dispute between the Diocese of Lahore and the Synod of the Church of Pakistan following the election of the Lahore bishop.
The CoP Synod has rejected the January election of Rev Nadeem Kamran and refused to accept him as bishop of the Lahore Diocese citing constitutional illegalities. On the other hand, the Lahore Diocese claims it is “a fully autonomous body, which is legally, legislatively, administratively or otherwise free from control of any Church, Council, Synod or any other Society external to itself”.
Synod officials say the moderator had proposed conciliatory talks to save the church union, but some elements in the Diocese of Lahore were thwarting the efforts by refusing to accept the authority of the Synod.
Observers believe the collapse of the church union would be a significant blow to the country’s Christian community, which already faces significant challenges in a predominantly Muslim country. It would also have a negative impact on the wider global Christian community, which has long seen the Church in Pakistan as an important symbol of unity and cooperation between different denominations.