According to Catholic News Service, the national director of Zimbabwe’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said he fears that priests could be victimized after a recent commission statement urging political leaders to intervene to stop politically motivated skirmishes in the capital, Harare.

Bishops and priests were targeted after the country’s bishops spoke out against political intolerance early this year “and the same could easily happen now,” Alouis Chaumba said in a July 5 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Harare.

A surge in violence in Harare’s Mbare township has forced some men to visit their families secretly at night to “avoid being caught by politically dogmatic groups” opposed to democratic rights, the commission said in a July 3 statement. “In extreme cases, some Mbare families have lost their houses to people who belong to other political parties,” it said. Most perpetrators of the violence are “shipped” into Mbare, traditionally a stronghold of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, it said.

It is “very disturbing for priests” when they are threatened, as “sometimes happens when people demand to see a priest after Mass and accuse him of preaching in a party-political way,” Chaumba said. The commission will try to document cases of intimidation after its July 3 statement, he said.

A priest at St. Peter’s Church in Mbare, Oskar Wermter SJ, said he and other priests in the area “are always aware that what we say is being noted” by President Robert Mugabe’s loyalists. “This is nothing new,” he said in a July 4 telephone interview, noting that “they have been listening in to our telephone conversations for at least 10 years.” In June, Father Wermter told Catholic News Service that incidences of violence are “increasing dangerously” in Zimbabwe. earlier talked about the ever-changing character of relationship between President Mugabe and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as published a number of reflections on the Catholic pastoral letters.