Durban Bishop ‘pushed’ to retire amid bitter church spat
Dino Gabriel, the Bishop of Natal, said he endured relentless abuse, threats, character assassination and racist remarks which were fired at him by some fellow church leaders.
The dissenting group blamed him for the poor financial state of the diocese; were largely opposed to his leadership style and at odds with him being a former Catholic priest.
Some accused him of managing people like the heads of the Catholic church - “once the Pope has spoken, the case is closed”.
Instead of lashing out at a small faction of leaders, who allegedly plotted against him, Gabriel said he decided to turn the other cheek and resign.
He was appointed to the position in 2015 and his retirement would become effective on December 31.
Gabriel, who was due for a mandatory retirement in September next year, would be on sabbatical from Tuesday until the end of the year. The “last straw” was the “hostility” directed at him by a group of clergymen who suggested that he retire at a meeting he chaired last week, Gabriel said. The meeting was a “financial indaba for clergymen”, where they discussed ways to resurrect their organisation’s dire financial state.
But when Gabriel suggested that some of them take early retirement, he was told, “why don’t you go now”.
“It was very hurtful and disrespectful. After that meeting, I decided it was enough,” said Gabriel.
He said a synod (a meeting of the highest governing body in KZN) which happens every three years was planned for November, but he decided to bow out before that gathering.
“I was not prepared to face more abuse from a few clergy at the synod.”
He said the poor financial standing of the diocese, which had much to do with the economic climate of the country, had little to do with his resignation.
Gabriel explained that decisions on the diocese’s finances were taken by a group of leaders and he shouldn’t be held solely held responsible for its present state.
Having done ministerial duty for 39 years, Gabriel said his four years as head of the Natal Diocese was largely a happy time and his main objective was to advance the work of his organisation.
But he said he perceived early on that there was a faction opposed to his appointment and their attacks became more obvious this year. Attacks also came in the form of “humiliating articles” that circulated in print and social media.
In a recent report in the Ilanga newspaper, Father Thami Shange blamed Gabriel for the allegations of misconduct that he faced previously, and threatened to expose skeletons in the Bishop’s closet.
In response, Gabriel said the report was an “unjustified attack”.
“I could have responded and even taken people to court, but you don’t respond like that. I decided to take it on the chin.”
Gabriel said there were other personal attacks he didn’t report to anyone. “I preferred to be strong and keep it to myself. For the first time, I showed my wife a threat made in a letter sent to me in February.
“Even the Archbishop of Cape Town (Thabo Makgoba) was shocked when I informed him about my retirement because he said there were no signs of such things.
“He was supportive and understanding when I explained my radical decision.”
Gabriel wished he didn’t have to leave the organisation in such a way.
“I had to protect my own emotional and spiritual sanity as well as the wellness of my family. I don’t think there is any winner here. Some might say they got the Bishop out. They are most welcome to sing a hymn of celebration,” said Gabriel.
Shange said he would have preferred that Gabriel stayed the full term and disagreed that his allegations were not the reason the bishop retired.
“My discontent with him had to do with his management style. I wrote several letters to get him to understand us.
“If he could only listen to others maybe things could have been different. People coming from the Roman Catholic church have the attitude of, the Pope has spoken, and don’t have a democratic way of handling things.”
Shange said he and Gabriel had reconciled and sorted out their differences. “I have no grudges against him, I got off my chest whatever I needed to say to him.”
Shange said he was not present at last week’s meeting but heard that things got heated when the possible retrenchment of 27 clergymen, due to the financial state of the diocese, was discussed.
In a letter to the Diocese of Natal, Makgoba confirmed that Gabriel indicated his decision to retire was “irrevocable” and it was accepted.
Makgoba said Gabriel’s decision was precipitated by the consequences of the diocesan finances and it had nothing to do with financial wrongdoing, but was a result of the bishop’s “ambitious growth projectory which could not be sustained”.
“I am heartbroken over this development and its implications for the diocese.
“The synod of bishops will ensure that pastoral and personal care will be provided for Bishop Gabriel and his family,” Makgoba promised.