The Vatican on Monday announced the resignation of Bishop Joseph Banga Bane, just two days shy of the Congolese prelate’s sixty-fourth birthday.
Pope John Paul II named Joseph Banga Bishop of the Diocese of Buta in 1995 when he was just 38 years old. Just last month, Bishop Banga celebrated the silver jubilee of his episcopal consecration, a fact recalled by the Deputy Secretary General of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s episcopal conference in a statement announcing Banga’s resignation.
In his 25 years of service in Buta, Bishop Banga also held important positions in the Bishop’s Conference, serving as vice-president from 2008-2016. In 2009 he led an episcopal mission to North Kivu province, suffering from the depredations of the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army.” Later, as part of a visit of solidarity to provinces suffering from civil war, Bishop Banga called on the people of DR Congo to reject violence, and “vigorously” denounced the trivialisation of the destruction of life. In 2015, his fellow bishops chose him to represent them as a “substitute” at the Synod on the Family in Rome. That same year, he led a large delegation of Catholics from the DRC to the Bangui to assist at Mass celebrated by Pope Francis during his Apostolic Journey to the Central African Republic.
However, Bishop Banga’s administration of the diocese has not been without difficulties. In 2014, members of the parish of St Kiwanuka rebelled against the bishop’s decision to suspend their pastor, allegedly for fathering a child with a married woman. Parishioners decried the suspension as unjust and contrary to canon law.
They accused Bishop Banga of embezzling funds donated to the parish by the German Archdiocese of Cologne – charges the bishop denied. An attempt by the Metropolitan, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, to mediate the conflict ended in failure, with protestors breaking into the episcopal residence, ransacking kitchen implements and burning church documents. It was only through the intervention of civil authorities, more than a year after the dispute began, that the Bishop was reconciled with his flock.
There is no indication that the charges of embezzlement alleged by the parishioners of St Kiwanuka amounted to anything more than a typical, local dispute over how money for building projects should be allocated. However, as has become customary, in its announcement of Bishop Banga’s resignation, the Vatican gave no indication of why he had stepped down – leaving church watchers with unanswered questions as to the reason for his departure more than 11 years ahead of the normal retirement age for bishops.