October 30, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopias' Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church has decided to remove the statue of the patriarch that has been a source of controversy since its inauguration earlier this year.
The action has been unprecedented in a country where the patriarch, considered as government-anointed, has been a dominant figure.
The Holy Synod passed the decision unanimously on Tuesday that the statue of Abune Paulos on the premises of Bole Medhanialem Church in Addis be removed, according to the online Reporter.
The Reporter said Aba Paulos conceded to the demands of the Holy Synod without a fight. The decisions also include the removal of billboards that carry the portraits of the patriarch. Abune Paulos said he had no idea a statue was erected in his own image.
Orthodox Christians have been considering the statue almost as an act of sacrilege, and news of the impending demolition should come as a huge relief.
In the early to mid-'90s, the patriarch lived as a reviled figure – at least at one time pelted with eggs – that he had often sought police protection. Public resentment against him deepened further when protesting university students who had run from police brutality and sought refuge in churches – considered sacrosanct places off-limit to government forces – were brutalized and hauled away to detention centers because the head of the Orthodox Church did nothing to stop the marauding troops.
In 2005 when the Meles Zenawi's ruling party went on a killing spree to quell public protests sparked by an election fraud and drew worldwide condemnations, the patriarch stood by the side of the government.
In 2007 when the country was celebrating its own version of Millennium, Aba Paulos raised eyebrows by hosting American diva Beyonce Knowles. About 30 students of Theology College in Addis landed in hospital after they went on hunger strike protesting his act.
And earlier this year when he ordered the construction of his own statue, that may have come as the last straw that broke the camel's back.
The holy synod said the church under the reign of the patriarch has been plagued by lawlessness, corruption and dictatorship.
The Synod also barred a certain Ejigayehu Beyene from entering the patriarch's residence, and fired Fantahun Muche, CEO of the Church's Addis Ababa Council. An investigation into Fantahun's activities has been launched, and he may face a lawsuit if any wrongdoing is cited, according to the Reporter.
But the news report has its doubters as well. An email sent to Ethiomedia warns that the Holy Synod has no clout over the patriarch, and the move it has decided to topple the statue is a gimmick to give the public a semblance of law and order within the troubled administration of the church.
"This is a diversionary tactic. It won't happen. Just wait; they will come up with some excuses [and reverse the decision]. The synod has little or no power at all in Ethiopia," the writer said.
The warning has a grain of truth, and only time will tell how things would unfold.