Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a statement saying the state media attacks on Archbishop Pius Ncube, head of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, are "deplorable." Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that explicit photographs claiming to be Archbishop Ncube, naked and in bed with a married woman were published in all state media over several days during July.

The Catholic Bishop's Conference said the publication of pictures claiming to be of Archbishop Ncube and a woman "violated the most fundamental personal rights of Archbishop Ncube and were utterly offensive to the public."

The conference also said the attacks on Archbishop Ncube, an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF, "constituted an assault on the whole Catholic Church," to which the bishops say, they have taken "strong exception."

The bishops went on to say that The Catholic Church has never been and is not an enemy of Zimbabwe.

The statement said: "We are serving the people of our country pastorally and in many other ways, through over 60 Mission hospitals, many orphanages and 174 primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Our record during the years of the liberation struggle speaks for itself."

The bishops said the issue of state allegations that Archbishop Ncbe committed adultery is a matter for the high court. The woman's estranged husband has sued Archbishop Ncube for his wife's loss of affection.

A former state security agent claims to have taken intimate photographs of the archbishop and a woman, separated from her husband for several years. The Catholic Church requires that its clergy remain celibate.

The bishops recalled Archbishop Ncube's "fearless" role in exposing state sponsored atrocities in southern Zimbabwe in the 1980's and during the government's destruction of hundreds of thousands of urban homes in 2005.

The bishop's statement is one of the strongest issued by the Catholic Church since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1900.

"The people of Zimbabwe are suffering," the statement continued. "Their freedom and fundamental human rights are violated daily with impunity, the shelves of the shops and supermarkets are empty, our currency has become worthless, the public health service has collapsed, the country's main roads are lined with tens of thousands of citizens waiting for public transport, corruption is rampant and young people are risking their lives daily and in growing numbers to escape the catastrophe that our country has become.'

The statement comes as the food crisis in Zimbabwe continues to deepen with major bakeries in Harare saying Tuesday they only have enough flour to make small amounts of bread for the next two days.