Roman Catholic bishops in Zimbabwe have claimed the country is embroiled in an economic and political crisis marked by human rights abuses.
They were in turn criticised by the government as "evil" and trying to promote genocide.
In a pastoral letter read out at all Catholic churches on Sunday, the bishops said Zimbabwe is in "a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses".
Scores of government critics and citizens have been arrested in recent weeks, others allegedly abducted and tortured and many are in hiding following an anti-government protest thwarted by security agents in July.
"Fear runs down the spines of many of our people today," the bishops' statement said.
"The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented ... our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country - that is an abuse."
President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government quickly responded, with Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa accusing the bishops of being "evil".
"With nefarious cynicism to history, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregation into the darkest dungeons of Rwanda-type genocide," Ms Mutsvangwa said in the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper.
The "errant" and "reckless" archbishop "and his flock of misled Catholic bishops" are promoting a civil war, she said, calling Mr Ndlovu "the chief priest of the agenda of regime change that is the hallmark of the post-imperial major Western powers for the last two decades".
Critics accuse Mr Mnangagwa of being more repressive than his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, despite promising democracy when he took power in 2017 following a military coup.