Catholic Bishop of Ahiara saga: Apologize or face the music – Pope warns Nigerian priests - Full Gist News

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Monday, 12 June 2017

Catholic Bishop of Ahiara saga: Apologize or face the music – Pope warns Nigerian priests




Pope Francis has demanded apology from defiant Nigerian priests for refusing to recognize Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke as Bishop of Ahiara, years after his appointment.

Bishop Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 but has been unable to take control of the diocese because of protests by the majority of priests.

Catholic Bishop of Ahiara saga: Apologize or face the music – Pope warns Nigerian priests

Okpaleke was later ordained a bishop in May 2013. The ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

But the priest​s​ argue and still contend that Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo State and that Bishop Okpaleke was brought from neighbouring Anambra State.

Pope Francis has, however, given them 30 days, which expires July 9, to write a letter to apologize
for their oppositon, promise obedience to authority and accept the bishop appointed for their diocese.

At the weekend, Okpaleke and some top Nigerian Church leaders met Pope Francis to discuss the situation.

​They are Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan (former CAN President), Anthony Obinna of Owerri and Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos (President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference). Three priests, a religious Sister and a traditional elder also made the trip to Rome.

The nine-man delegation prayed at the tombs of St Peter and St Paul and in the Basilica of St Mary Major. They also participated in a private celebration of the Mass with Pope Francis.

The Nigerian delegation later met Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Fernando Filoni and other top officials from the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to examine what the Vatican called the “painful situation of the Church in Ahiara”.

The Vatican issued a terse communiqué on the meeting, describing the situation in the diocese as “unacceptable.”

“The Holy Father, after a careful evaluation, spoke of the unacceptable situation in Ahiara and reserved the right to take appropriate measures,” the Vatican said.

Pope was quoted as saying, “I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.”

Fides, news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, reports that Pope also referred to “the parable of the murderous tenants” in Matthew 21:33-44.

“Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church. This is forbidden,” ​he ​warned.

Francis said he even had considered “suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the Church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children.”

He insisted that every priest of the diocese, whether residing in Nigeria or abroad, must write a letter addressed to him asking for forgiveness because “we all must share this common sorrow”.

“Each letter must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope” and indicate a willingness “to accept the bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed”.

“The letter must be sent within 30 days, from today to July 9, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended ‘a divinis’ and will lose his current office.

“This seems very hard, but why must the Pope do this?” Pope Francis asked.

“Because the people of God are scandalised. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences.”



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