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Home : News : Pope Francis/Vatican
6/12/2017 9:04:00 AM
Pope tells Nigerian priests accept bishop or be suspended
Vatican Radio
Pope Francis blesses a delegation from the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria. He has asked priests to accept their bishop, who has been rejected because he was not a local priest. 
Vatican Radio
Pope Francis blesses a delegation from the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria. He has asked priests to accept their bishop, who has been rejected because he was not a local priest. 
Catholic News Service


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is giving priests belonging to the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria, 30 days to write a letter promising obedience to him and accepting the bishop appointed for their diocese or they will be suspended.

The papal text in English was posted June 9 on the blog of Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference. Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja told Catholic News Service the same day that the text was what Pope Francis said. The Vatican press office released the text June 10.

Nigerian church leaders had met Pope Francis June 8 to discuss the situation of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who was appointed bishop of Ahiara by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, but who has been unable to take control of the diocese because of protests, apparently by the majority of priests.

Initially the Vatican issued only a short communique on the meeting with the pope, describing the situation in the diocese as "unacceptable" and saying the pope "reserved the right to take appropriate measures."

The protests were motivated by the fact that Bishop Okpaleke is not a local priest.

In the full text posted later, Pope Francis told the Nigerian leaders, "I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord." The 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," the pope said.

Pope 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."

Instead, he said, every priest of the diocese, whether residing in Nigeria or abroad, is to write a letter to him asking for forgiveness because "we all must share this common sorrow."

Each priest's letter, he said, "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 9th, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended 'a divinis' and will lose his current office," the pope said, according to the posts.

"This seems very hard, but why must the pope do this?" Pope Francis asked. "Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences."

Bishop Okpaleke, the contested bishop, also met the pope and was joined in Rome by other Nigerian bishops and a handful of priests making an unusual kind of visit "ad limina apostolorum" (to the threshold of the apostles) in early June.

While "ad limina" visits usually are done in national groups, the Vatican communique described the Ahiara diocesan visit using the same term. It noted that the nine-person 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 June 8 with Pope Francis. The Vatican did not say if the pope gave a homily.

Later in the day, the pope held a private audience with the group. Members also had met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and with Cardinal Fernando Filoni and other top officials from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to examine what the Vatican called the "painful situation of the church in Ahiara."

When Bishop Okpaleke was appointed to the diocese, the announcement was met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy.

Nevertheless, he was ordained a bishop in May 2013, although the ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese, but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo state in southern Nigeria. Bishop Okpaleke is from Anambra state, which borders Imo to the north.

A petition to Pope Benedict launched by the "Coalition of Igbo Catholics" said, "That no priest of Mbaise origin is a bishop today ... is mind boggling. Mbaise has embraced, enhanced the growth of and sacrificed for the Catholic Church, has more priests per capita than any other diocese in Nigeria and certainly more than enough pool of priests qualified to become the next bishop of the episcopal see of Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise."

According to the Vatican, the diocese has close to 423,000 Catholics and 110 diocesan priests.

Trying to calm the situation, in July 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Onaiyekan to serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese, and the following December he sent Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to Ahiara to listen to the concerns of the diocesan priests and local laity.

Cardinal Onaiyekan joined Bishop Okpaleke on the "ad limina" visit to Rome, as did Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri and Archbishop Kaigama. Three priests, a religious sister and a traditional elder also made the trip.





Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017
Article comment by: Robert Unegbu

CARDINAL LEHMANN’S SECRET SCROLL
A high ranking personality of the church, reflecting the above truth in 2013, asked the Nigerian bishops a fundamental question “But how did the name of Peter Okpaleke ever enter the secret list of bishopric enquiry of Ahiara diocese?”. The question remains unanswered except by the hackers of the list. The answer was left arguably in the realm of incontrovertible high probability of arbitrary manipulation and force until the recent revelation of the certainty of stealing was made by Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Germany in 2016. Lehmann is a Cardinal of Mainz in Germany and once a participator in the Papal conclave, the selection of Popes and an insider in the Vatican happenings before his retirement. He revealed and asserted that, “names of candidates submitted to the Vatican as potential bishops are being vetoed by “unauthorized people”. He adds more elaborately that, “in recent years, the official list of names has been crossed out and a new list sent from Rome”… “This represents a burdensome, intolerable disrespect for the church in a given country”. The Cardinal’s revelation of manipulation of list vindicated the people of Ahiara diocese that a strange priest was arbitrarily and fraudulently grafted into Ahiara list by, according to Cardinal Lehmann, those who have “knowledge of how things work in Rome”. Therefore Ahiara Mbaise did not arbitrarily and only speculatively award the certificate of the treachery and infraction to the proficiency and influence of Okpaleke’s brother Cardinal and his intimate friends who all have “knowledge of how things work in Rome”. Through this privilege, they have also made multiple bishops for their own kinsmen, province and diocese where almost every town have indigenous bishop and like Oliver Twist, still want more and want to be everywhere.
The verdict from the Pope to the Priests of Ahiara Diocese is very saddened to the Laity. The demand for justice, fairness and equity are right before God and man, and the case of Ahiara Diocese is not an exception. Correspondent Inés San Martin, observed that the same problem happened with Makeni Diocese in Sierra Leone, there's was settled quickly and justly, while the arms of justice are almost being thwarted in Ahiara case. And emphasizing that the case is not but the insistence of son of the soil syndrome, but selecting a Priest from Ahiara Diocesan Presbyterium, a Pastor close to the People.
And here is a quick look at the list of Bishops from Awka Diocese
Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor - Awka Diocese
Most Rev. Solomon Amatu - Okigwe Diocese
Most Rev Jonas Benson Okoye - From Auxiliary of Awka to become the Bishop of Ekwulubia Diocese
Most Rev. Dr. Peter Okpaleke -Tulitar Bishop Diocese.
In the entire Onitsha Catholic province and Awka Diocese, to be precise, it must be noted that priests who are non- indigene of this province or incardinated, are not allowed to hold episcopal position nor become a parish priest. Instead, they have used their connection at the Vatican to manipulate and secure Bishop positions for their priests for other Diocese in Nigeria, thereby depriving the indigenous priest of those places of such positions.
The Pope should address the Ahiara Diocese Laity on why they should accept Bishop Okpalaeke, who they view as a symbol of injustice and punishment, whose interest in the Bishopric overrides the rule that says: the Salvation of Souls is The Highest Law. The Laity have been denied the sacrament of confirmation and ordination for five years. The Laity are now being threatened with military and police, arrest, harassment, intimidation, and possible imprisonment if they refuse to accept Bishop Okpaleke. Such anomalies make people decide against having a Bishop like him who is engaged in bribery and corruption, and the use of deadly force to take possession of the Diocese. And such may amount to a possible loss of life as the Laity are ready to shed their blood in the defense of their diocese, faith, and humanity. It is important to note that 99.5 % of the priest and Laity are against Okpaleke, and the Catholic Hierarchy in Nigeria have been misleading the Vatican with false information about the true situation, all in the attempt to deceive the Pope. The Pope should investigate the manipulation of the process which leads to the selection Okpaleke, by requesting for the original list of suitable candidates that was compiled and send to the Vatican by Late Bishop of Ahiara Diocese Most Rev Victor Chikwe. The Pope should extend an invitation to the Priests and Laity who are against the Okpaleke, to listen to their grievance for possible resolution of the crisis.

Robert Unegbu




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