By Mel Frykberg | IOL |
Pope Francis has given clergy in the Nigerian Diocese of Ahiara 30 days to write a letter promising obedience to him and accepting the bishop he appointed for their diocese.
Vanguard news reported on Sunday that a day earlier, Nigerian Church leaders met Pope Francis 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.
The Vatican issued only a short communiqué on the meeting with the Pope, describing the situation in the diocese as “unacceptable”. The protests were allegedly motivated by the fact that Okpaleke was not a local priest.
“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.
“I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord,” said the Pope. 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.
The pope had also 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, must 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, to July 9, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended ‘a divinis’ and will lose his current office,” the pope said.
Following Bishop Okpaleke’s appointment to the diocese, protests broke out with petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop form among the local clergy.
Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo State in southern Nigeria. Okpaleke is from Anambra State, which borders Imo to the north. Mbaise has more priests per capita than any other diocese in Nigeria .