Catholic World News

Welcome bishop or incur suspension, Pope tells priests of Nigerian diocese

June 12, 2017

Pope Francis has issued an ultimatum to the priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria, demanding that they write a letter accepting their bishop or face suspension.

Founded in 1987 and located in the Mbaise region of Imo State in southern Nigeria, the diocese was governed by Bishop Victor Chikwe from its inception until his death in 2010.

In December 2012, Pope Benedict appointed Father Peter Okpaleke, a priest of the Diocese of Awka in neighboring Anambra State, as the diocese’s new bishop. 400 priests, angered that a Mbaise priest was not appointed, protested the decision.

Bishop Okpaleke was ordained at a seminary in a neighboring diocese in May 2013 amid heavy security. At the time of the ordination, youth locked the cathedral of Ahiara in protest, and some protesters placed a coffin with the new bishop’s name at diocesan headquarters.

In July 2013, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, as the apostolic administrator.

Addressing a delegation from the diocese on June 8 (the Holy See Press Office released the text two days later), the Pope said, “Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church.”

“I know very well the events that have been dragging on for years, and I am thankful for the attitude of great patience of the bishop, indeed the holy patience demonstrated by him,” the Pope continued. “I listened and reflected much, even about the possibility of suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the Church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children.”

The Pope demanded:

I ask that every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally. We all must share this common sorrow.

In the letter, (1) one must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope, and (2) whoever writes must be willing to accept the bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed. (3) 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.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jun. 12, 2017 6:18 PM ET USA

    If only Pope Francis would write a similar letter to his brother Jesuits.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 12, 2017 7:36 AM ET USA

    This may sound at first a very "rigid" decision by Pope Francis, but considering all the very unusual details of this story and having read the Pope's entire letter to the priests, I see this difficult decision being justified. We need to pray and sacrifice for our Pope and for all Catholic clergy. The devil works against the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in many different ways, including deception and temptation to pride and disobedience.