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Lay faithful reject Pope’s demand to acknowledge bishop in Nigerian diocese

July 03, 2017

Lay Catholics in the troubled Ahiara diocese in Nigeria have said they will not accept the leadership of Bishop Peter Okpaleke, even if the priests of the diocese adhere to a papal demand for obedience.

Early in June, Pope Francis issued a stern directive to priests of the Ahiara diocese, warning that if they did not accept the leadership of Bishop Okpaleke within 30 days, they would be suspended from ministry. Bishop Okplaleke, a priest of a neighboring diocese, was appointed by the Pontiff in December 2012. The Catholics of Ahiara, angered that the bishop was not a native of their own diocese and that he was a member of another tribal group, had refused to accept the appointment.

Although the priests of Ahiara are apparently prepared to accept the Pope’s demand for obedience, lay Catholics have vowed to continue their resistance. A massive protest against Bishop Okpaleke was held at the diocesan cathedral on July 2.

Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo, the state in which the diocese is located, visited the cathedral on July 2 and made an appeal for an end to the stalemate. The governor urged Catholics to accept the Pope’s appointment.

 
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  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Jul. 04, 2017 4:33 PM ET USA

    I remember years ago Bishop Gassis of Sudan saying that tribalism is the curse of Africa. How prophetic he was in light of the civil war today in South Sudan. If the "Catholic" tribalists of the Ahiara diocese will not submit to the authority of Pope Francis, then they are not Catholics; they are Protestants. Pope Francis needs to instruct them that their tribalist mentality is not compatible with their Catholic faith.

  • Posted by: Faustina01 - Jul. 03, 2017 10:17 PM ET USA

    In light of how Boko Haram is devastating the Catholic community there, and the local politicians are more concerned with campaigning than in helping the Catholics, it would be a good idea for at least the Catholics to be in solidarity with one another.....

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 03, 2017 12:06 PM ET USA

    Here is one problem: lay Catholics cannot be suspended. The next step would be excommunicating them for not willing to accept a particular individual as their Bishop, or suppressing of the whole diocese. No one wins in this situation. In 1990, bishop Wolfgang Haas was appointed by St. John Paul II as Ordinary of the Swiss diocese of Chur, where he met strong lay opposition for being "too conservative" for their taste. He was moved then to lead the Archdiocese of Vaduz, capital of Liechtenstein.