It’s a truly difficult dilemma for Pope Francis. And, true to form, he’s taken a tough decision by offering an ultimatum: accept or resign!
The standoff in the Nigerian diocese of Ahiara has now become world news. The refusal by local clergy to accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke, appointed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.
A meeting at the Vatican on June 8 by a high level delegation of Nigerian prelates has caught the eye of the international media. The seriousness of the impasse can be grasped by scanning the delegates who met with Pope Francis in a private audience. According to Agenzia Fides (8 June 2017) the delegation comprised:
Delegates from the Diocese of Ahiara accompanied by: the Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara; His Emminence Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri; His Exc. Mgr. Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria; His Exc. Mgr. Ignatius Kaigama; and the man caught in the maelstrom, the Bishop of Ahiara, His Exc. Mgr. Peter Okpaleke.
In the days previous, the delegation met with senior Vatican officials, including the Secretary of State and the Prefect and the Superiors of the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples.
On June 12, Newsweek International, carried the story in detail. It reported: “The standoff is related to the fact that Okpaleke does not hail from the local Mbaise ethnic group and priest of the diocese view him as an outsider. The clergy protested his appointment in 2012, with some demonstrators locking the doors of the cathedral to stop the new bishop from entering…”
“… Francis demanded that every priest of the Ahiara diocese must individually write him a letter by July 9, in which each one must “clearly manifest total obedience to the pope… be willing to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed.
“Any priest who fails to write such a letter will be suspended from carrying out his duties – including the celebration of mass and other sacraments, such as baptism – and will “lose his current office,” according to the pope’s address.”
Newsweek also reports that Pope Francis dismissed “tribalism” as a reason for the conflict and said that the rebellion was “an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.”
You can read the full Newsweek International article by clicking here.
The Agenzia Fides article may be accessed by clicking here.