Over 3,000 faithful of the Catholic Church Diocese of Ahiara converged at the weekend at the mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Mbaise in Imo State to demand the removal of Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke as Bishop of the Diocese by Pope Francis, a call the Pope has rejected several times.
National Daily had reported earlier that the Vatican met with delegation from the Diocese on June 8, impressing it on their minds the need to accept the Pope’s choice.
At the Vatican meeting, the Pope had called for a truce and directed all the priests and major actors in the crisis to tender letters of obedience to the Church which he said does not owned by the community.
Pope Francis laid down an ultimatum to defiant the Nigerian priests in Ahiara Diocese in Imo state: lose your job if you don’t obey me and your bishop, the Associated Press has reported.
Pope Francis said he was acting “for the good of the people of God” by threatening to suspend the priests from the ministry if they didn’t pledge in a letter, by July 9, “total obedience” to Francis and accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment.
Those priests opposing Okpaleke’s taking up of his office “want to destroy the church, which is not permitted,” Francis said in his address to the delegation.
Francis told the visiting delegation he was “very sad” about the priests’ refusal to obey and ruled out tribal loyalties as explaining the refusal.
But barely weeks after the meeting, supported by the laity, priests and community leaders, restated their total rejection of the embattled Bishop, an Anambra indegene who the Pope said could not be rejected.
Addressing the congregation inside the cathedral, the President of the Diocesan Laity Council, Mr. Gerald Anyanwu, maintained that the people of Mbaise were not against the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis I, but that they were against the irregularities and injustices allegedly perfected against the people of the diocese in the selection of the bishop.
“There was no time we insisted that the bishop of the diocese must be an Mbaise son, but the prelate must be a priest incardinated in the diocese. We shall accept any bishop whether a Hausa man or a Yoruba man as far as he is incardinated in Ahiara Diocese.”
Olpaleke was appointed as Bishop and consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, but both the Laity Council and the priests in the diocese rejected his appointed on the grounds that he is not an indigene of the area, Mbaise.