Ahiara crisis: Pope Francis insists on choice, replies protesting priests, laity


Pope Francis has started replying Catholic priests in Ahiara Diocese, Imo state, whom he had earlier directed to write to him over the lingering church crisis in the area.

John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, confirmed this while speaking to Crux, a Catholic online platform.

Ahiara Diocese had been engulfed in crisis following their refusal to accept Peter Okpaleke, appointed the local bishop in 2012 by the then pontiff, Benedict XVI.

While some of them accepted him, a good number of the clergy and laity members in the diocese rejected him, insisting that an indigene of the place be made the bishop.

On June 8, Francis threatened to fire priests in the diocese if they fail to write him promising “total obedience”.

Onaiyekan, who is the apostolic administrator Ahiara diocese, however, said he did not know the content of the reply letters as they “are not passing through me”.

“The pope promised he would write back, and he’s doing so,” the cardinal was quoted to have said.

Onaiyekan also expressed optimism that by the time “the process” is over, Okpaleke would be accepted by the priests in the diocese.

The letters from the Vatican, said to be addressed to each priest by name, are arriving Nigeria through the Vatican embassy in the country.

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Antonio Guido Filipazzi, the new papal representative in Nigeria, arived the country “a few days ago”.

During his meeting with the Ahiara delegation, the Pope had said “whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the church. This is forbidden.”

A priest from the diocese was quoted by Crux as saying that all the priests in Ahiara have complied with the pope’s instruction.

“On the directive of the pope that we should write him individually and personally to express our obedience and loyalty to him and ask for forgiveness for the contribution in the sorrows he has suffered because of the crisis in Ahiara diocese, all the priests in the diocese have complied,” he was quoted to have said.

“He is our father, our loyalty to him cannot be compromised in any way. But we hope he reviews his position and appoints a different bishop.”