Head of the Catholic Church worldwide, Pope Francis has ordered priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, Mbaise in Imo State who are opposed to the appointment of Most Rev. Ebere Peter Okpalaeke as the bishop of the diocese to individually write letters of apology to him and ask for forgiveness. The Pope gave the order in a letter dated JUNE 29, 2014 and signed on his behalf by the Papal Nuncio in Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja and addressed to the priests and the people Ahiara Catholic Diocese…
Priests and lay faithful of the diocese led by the President and Secretary, Ahiara Diocesan Priests Association, Rev. Fr. Austin B. Ekechukwu and Rev. Fr. Dominic N. Ekweariri respectively had stunned the Christendom in January last year when they staged a peaceful demonstration against the appointment of Bishop Okpalaeke as their bishop. They had said the appointment of Bishop Okalaeke contradicted natural justice and that they would resist any attempt to forcefully impose him on them as the bishop of the diocese because, according to them, it sent a very reprehensible signal about the status and reputation of the 500 CATHOLIC PRIESTS that trace their origin to the soils of Mbaise. But more than 18 months after that incident, Pope Francis said it was time to end “this grave act of disobedience. I would therefore expect an act of sincere and profound repentance presented in the form of a letter from all of you, signed individually by each of you, asking the Holy Father for forgiveness”, adding that he was waiting for such sign of affection.
The letter reads “I address especially the priests, who on the day of their sacerdotal ordination had solemnly and publicly declared their obedience to their proper Bishop, to his successors and to the HOLY FATHER. We are now confronted with the most grave act of disobedience, which is inflicting a wound on ecclesial communion!” The supreme pontiff reminded the priests to reflect on the homily he proclaimed last Holy Thursday (April 17, 2014) where he explained who a priest stands for. According to him, “the priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the GOOD SHEPHERD strengthens him in the midst of the flock. Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience”. He told the priests and the faithful of the diocese that their ideological and prejudicial opposition to the newly appointed Bishop had no credible or justifiable motive, saying that “being a son of your diocese cannot be a primary factor for evaluating the appointment of a Bishop”.
The Pope added that the church had other criteria for choosing priests which included the person’s human virtues, moral and spiritual qualities, his pastoral experience and his capacity for guiding a community of the faithful. He explained that these qualities were found in Okpalaeke before he was appointed the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, because according the letter, the candidate had shown spiritual and moral worthiness for Episcopal office as well as his suitability for the diocese. The church leader added that many bishops, priests, religious and faithful were consulted in Nigeria and Cardinals and Bishops in Rome carefully evaluated Okpalaeke, whom, in the end, he found worthy and suitable for Ahiara Diocese after approval by former POPE BENEDICT XVI. He regretted that the priests had, through disobedience, placed themselves at the margins of the church