Pope Francis has said he is deeply saddened by the events at the Diocese of Ahiara in Imo State, and ordered the tribal masterminds to pledge allegiance to the Vatican or be fired.
The Pope, speaking at a private audience with the delegation of the Diocese of Ahiara, said the action was taken since the crisis had gone pass tribalism as some people were attempting to take over the Church.
The ‘painful situation’ in the diocese has gone on since 2012 when Bishop Ebere Peter Okpaleke was appointed by Pope Benedict.
Bishop Okpaleke was rejected because he was not a native of Mbaise.
Pope Francis directed that every priest or ecclesiastic of the diocese, whether residing there or working elsewhere, even abroad, must write an individual and personal letter addressed to him asking for forgiveness.
Total obedience to the Pope, willing to accept the Bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed, are the mandatory conditions which everyone directed to write the letter should fulfil.
The Pope said the letter must be sent within 30 days, from July 9th, 2017.
“Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended a divinis and will lose his current office. We all must share this common sorrow.
“I feel great sorrow for those priests who are being manipulated even from abroad and from outside the Diocese.
“I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.’’
He said the Church was a mother and whoever offended her committed a very serious sin.
“However, I decided not to suppress the Diocese. Instead, I wish to give some indications that are to be communicated to all: first of all it must be said that the Pope is deeply saddened.
“This seems very hard, but why must the Pope do this? Because the people of God are scandalized.
“Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences. Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.
“To you brothers and sisters, I would like to express my sincere thanks for your presence; and also to Cardinal Onaiyekan for his patience and to Bishop Okpaleke, whose patience and humility I admire.’’
The meeting was characterized by dialogue and listening, ending with a prayer to Mary and the Pope’s blessing.
“I cordially greet the Delegation and thank you for coming from Nigeria in a spirit of pilgrimage.
“For me, this meeting is a consolation because I am deeply saddened by the events of the Church in Ahiara.
“In fact, the Church (and excuse the wording) is like a widow for having prevented the Bishop from coming to the Diocese. Many times I have thought about the parable of the murderous tenants, of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Mt 21:33-44), that want to grasp the inheritance.
“In this current situation the Diocese of Ahiara is without the bridegroom, has lost her fertility and cannot bear fruit. Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the Diocese wants to destroy the Church.
“This is forbidden; perhaps he does not realise it, but the Church is suffering as well as the People of God within her.
“The Pope cannot be indifferent. I know very well the events that have been dragging on for years and I am thankful for the attitude of great patience of the Bishop, indeed the holy patience demonstrated by him.’’
He explained that he listened and reflected much, even about the possibility of suppressing the Diocese, but then “I thought that the Church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children’’.
The members of the delegation were accompanied by His Eminence Cardinal J. O. Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara, His Excellency A. J. Obinna.
Others are Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri, I. A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria, and P. E. Okpaleke, Bishop of Ahiara.
Also Cardinal Secretary of State, the Prefect and Superiors of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples were also present as well as Reverend Fathers C. O. Ebii, J. N. Uwalaka and U. I. Olekamma, Sister B. O. Ezeyi and S.A.R.P Iwu, Traditional Head, on behalf of the religious and lay faithful.