The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has accepted the resignation of Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara.
A Vatican statement said the pope had accepted the resignation of Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara. The position, according to the Vatican, has now been declared vacant and a papal administrator would run it for the time being.
For five years, Okpaleke had been the designated bishop of the Ahiara diocese in Imo state, but the priests and churchgoers in the diocese rejected him because he hailed from Anambra state. They prevented him from taking over and locked the gates of the parish. The confrontation even got violent some times.
Despite the intervention of Pope Francis who condemned the actions of the priests that refused to swear allegiance to Okpaleke, they refused.
Okpaleke was appointed bishop by then-pope Benedict in 2012, but the protests prevented him from ever taking over the diocese.
His installation ceremony took place in another area of Nigeria because the doors of the Ahiara cathedral were locked so the bishop could not enter.
The situation came to a head in June 2017 when Francis demanded that all priests in the diocese write him a letter within 30 days pledging their obedience to and accepting Okpaleke as their bishop because he was appointed by a pope.
Those who did not write such a letter would face suspension from the priesthood, the pope told them at the time. Francis also demanded that the rebellious priests write a letter of apology to Okpaleke.
Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, on Monday published excerpts from Okpaleke’s resignation letter, saying he had not been able to take possession of diocese or even live within its territory because of continuing “violent reaction and resistance”.
Fides said some 200 priests had written to the pope promising their obedience.
Many had also told the pontiff that they had “psychological difficulty in collaborating with the bishop after years of conflict”.
The agency, which is controlled by the Vatican, said the rebellious priests should “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church” through their “unreasonable actions opposing a bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff”.
In his resignation letter, Okpaleke said remaining bishop in would not be beneficial to the Church.