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Topic Summary

Posted by: Everest
« on: July 27, 2014, 06:43:03 PM »

?Ahiara Diocesan Clergy, Laity reject bishop
Over three years after the death of Bishop
Victor
Chikwe of
Catholic Diocese of Ahiara in Mbaise, Imo State,
tension has continued to mount over the appointment of a
replacement. The
development is currently tearing the Catholic
Church apart.
Trouble started May 21, 2013, when Fr. Peter
Okpaleke, from the Diocese of Awka, Anambra State was
consecrated bishop
for the Ahiara Diocese, but Clergy and Laity of
the
diocese
rejected the appointment. The two groups opted for
an
indigenous priest to be made bishop of the
diocese.
Their argument is premised on the fact that
Ahiara has
the highest number of Catholic priests in Africa
who
are
eminently qualified to be made bishop. They
contend that Awka, with a small number of priests, has
more
than six bishops, allegedly because of the
influence
of
Francis Cardinal Arinze at the Vatican. They therefore
decried what they termed the subtle
colonization by
Awka, whose bishops have taken over most
dioceses in
Imo and Abia states? The furore generated by the rejection of Fr.
Peter
Okpaleke,
Vanguard learnt, got to the ears of Pope Francis
who promptly
appointed John Cardinal Onaiyekan as Apostolic administrator
of Ahiara Diocese, with the mandate to get a
bishop
acceptable
to the people and the Catholic Church.
Onaiyekan appointed
Fr. Louis Asiegbu, a professor, as the Vicar
General
to
oversee the day-to-day running of the diocese
pending the appointment of a bishop.
Nine months after his appointment, Asiegbu
resigned,
allegedly because he didn?t have a smooth
relationship with the
cardinal. There were allegations that Onaiyekan neglected and
rebuffed all his advice. The diocesan priests, as
a
result,
accused Onaiyekan of having a personal
agenda, as he has
completely abandoned his pastoral and spiritual
responsibilities
to the flock of the diocese, such as the
ordination of
deacons and priests, religious professions and
confirmation.
They reason that the cardinal is deliberately
pressuring the
diocese to submit to his planned installation of
the rejected
Bishop Okpalaeke; but they are unrelenting. The
Cardinal in
November last year, told the people that he had
reached a dead
end and had nothing more to do apart from installing the
bishop. He recently appointed Fr. Clement Ebii,
his
prot?g?, as
the new Vicar General, which has also been
rejected by the diocesan clergy and the laity.
To further show their displeasure, the people
gathered on June
21, at St. Brigid?s Catholic Church, Nnarambia,
Ahiara in
Ahiazu Mbaise, for a prayer rally against what they
described
as injustice to the church and people by
Nigerian
church
leaders. Speaking at the event, the parish priest of St.
Gregory?s Parish,
Ihitteafoukwu, Fr. David Iheanacho said the
Ahiara
Catholic
Diocese parades over 600 priests and 500,000 faithful, noting
that before the imposition of Okpaleke, the late
Bishop
Chikwe, an indigene, spent 23 years and 10
months
in the diocese and produced several priests adjudged
to
be amongst
the best in Africa.
?Before his death also, he (Chikwe) sent over 21
names of worthy priests to be considered at his demise.
The
process of
making a bishop is very clear in the Canon law,?
he
said, explaining that bishopric selection begins from
the
local people
(priests), and thereon to the Papal Nuncio who
is
expected to forward his choice candidates to Rome out of
which
one
would be appointed bishop. But in the case of
Ahiara
Diocese, the process was neglected.
Iheanacho argued that the church hierarchy
went
into all
manner of things to manufacture an excuse for
an imposition
of a pre-ordained person chosen from Awka in
Onitsha
Province.
?Our people started asking the question: if we
have up to 600
priests, is it conceivable that none of them is
qualified to be a
bishop? If we have that number of indigenous
priests and they
are seen as unqualified to be appointed bishop, have
they not
succeeded in destroying the credibility of those
priests before
the people?? he asked, maintaining that the
appointment of Bishop Okpaleke to Ahiara Diocese contradicts
natural justice.
?I say this because the Pontiff cannot knowingly
recommend
what is unjust. Pope Benedict, under whose
pontificate, Okpaleke was appointed, is perhaps misled into
regarding
Ahiara Diocese as not having competent priests
to
be
appointed bishops. That is to say that we are nincompoops or
good for nothing people. We have been asking
the
Pope to
send down some impartial observers to look into
our agitation,? Iheanacho added.
On the way forward, he said he had told the
Nigerian Catholic
Bishops Conference, when they came to Ahiara
to
stop pushing Bishop Okpaleke to the diocese. ?Let
Okpaleke
remain where he is while they go ahead to give
us
what we
want. The church has many options,? he noted, recounting a
similar incidence that happened in Enugu in
1978,
the first time
there was a resistance over an elected bishop.
?Fr. Albert Obiefuna (then Rector of Bigard Memorial
Seminary) was nominated to become the bishop
of
Enugu but
the people refused because they said Fr.
Obiefuna is from
Onitsha Province. Instead of causing trouble in
the
Church of
God, Catholic Bishops immediately (with
approval of Rome)
created Awka Diocese without any preparation
and
fanfare and
appointed Obiefuna as the bishop, while Eneja
(son of the
soil), was made the bishop of the already
existing
Enugu
Diocese?.
He noted that if they (present Catholic Bishops) had
handled
the case of Ahiara like their predecessors did in
1978,
Okpaleke would have been a bishop somewhere,
while Ahiara Diocese would have been in peace and the
Church
of God
booming.
Also speaking, the parish priest of St. Joseph?s
Catholic Parish, Otulu in Ahiazu Mbaise and president,
Ahiara
Diocesan Priests Association, Fr. Austin
Ekechukwu
emphasised the need for Ahiara Diocese to have
a bishop from
among the indigenous priests in the diocese.
?My impression
is that all these troubles are the handiwork of
some
senior ecclesiastical persons, who have vested
interests
in denying
Ahiara Diocese their rights and privileges. No
due
process could have produced Okpaleke in the midst of
Ahiara
presbyterium in particular and Owerri Province
at
large.
?What has happened is a conspiracy for which, according to
him, certain eminent personalities within the
church
should be
investigated and brought to book,? he stated.
On the impact of crisis to the diocese, the parish
priest of St.
Paul?s Catholic Parish, Egbelu Umuhu Enyiogugu,
Fr.
Benedict Ogu said the inability of the hierarchy
to proffer
immediate solution to the problem has caused
much
harm than
good, stressing that the crisis is adversely
affecting seminarians and the entire church in Ahiara
Diocese.
According to him, the impasse is prolonged
because
Cardinal
Onaiyekan refused to perform his pastoral responsibilities
including ordination of priests, administering
sacrament of
confirmation and other sacramental functions.
?He reasons that by so doing Ahiara people
would succumb
and accept the injustice. One thing is clear: As it
is
negatively
affecting the diocese, it is also affecting the
Holy Spirit,
because biblically it is said that as you are
persecuting My
Church, you are also persecuting Me. This
therefore
brings to fore the question: ?Should the people of Ahiara
Diocese be
punished because they rejected an imposed
bishop
on them??
he questioned. He further said that before Ahiara people
rejected
Okpaleke, he
was already rejected by his people and fellow
priests in his bid
to become the sitting bishop of Awka Diocese, ?Since he was
rejected by his people and insisted that he must
be
made a
bishop, they packaged him for a place they
think they can
maneuver,? Ogu added.