NIGERIA: Pope Accepts Resignation of Bishop Rejected by Diocesan Clergy

IMO, FEBRUARY 20, 2018(CISA)-Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Peter Okapaleke who had been rejected for years by the priests of his diocese.

The announcement came after Francis in June 2017 issued a harsh ultimatum to the priests of Nigeria’s southern Ahiara diocese, warning they would lose their jobs if they didn’t obey him and accept Bishop Okpaleke as their bishop.

Pope Francis gave each priest 30 days to pledge their obedience.

In a statement February 19, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Pope Francis said that 200 priests obeyed, but some still expressed problems in working with the bishop.

Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Okpaleke to Ahiara in 2012, but the local clergy rejected him.

Ahiara is in the Mbaise region, and its faithful objected to the appointment of an outsider from the Anambra region to lead them. In protest, the Mbaise blocked access to the cathedral when Bishop Okpaleke was to be formally installed, and he was installed outside the diocese.

The Vatican’s mission office said on February 19, that “the Pope took the priests repentance into account in deciding not to sanction them for the grave damage they had inflicted on the church by rejecting Okpaleke.”

“We hope that in the future they will never again repeat such unreasonable actions opposing a bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff,” said the letter from the Vatican.

In his resignation letter, dated February 14, Bishop Okpaleke said: “I am convinced … that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese is no longer beneficial to the Church. I do not think that my apostolate in a diocese where some of the priests and lay faithful are ill disposed to have me in their midst would be effective.”

“I invite any dissenting priests to re-examine their initial motivations for becoming priests in the Catholic Church,” he continues. “Repentance and reconciliation are very urgent!”