IMO JULY 25, 2017(CISA) – Pope Francis has begun replying to letters from priests of Ahiara Catholic diocese, Mbaise in Nigeria’s Imo state who have refused to accept Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke as their bishop for the past five years.
On June 8, Pope Francis gave the priests of Ahiara diocese a 30-day deadline to either write to him promising “total obedience,” or face suspension. Most of the priests have since sent a letter to the Vatican apologizing.
“The Pope promised he would write back, and he’s doing so,” said Cardinal John Onaiyekan of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja.
Cardinal Onaiyekan, who’s been the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Ahiara, said that the letters are not passing though him so he doesn’t know their content, and added that he probably won’t until the process of delivering the letters is over.
He said that he hopes Bishop Okpaleke, who was appointed to Ahiara by Benedict XVI in 2012, is accepted by the time the process is over.
“I hope that my brothers will recognize him,” he said. “I’m waiting and praying, hoping that this long crisis will come to an end,” he told Crux News on July 21.
The letters from the Vatican, which address each priest by name, are slowly beginning to arrive, through the Apostolic Nunciature in Nigeria.
Pope had demanded that the clerics of the Diocese of Ahiara accept the bishop appointment that has been made, or face suspension and loss of office.
Fr Peter Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in December 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI dominated by the Mbaise ethnic group.
As an outsider from the nearby Diocese of Awka, Fr Okpaleke was rejected by much of Ahiara’s clergy and laity, who wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.
The opponents of the appointment blocked access to Ahiara’s Cathedral. Due to the strong opposition, Bishop Okpaleke was consecrated and installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri, May 21, 2013.
In July 2013, Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja was appointed apostolic administrator of Ahiara, but proved unable to solve the problem.