The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, has disclosed what will happen to priests of Ahiara diocese when the expiration of the papal ultimatum issued to them expires.
The priests were asked to write apology letters for their rejection of Bishop Peter Okpaleke as pioneer head of the relatively new diocese.
He said that if the priests failed to tender their apology before July 9, 2017, they will definitely incur ‘suspension a divinis’ which means they cannot function any longer as Catholic priests and can neither administer the sacrament nor occupy any ecclesiastical office.
Kaigama told Vanguard: “It seems that the diocese is not willing to allow Bishop Okpalaeke take up his ministry as residential bishop.
“A lot of talks have been going on; a lot of negative writings and sentiments have been expressed by the people in Ahiara and some abroad. You can check the internet for some of the writings which is not characteristic of Catholic Church.
“Majorly, we settle matters internally and with great respect for our leaders and those in authority, but somehow things have gotten out of hand and it’s like there’s no culture or order of respect.
“Some personalities in the church have been called names and allegations have been made. It is in that regard that we keep praying that a solution will come.
“But the more we try to hope for a solution, the more the problem seems to deepen and the insistence that Okpalaeke cannot be a bishop in Ahiara, that only a son of the soil can be bishop there.
“It’s what the Catholic Church does not accept because it’s not done that way. Now the Pope, having listened to all that has been said and done, invited a delegation of Ahiara people to Rome. He wanted five people who don’t support the appointment of Bishop Okpalaeke and five others who support the appointment.
“Ten of them were expected to be in Rome to have a very personal meeting with the Pope. I had to go in my capacity as the President of Bishops Conference, Cardinal Onaiyekan as Apostolic administrator of Ahiara, and then the Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri.
“We had a rigorous period of prayer and retreat and serious discussions with all those that matter; the Secretary of state, the Prefect of the Congregation for the evangelization of people and many top dignitaries of the Catholic Church. After all our prayer and discussions, the Pope had to meet us and had his word for us.
“The word was spoken and everybody had heard the word now because it was written down and communicated to the whole world. And it is for the attention of the people of Ahiara, particularly the priests.
“It affects them a lot because the Pope demands that they should apologize for causing all the problems that they have caused to the faithful in Ahiara. And for not obeying his orders, they should write a letter to apologise.
“Those who do so (apologise) before July 9, 2017 will definitely be warmly embraced by the Holy Father. Those who choose not will definitely incur what is called suspension a divinis.
“That means they cannot function any longer as Catholic priests and they cannot administer the sacrament and they cannot occupy any ecclesiastical office.
“That is the directive of the Holy Father and we have nothing other than to wait and see prayerfully that the priests of Ahiara will heed the call of the Holy Father, write to him and make up and then resume duties as Catholic priests in respect of the obedience every priest promised at ordination.
“You promised obedience to the local ordinaries, to the entire church and this is the test to that obedience.”
So far, there appears to be no sign of remorse on the part of the priests or the catholic faithful of Ahiara Diocese as no fewer than 3, 000 of them yesterday converged on the Mater Ecclesiae cathedral, Mbaise in Imo State, for a rally to restate their total rejection of the embattled Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke.