POPE TO PRIESTS IN AHIARA DIOCESE: “ACCEPT YOUR BISHOP OR BE SUSPENDED A DIVINIS”

Here is a terrific update from the Benedictine Monks of Norcia about the progress in re- building since last fall’s devastating earthquake. I could not get the Facebook icon in their email to work so this is the next best thing: http://mailchi.mp/nursia/springatthemonastery-494285

POPE TO PRIESTS IN AHIARA DIOCESE: “ACCEPT YOUR BISHOP OR BE SUSPENDED A DIVINIS”

(Vatican Radio) At an audience for a delegation from the Nigerian diocese of Ahiara, Pope Francis said he had been “deeply saddened” by the refusal of the diocese to accept the Bishop appointed for them. (photo: news.va)

During the audience, the Pope requested explicitly that the diocese receive Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who was appointed to Ahiara by Pope Benedict in 2012. In his address to the delegation, the Holy Father, while asking pardon for the harsh language, said the Church in Ahiara “is like a widow for having prevented the Bishop from coming to the diocese.” He called to mind the parable, from the Gospel of Matthew, of the murderous tenants who wanted to steal the inheritance. “In this current situation, the Diocese of Ahiara is without the bridegroom, has lost her fertility, and cannot bear fruit. Whoever is opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church.”

In such a situation, Pope Francis continued, where the Church is suffering, “the Pope cannot remain indifferent.”

In response to that situation, which he described as “an attempted taking over of the vineyard of the Lord,” Pope Francis asked “every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally. We all must share this common sorrow.”

Whoever fails to do so within thirty days, the Pope said, “will be ipso facto [by that very fact] suspended a divinis [‘from divine things,’  such as the celebration of the sacraments] and will lose his current office.”

This course of action was necessary, he continued, “Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences. Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.”

Following the Pope’s address, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara, thanked the Holy Father. Following his remarks, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, asked the Holy Father that the Diocese of Ahiara, with its Bishop, might make a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with him when the situation was resolved; a request the Pope accepted.

The audience concluded with a prayer to Mary and the blessing of the Holy Father.

Complete text of Papal letter here: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-receives-delegation-from-nigerian-diocese-of

SOME BACKGROUND FROM CNS:

When Okpaleke was appointed to the diocese, the announcement was met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy.

Nevertheless, he was ordained a bishop in May 2013, although the ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese, but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo State in southern Nigeria.

Okpaleke is from Anambra State, which borders Imo to the north.

A petition to Pope Benedict launched by the “Coalition of Igbo Catholics” said, “That no priest of Mbaise origin is a bishop today … is mind boggling. Mbaise has embraced, enhanced the growth of and sacrificed for the Catholic Church, has more priests per capita than any other diocese in Nigeria and certainly more than enough pool of priests qualified to become the next bishop of the episcopal see of Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise.”

According to the Vatican, the diocese has close to 423,000 Catholics and 110 diocesan priests.

Trying to calm the situation, in July 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Onaiyekan to serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese, and the following December he sent Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to Ahiara to listen to the concerns of the diocesan priests and local laity.

Onaiyekan joined Okpaleke on the “ad limina” visit to Rome, as did Kaigama and Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri. Three priests, a religious sister and a traditional elder also made the trip.

 

 

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