Bishop resigns for peace to reign
Massive jubilation by parishioners of the Roman Catholic Church in Imo State greeted the news that Pope Francis, its spiritual head, had accepted the resignation letter of the embattled bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Peter Ebere Okpalaeke.
Multiple reports quoted a Vatican statement as saying the pope had accepted the resignation of Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara adding that the position had been declared vacant and that a papal administrator would run it for the time being. Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, on Monday, February 19, published excerpts from Okpaleke’s resignation letter, saying he had not been able to take possession of diocese or even live within its territory because of continuing violent reaction and resistance.
According to Fides, some 200 priests had written to the pope promising their obedience with many tellling the pontiff that they had “psychological difficulty in collaborating with the bishop after years of conflict.” The agency, which is controlled by the Vatican, said the rebellious priests should “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church” through their “unreasonable actions opposing a bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff”. In his resignation letter, Okpaleke said remaining bishop in the diocese would not be beneficial to the Church. Bishop Okpaleke was appointed by former Pope Benedict in 2012 after the death of Bishop Victor Chikwe, but many priests and faithful had refused to swear allegiance to him because he was not from Mbaise while protests prevented him from ever taking over the diocese. Okpalaeke is from Awka Diocese in Anambra state.
According to reports, the president of the Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Men Organisation, Gerald Anyanwu, described the news as victory for the Catholic faithful in the diocese. Gerald said Pope Francis should be commended for yielding to the genuine demands of the worshippers adding that the news would bring peace to the diocese. Also reacting, the chairman of the Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Priests Association, Rev Fr Austin Ekechukwu, said the people were excited with the latest development in the diocese while a member of laity, Kingsley Madu, thanked the pope.
An online site had earlier reported about panic in Nigeria over reports Pope Francis was seriously considering shutting down a total of 163 parishes of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara in Imo state following the alleged stubborn refusal of of some priests to accept the appointment of Peter Okpalaeke as bishop.
Okpaleke was appointed four years ago to replace late Bishop Victor Chikwe but had been rejected by Reverend Fathers of Mbaise extraction and the Laity.