- I have nothing more to say –Archbishop Kaigama, CBCN President
From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Abuja
as the controversy hovering around the acceptance of Bishop Peter Okpalaeke by priests of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara lingers, Sunday Sun gathered at the weekend how the Ahiara diocesan priests lost the episcopacy to someone they considered an outsider.
A source who spoke with Sunday Sun said: “Though issues like this are not usually divulged by the Church, the Nunciature had no option than to divulge it.”
According to the source, “a priest of Ahiara Diocese was initially appointed bishop. But few days to the announcement, the priest returned to the Nunciature to say that he was no longer interested. It was after his refusal that the Church was left with no other option than to look somewhere else and appointed Okpalaeke,” the source said.
Asked if the Ahiara Diocesan priests were aware of how their son refused to ascend the episcopal See of Ahiara so that they can sheath their swords, the source said they were well informed about the development, and yet, continued their agitation.
He added that though the Ahiara priests had a legitimate case, their insistence that it is either an Mbaise priest or no other destroyed their case.
“They were even told to accept Okpalaeke and that after about two to three years, he can be taken to somewhere else and thereafter, be given their son as bishop, but they refused.
“Look at the case of the Catholic Diocese of Uromi. Bishop Augustine Akubueze, now Archbishop of Benin, was appointed from Issele-Uku as bishop. They accepted him. He has been taken to Benin and they have their son now as bishop,” the source added.
The source also said even within the laity of Ahiara, everything had been done to see how their demand could be met, with one of them who is very influential, approaching the Vatican Secretary of State on the matter.
“But in spite of all the person told the Secretary of State, nothing happened. Everything came to nought,” the source said.
On what the final end would be, the source said the whole decision still depended on the Holy See.
While noting that some of the priests complied with the directive of Pope Francis that the Ahiara priests should write letters of apology individually and pledge allegiance to him, the source was however quick to note that not all of them wrote, revealing that one of the arrowheads of the agitation did not comply with the directive.
He also said the directive given by the Pope had already been forwarded to the security agencies, adding that at the end, those who refused to write the apology letters as demanded by the Pope may be forced out of their parishes.
He also said in the event that their refusal to accept Okpalaeke continued, the Church might decide to suppress the Diocese of Ahiara by ceding the parishes to surrounding Catholic dioceses, depending on the geographical location.
“It would be a case of since you don’t want to accept Okpalaeke, then Ahiara Diocese would no longer be. It is not something new. Dioceses have been suppressed in the past,” the source stated.
Asked to comment on the development in Ahiara Diocese, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Ignatius Ayua Kaigama, said he was still outside the country and was not sure he had anything to say on Ahiara “since the matter is now strictly between the Holy Father and the priests.”
In 2012, the clergy and the laity of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara refused to accept Okpalaeke, the bishop appointed as their local ordinary, on grounds that he is not of Mbaise extraction.
The priests insisted that one out of the over 700 priests of Mbaise origin should be chosen as the bishop of Ahiara.
Recall that the Taraba State-born Kaigama, who doubles as the Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Jos, was part of the delegation of the Catholic hierarchy in Nigeria that met Pope Francis on June 8, 2017, in the Vatican where the Pope asked all the diocesan clergy of Ahiara to within 30 days personally write to the Vatican pledging obedience to the Pope and accepting Okpalaeke as their bishop.
Kaigama, it was, who first published the directive (Papal Text) of the Pope on his personal blog, leading to controversy on whether the Papal directive was genuine or not.
But after much investigation, a source had confided in Sunday Sun the authenticity of the directive, which was why some of the Ahiara priests had to comply with it.
Responding to Sunday Sun inquiry, Kaigama said: “I have not been told if all or some of the priests wrote to the Pope to pledge loyalty and obedience and what the response of the Pope to the priests has been.
“We are only waiting to see positive developments in Ahiara to bring an end to the unfortunate incident that has attracted negative attention to our Church in Nigeria and indeed the Catholic Church worldwide. We continue to trust that God willing, all will end well.”