(Rome) Pope Francis threatens to suspend all priests of a whole diocese in Nigeria a divinis. The ultimatum expires on July 8th.
The conflict is already going back to 2012. At that time Pope Benedict XVI., shortly before retiring his office, assinged a new bishop for the diocese of Ahiara.
The priests and faithful of the diocese have since hindered the new Bishop Peter Ebere from taking possession of his diocese because he does not belong to the Mbaise people as did his predecessor.
Monsignor Okpaleke is Ibo. Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, has been an Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara ever since.
The Ahiara diocese was established by Pope John Paul II in 1987 and is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Owerri. Bishop Okpaleke is only the second bishop of the diocese. The number of Catholics in the diocese is more than half a million or about 80 percent of the population. The number of diocesan priests has increased from less than 50 to more than 130 since its establishment.
Last Thursday the Vatican press office announced that Pope Francis had received a delegation from the Ahiara diocese in private audience, accompanied by Cardinal Onaiyekan and Bishop Opaleke. The delegation undertook an ad limina pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles in Rome.
Discussions about "the tormented situation of the church in Ahiara" also took place with the Cardinal Secretary.
In the audience with Pope Francis, he explained to the delegation that the situation in Ahiara was "unacceptable". After "careful consideration", he maintained there would be "appropriate measures".
What the Press Office did not communicate so directly, but the intelligence service Fides wrote: Pope Francis gave an ultimatum, primarily to the priests of the diocese. Either they accept within 30 days without reservation the appointed bishop, or they will be suspended a divinis. The ultimatum has been public since Thursday.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: Vatican.va (screenshot)
Trans: Tancred email@example.com