. Bishop Peter Okpaleke
. Okorocha begs priests, Laity to obey Pope’s directive, accept new bishop
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ahiara in Imo State has said that the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke by Pope Benedict XVI did not follow due process.
In a release signed by 184 members of the Ahiara Diocese World-Wide Laity Council, the Diocese said that their grievances are strong, justified and deserve a fair hearing by his Holiness Pope Francis, especially for the potential disruptive impact on evangelization work globally.
The release reads: “On December 7, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Peter Okpalaeke of Awka Diocese in Anambra State, as the Bishop-elect of the Episcopal See of Ahiara Mbaise Diocese. .Fr. Okpalaeke is to replace His Lordship, beloved Late Most Rev. Dr. Victor .A. Chikwe, who passed away on the 16th of September, 2010. The clergy and laity of the Diocese have since rejected his posting and refused to give him, canonical possession of the Ahiara Diocese- a right it has according to the code of canon law (Can. 382 §1/382 §3), on the following grounds.
“1. Due process was not followed. Ahiara Diocese rejects the violation of the canonical process (Can. 377 §2), that produced Bishop Okpalaeke. We want a Shepherd that will pass through the Gate of the Sheepfold and not one that climbs over elsewhere (John 10:1).
“2. Ahiara Diocese detests nepotism in the selection of Bishops. It is unacceptable for Cardinal Francis Arinze to derail the code of canonical law, disqualify an entire presbyterium, in order to grab an additional episcopal see, for an Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, that already has 8 bishops and 1 cardinal.
“3. Neglect of Pastoral obligations as required by the code of canon law (Can. 383-400), since his appointment 5 years ago, is a clear sign that Bishop Okpalaeke and his representative Cardinal John Onaiyekan, appointed to administer the Diocese in his stead, do not care for the flock of God in Ahiara Diocese. We have been so starved of the Sacraments of Confirmation and Ordination; and all Pastoral obligations reserved to the Bishops. They have come to slaughter and destroy (John 10:10a).
“4. A lot of polluted water has passed under the bridge in the Bishop Okpalaeke crisis, which has incapacitated him to efficiently administer the Diocese. He and Cardinal Onaiyekan have so intimidated the Diocese with the use of lies, military and police force to impose injustice on Ahiara. The code of canon law Can.401 § 2 states that “. A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”. Bishop Okpalaeke should immediately resign or be reassigned. He makes the flock to scatter and run away (John 10:5). His name alone brings anger, fear and disaffection to the people.
“5. Ahiara is not insisting on “Son of the Soil”, but on a Priest from Ahiara Diocesan Presbyterium as prescribed by the code of canon law (Can. 377 §2),.
“6. Ahiara Diocese is not disobeying the Pope, rather we are helping him in reforming the Church, making sure that people do not commit ecclesiastical crimes in his name.
“7. The grievances of the Diocese are strong, justified and deserve a fair hearing, by his Holiness Pope Francis, especially for the potential disruptive impact on evangelization work globally. it is worthy of note that Ahiara Diocese has, about 750 priests, who trace their origin to the Presbyterium,. Since the establishment of the Diocese in 1987, there have been at least 167 priestly ordinations for the Diocese. The Diocese is currently served by 127 priests and 113 religious, according to Vatican source. With such a wealth of priests, the Ahiara diocese has sent more than its share of missionaries around the world, and yes, has contributed to the universality of the church and sure can differentiate it from lawlessness”.
Meanwhile, Governor Rochas Okorocha, weekend, met with Priests and Laity in the Ahiara Catholic Diocese, Mbaise and explained to them the need to obey the directive of the Pope by accepting Bishop Peter Okpaleke as the Bishop of the Diocese.
Okorocha, who met with the Priests and Laity at the headquarters of the Diocese, told them that the decision of the Pope was binding on them and regretted that the Priests were in the forefront of the agitation adding too that the Church would become an object of mockery if the crisis ends the way the Priests and Laity in the Diocese want it to end.
His word, “I’m here in Ahiara Mbaise Diocese to bring peace. I’ve been meeting with the priests of this Diocese for over one hour now. And the meeting is all about peace, peace, peace. Peace is very expensive and the bible says to us, pursue peace and not walk towards peace because peace is a very very expensive commodity, but there can be no peace without justice”.
He said “I am a catholic, and I’m also the governor of Imo State. I’ve come here to see my people. And address you on the burning issues affecting this Diocese. But I wish you can listen to me attentively so that you can go home with something. I’ve had meeting with all the Priests. I’ve listened to their anger, their grievances and I’m aware of all the historical backgrounds following this agitation. But the moment we are now is a very bad moment. There are so many agitations, so many crises here and there and it looks like Satan has relocated his headquarters to Nigeria. But by the grace of God, we shall fight and destroy these satanic forces”.
“We’re talking about Ahiara Diocese, IPOB, Boko Haram, Kidnapping, Niger Delta etc. but the one that touches me so much is the crisis of Ahiara Diocese because this touches the fabrics of our faith. First, we’re Christians and you must understand that Christianity is a very difficult religion because Christianity doesn’t preach comfort for us rather, ability to accept persecution. Today, we have a challenge that whatever has made Ahiara a centre of crisis, we must change it for better”.
He continued, “Declaration of Biafran War, Ahiara; killing of a steward, Ahiara and now, Diocesan agitation spanning 6years and attracting global focus also Ahiara. We must change the story of Ahiara. I want to state here categorically that since this crisis, I’ve been listening patiently and watching. But I had wished that my advise was taken ab-initio and ipso-facto. If Mbaise must be in the news, it must be in the news for the right reasons. This is because Mbaise is the largest single ethnic group in the South-East and there is no place you will go in this world, without having an Mbaise man, doing well in that region. Mbaise contributes substantially to what makes Imo thick”.
“Now listen very well my brothers, what I want to say to you now is for your benefit and betterment. You must know that too much of right can also lead to wrong. Mbaise people have made their point. The whole world has heard you, they have listened to you, any further issue on this matter by Mbaise, might not be spoken the way it had been heard before. Let me tell you the gospel truth of how the world is looking at you now, I don’t know how you will take it after my speech now. But I have spoken like Pontus Pilate, I have come to restore peace in this particular place”.
He further remarked “The whole world knows that the Pope has asked all the priests from Mbaise to write a letter of apology to him minus a few of them, to beg the Pope. It might be right, it might be wrong but that’s not the question. But the fact is that before the world, we are no longer enjoying this peace because Mbaise has more priests in the whole of South-East. But sometimes, a wise person behaves foolishly for the sake of his children. So, we must change our style before we deny ourselves of our justice”.
“It’s unfortunate that the priests themselves are at the very front of this agitation because the decision of the Pope is binding on them. Please, we must preserve this our priestly order by maintaining the status quo from the papacy. Mbaise must never be seen as a people that disobeyed the Pope and the church”.
“Christianity never taught us to be violent rather it’s all about enduring persecution and pains. So, like the priests agreed with me earlier, there must be no room for protest. For now you have done well but don’t overdo it, just leave the stage when the ovation is hot”.
“I don’t think any Bishop would like to come to a place where the people don’t want him. You can’t force people to be with somebody they don’t want to stay with. But be careful how you reject people because many atimes, the rejected always turns out to be the best. There should be no more protests. No matter who the Pope sends to you, you must rise up to welcome him if not, the church will become an object of mockery. Because if the Pope takes it the way you want it, the church, the Catholic Church will die”.
“I wanted you to see the possibility that Mbaise sons can also become Bishops elsewhere extending to other states and will be accepted like any other”. The governor added.
At the end, Rev. Fr. Dr. Joseph Ezeji gave the vote of thanks, pledging allegiance to the papacy, to abide by the decisions of the Pope and confirming that all Mbaise Priests have written their letters of apology to the Pope. He stated that what the people are asking for is for any Bishop groomed from their soil to lead them. He said that the canon law seems to have been bent in the case of Ahiara Diocese.