Amby Uneze in Owerri
Those who wish to have priests from Ahiara diocese excommunicated from the Catholic Church over the Bishop Peter Okpalaekeâ€™s saga better have a rethink, as they have complied with the Holy Father, Pope Francisâ€™s directives by writing the said apology letter and paying allegiance to the Holy See.
The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Jos, Archbishop Ignitius Kaigama, in an interview in a national newspaper (not THISDAY) had stated that Ahiara priests risk being excommunicated, as they would â€œincur what is called suspension a divinis, which means they cannot function any longer as Catholic priests and they cannot administer sacrament and they cannot occupy any ecclesiastical office.â€
But to allays such fears, the President of Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Priests Association (ADCPA), Ahiara Diocese, Rev. Dr. Austine Ekechukwu, told THISDAY that all the reverend fathers of Ahiara Diocese origin, within and outside the diocese, have complied with the Popeâ€™s directives, adding that they were not disobeying the Pope neither were they disrespecting the Catholic doctrines including the contents of the Canon Law.
â€œThis is a private letter the Pope asked us to write. The Popeâ€™s directives have been complied with. Whatever the Pope asked us to do in line with the constitution of the Catholic Church, we have done them. It is not for anybody to interpret the Popeâ€™s action.
â€œWe are not disobeying the Pope and we cannot disobey the Pope. What we are saying is that we should not be suppressed.
They are subverting the truth. They are shielding the Pope from the truth. Let the right thing be done. If someone say that Catholics priests in Ahiara Diocese are not up to 700 in number, in America alone, we have over 70 priests ordained there;we have many of us ordained in other parts of the world. Here in the diocese, over 40 deacons have been denied ordination since the saga started,â€ he said.
Another priest, Rev. Father Joseph Ezeji, said the Church hierarchy in Nigeria has deceived the Pope that the Ahiara Diocese crisis is a result of ethnic sentiment.
He said: â€œThe Church hierarchy in Nigeria lied to the Pope that we are rejecting Okpalaeke because of ethnic sentiment. But the truth is that the process of his selection was not transparent. We are still wondering how his name from another state entirely not even from a Diocese within the Ecclesiastical Province was appointed the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese.
â€œWe are not disobeying the Pope, we have all written the apology letter as he directed but we want to make it clear that the appointment of the Bishop Okpalaeke was a fraud and we are saying that another bishop should be appointed from the Province if not from Ahiara Diocese.â€
He argued further that â€œfor instance, nine Bishops and Auxiliaries are already appointed from this same, Awka in Anambra State, so why is it that the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese cannot be appointed from the Diocese?â€