While we were busy reflecting on the significance of the great coincidence; viz. “Ashful Val” or the “Valenash“, the appointed Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Bishop Peter Okpaleke, published his resignation letter as he preached the necessity and urgency for Repentance and Reconciliation.
The Catholic Bishop, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI on December 7, 2012, recounted the experiences following his appointment; most especially the events regarding his opposition and rejection by some priests and faithful of the diocese. It was so fierce and violent as he was even barred from taking up his new appointment. Speaking about this he says “The situation did not improve, but I was eventually consecrated on May 21, 2013, outside the diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, Ulakwo, Owerri, due to the situation on ground in Ahiara diocese”.
From the day of his appointment till the day he published his resignation letter (five years, two months and a week) he was not able to take possession of his diocese as the Chief Shepherd, even for a second. Amidst the obvious implications of the act; which include, no ordination, no transfer of priests and no confirmation, the people still chose to keep him out of sight.
Even with the intervention of John Cardinal Onaiyeken, who became the administrator of the diocese just to settle the dispute, the conflict was not yet resolved. He had to return back to the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja as the matter grew worse.
It is sad to note that this dispute was centered on “ethnicity“. It was based on the claim that since the Diocese came into existence, they never had any Catholic Bishop from their region. Hence, it was time for the Catholic Church in Nigeria and the Catholic Church at large to hear their cry and hearken to their plea for an indigenous Bishop.
But is that the best way to make their voice heard?
Their voice was actually heard and the Vatican became involved in the matter. In June 2017, the Bishop in question and priests of both the opposing and supporting sides were invited to the Vatican in order to deliberate on the issue with the Pope. After the meeting, Pope Francis condemned the act of both the priests of the opposing sides and the faithful supporting these priests. He made a declaration that all priests of the opposing sides in the diocese should write a letter within 30 days pledging their obedience Vatican as well as accepting Bishop Okpaleke as their bishop.
Reflecting on this experience he says:
“Taking the above into consideration, I am convinced, in conscience that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese is no longer beneficial to the Church. I do not think that my apostolate in a diocese where some of the priests and lay faithful are ill disposed to have me in their midst would be effective… Therefore, for the good of the Church and the Catholic diocese of Ahiara in particular, I humbly requested the Holy Father to accept my resignation from the office of the Bishop of Ahiara. I have taken this step also for the good of all the faithful of Ahiara Diocese, especially those that have remained faithful in a local Church being controlled by some priests”, “I consider my resignation from the position of Bishop of Ahiara as the only proper option now to facilitate re-evangelization of the faithful and, most importantly and urgently, the priests of Ahiara Diocese, especially now that the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia can already decipher priests who affirmed their loyalty to the Holy Father and those who decided to bow out of the Catholic Church in disobedience”.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, accepted the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke and Placed Bishop Lucius Ugorgi, the Bishop of Umuahia, as the apostolic administrator of the diocese.
Can this be called victory for the Catholic Church in Ahiara?
(Agenzia Fides, 19/2/2018)
Click below to download the Apostolic/resignation letter of Bishop Okpaleke
Write-up By KSInfo