Pope Francis has threatened to fire priests of the Ahiara diocese in Imo state, over their refusal to accept their new bishop, Peter Okpaleke.
Though Mr. Okpaleke is an Igbo from Anambra State, the Catholic leaders in Ahiara rejected him because he is not an Igbo man from Mbaise.
Francis, on June 8 at the Vatican, met with a delegation from the Ahiara diocese, where priests have been refusing to accept the 2012 appointment by then pontiff, Benedict XVI.
Following his appointment, he was however met with a storm of opposition by the leaders and congregation. He was not even allowed to hold mass in the church.
His predecessor, late Victor Adibe Chikwe, came from Mbaise and was accepted by the worshippers, because he was “son of the soil”.
The Archbishop of Abuja and apostolic administrator of Ahiara, Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan were also present at the meeting with the Pope.
Others at the meeting were Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri, Monsignor Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, and the Bishop of Ahiara, Bishop Okpaleke.
The delegation had previously met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Fernando Filoni, and the superiors of the same dicastery, with whom the Church’s situation in Ahiara was widely examined.
Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, reporting the pope’s unusually harsh order, said Sunday that Francis was acting “for the good of the people of God” by threatening to suspend the priests from the ministry if they didn’t pledge in a letter, by July 9, “total obedience” to Francis and accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment.
Francis told the visiting delegation he was “very sad” about the priests’ refusal to obey and ruled out tribal loyalties as causing the refusal.