Pope Francis makes U-turn, accepts resignation of rejected Ahiara bishop

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke after a five-year standoff with priests and laity in Ahiara Diocese, Imo State who rejected him as an ethnic outsider.

The announcement comes a matter of months after the Pope warned priests in the diocese that they would lose their jobs if they did not obey him and accept Okpaleke as their bishop.

Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Bishop Okpaleke to Ahiara in 2012, but the local clergy rejected him.

Benedict’s successor, Francis, had in June 2017 demanded that all priests in the diocese write him a letter within 30 days pledging their obedience to and accepting Okpaleke as their bishop.

“Those who did not write such a letter would face suspension from the priesthood,” the Pope told them at the time.

The Pope also demanded that the rebellious priests write a letter of apology to Okpaleke.

It was not clear how many obeyed within the 30-day deadline given.

But a Vatican press release quoted by its news agency, Agenzia Fides, reads, “Today the Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Ahiara (Nigeria), presented by his Exc. Msgr. Peter Ebere Okpaleke, and at the same time appointed His Exc. Msgr. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia as Apostolic Administrator.”

Ahiara is a very Catholic diocese of the Mbaise region, and its faithful objected to the appointment of an outsider from Anambra State being imposed on them.

The congregation wanted one of their own and in defiance of papal authority blocked access to the cathedral when Bishop Okpaleke was to be formally installed.

Instead, he was installed outside the diocese six months after he was appointed.

In his resignation letter, Okpaleke said remaining bishop would not be beneficial to the Catholic Church.