Governor Rochas Okorocha addressing priest on the Ahiara diocese crisis

Insight on the Ahiara diocese crisis

Some of us don’t really understand this Ahiara diocese crisis. Some of us don’t even know how a bishop is selected in the catholic church. But I have seen lately that so many social media warriors are busy throwing punches to the church without studying the background of the matter. It is even embarrassing to see governor and local chiefs trying to plead to some of these priests to obey the pope and follow his advice and move on.

Since it is already a public debate, for the sake of clarity and the benefit of those that really want to understand the problem, I will throw a little light on this issue. This is my space. if you must contribute “Be civil”

In the catholic church, the second Vatican council (1962–1965), declared that the right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority.

Ordinarily if all things been equal, a Bishop is required to submit his resignation letter when he turns 75 years of age, he can submit it before then but it is the duty of the Vatican to approve of it. If the resignation is accepted with immediate effect, the episcopal see becomes vacant on publication of the pope’s decision. However, vacancy of a see may occur also because of a bishop’s transfer to another see or position, or because of his death. In the case of a nunc pro tunc acceptance, the see does not become vacant immediately, but the process that leads to the appointment of a successor begins without delay.

One important element in selecting a bishop is the list of priests, of both the diocesan and the religious clergy, that the bishops of the ecclesiastical province or the whole Episcopal Conference judge to be suitable generically (without reference to any particular see) for appointment as bishops. They are required to draw up this list at least once every three years, so that it is always recent.

When it comes to a concrete appointment for a particular see, the papal representative (apostolic nuncio or delegate) asks either the outgoing bishop, or in case of a sede vacante, the vicar general or diocesan administrator, to draw up a report on its situation and the needs. That person will be the bishop who has presented his resignation or, if the see is vacant, the diocesan administrator or apostolic administrator. The papal representative is also obliged to consult the metropolitan archbishop and the other bishops of the province, the president of the bishops’ conference, and at least some members of the college of consultors and the cathedral chapter. He may also consult others, whether clergy, diocesan or religious, and “lay persons of outstanding wisdom

Canon law insists on enabling those consulted to provide information and express their views confidentially, requiring that they be consulted “individually and in secret”
The nuncio then decides on a short list, or terna, of three candidates for further investigation and seeks precise information on each of them. Since if it were widely known that a priest who was not the one who was finally chosen for the post had been under consideration, people might think he had been excluded because of some fault found in him (a groundless conclusion, since all those examined may be eminently worthy and suitable, but only one can be selected), the nuncio will ask those consulted about individual candidates to observe the strictest confidentiality on the fact of the consultation. He will then send to the Holy See a list (known as a “terna”) of the (usually) three candidates that seem to be the most appropriate for consideration, together with all the information that has been gathered on them and accompanying the information with the conclusions that he himself draws from the evidence.

The qualities that a candidate must have, are listed in canon 378 §1. As well as being at least 35 years old and a priest for at least 5 years, he should be “outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues”, and should possess the other qualities needed for fulfilling the office in question; and he should be well versed in sacred Scripture, theology and canon law and, preferably, hold a doctorate in one of these fields. There is nowhere it is stated that the bishop must come from among the priest of that diocese let alone from the same ethnolects or tribe.

The congregation of the Roman Curia responsible for the appointment (one of the four indicated above) studies the documentation provided by the nuncio, taking into consideration his opinion, but not necessarily accepting it. It might even reject all the candidates he has proposed and ask him to prepare another list, or it might ask him to provide more information on one or more of the priests who have already been presented. When the Congregation decides on which priest should be appointed, it presents its conclusions to the pope, asking him to make the appointment. If he agrees, the papal act is communicated to the nuncio for him to obtain the consent of the priest to his appointment and to choose a date for its publication. The newly appointed bishop is obliged to get episcopal consecration within three months of the arrival the papal bull of his appointment, which is usually prepared only at least a month after the publication. If the consecration takes place within the diocese, he takes charge immediately. If it occurs elsewhere, a separate act is required, after the consecration, for taking possession of his new post.
Bringing the process to a conclusion obviously requires much time, usually taking at least nine months, and it may on occasions take up to two years.

The procedure described above is the normal one for the appointment of a diocesan bishop.

So in the case of Ahiara Diocese, It happened that the late Bishop Victor Adibe Chikwe who served as the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ahiara from his appointment on November 18, 1987, until his death on September 16, 2010, fulfilled this obligation and submitted names of potential candidates for bishop all the time he was alive as stipulated by the church law. When he died in September 16, 2010, the episcopal see of Ahiara diocese becomes vacant after the publication of the pope Benedicts’s decision.

The apostolic nuncio and papal delegate started their consultation in line with the guidelines stipulated in the Canon law. During the secret consultation, all the indigenous priests of Ahiara diocese that was in the list that was provided by the bishop were heavily criticized and rejected by different factions of the Ahiara indigenous priests. Since this is a secret meeting. it becomes so crucial that none of the qualified nominees got acceptance or rather endorsement from mainly their local priests

To the Papal nuncio, it appears that there was different factions or cliques among these priests. He also observed that these priests have started unnecessary negatives politics with things of God. In his report, he noted that it was impossible to get a priest from the list. The episcopal see remained vacant for some time because of these internal struggles among Ahiara Diocesan priests and they were unable to agree on a particular “Mbaise indigenous priest” to be elected as bishop of their diocese.

Looking at the sensitive nature of this problem, the Apostolic nuncio and the Vatican started looking for a way forward. After due Consultation with the bishop conference in Nigeria. The catholic bishops advised the Vatican to appoint a neutral person for the diocese to avoid crisis. It is in view of this that the Vatican selected another qualified bishop candidate who happen to be an igbo person as well and appointed him to occupy the seat of the episcopal see of Ahiara diocese. “All hell let loose”

Mind you, the intention of the Vatican was to bring a neutral person to the diocese who will help to solve this problem and harmonize these factions and negative politics going on among those priest. Little did they know that some of the Ahiara catholic priests will resort to ethnic bigotism , ethnolect and dialectical prejudice and discrimination among their fellow Igbo. The Papal delegates had previously thought that all these people are of Igbo extraction and no such ethnic bigotry of this nature will ever be surfaced. But here we are. Bishop Okpalaeke is an igbo man from Anambra State. Mbaise is in Imo State. All of us are brothers. people from Mbaise intermarry with Anambra people and they speak and understand each other.

But the same few arrogant priests that rejected their own indigenous appointed priests that was listed as qualified candidates started another agitation after Bishop Okpalaeke’s appointment.

One of their argument was that, they have produced so many priests and thus have qualified indigenous priests that should be given a bishop. As you have seen above, there is nowhere in the church law that gave them that right to select a bishop from their ethnic affiliations. The criteria for selecting a bishop is not based on how many priest you have produced in your diocese. The right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority which is the Holy see. There is no law that forbid the pope in selecting bishop from China or Europe for them. For example, the current Papal nuncio of Ireland now is an igbo man.

Secondly, they argued that the appointed Igbo bishop cannot speak their Igbo dialects or understand their culture. This is funny. First of all, Igbo catholic community have had European bishops in that eastern part of Nigeria before and those bishop survived very well let alone an Igbo man. Remember Bishop Shanahan is not an Igbo man but he was a bishop in Igbo land and he did wonderful things. The canon law however did not give such provision of language similarity as impediment for selecting a bishop. Language is never considered.

Thirdly, they argued that the list provided by their late bishop was not followed. As you may recall, the same people rejected all the priest. they were busy writing petition upon petition backstabbing all the candidate selected. The church is wise and may not like to bring more problem by appointing from the list to avoid agitation.

For me, it seems some of these priests have secret agenda or want to bring down this diocese. The parishoners should not follow this part with them. This is becoming an embarrassment to the church. How can Rochas Okorocha of all people come to preach peace to priests. It is bad.

Unfortunately, we have seen that some of these priests have started playing to the emotions of innocent parishioners and fanning the flames of ethnicism, bigotry and discrimination. Planting seed of hatred among the Igbos. What are they preaching in the pulpit? It is shameful to see men of God play politic with the laity to this level. I saw some horrible graphic images and even some carried empty coffins to protest with omu leaves on their mouth. Some priests were in their company. What a shame.

You must know that catholic church is hierarchical and it is not democratic and It’s shameful when you read some people say when an Anambra Bishop speaks, Mbaise people won’t hear him as if he will be speaking Hausa or Yoruba. And I ask, so Igbo is not one? And we are talking about Biafra And I have read from some people defending this horrible act of rebellion? The person made a Bishop is not a Fulani man. This is not a Kanuri man . This is not a Tiv. And you are defending this?

It is immoral, offensive and sickening. Archbishop Kaigma has argued it all, if Onye Igbo cannot accept Onye Igbo, who on earth will he accept? A Fulani man???

We must understand this background before pitching our tent. This is 7 years after the death of bishop Chikwe. The church has tried all possible ways to solve this problem but some of these priests are bent on deceiving some people. This display of stubbornness and disobedience has led the pope to demand their renewal of obedience to the Apostolic see. So, don’t join those who want to copy from the book of Martin Luther the estrange European priest who spearheaded the separation of the protestant and English church in the 16th century for mere arrogance and ulterior motives

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
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