I am disappointed that Pope Francis would become a part of a massive world media buzz to discredit the Priests of my home diocese- Ahiara in this manner. As a Catholic, born and raised in Ahiara dioceses, I am scandalized by the inability of the Pope to listen to the cries for justice not only from over 400 Priests but from 99.5% of the Laity in Ahiara diocese. Ahiara has a Catholic population of almost 410,000. The idea that this is all about disobedience from the Priests is irresponsible, ungodly, insinuating, provocative and vexatious.
First, this is a matter of a Nigerian Cardinal – Francis Cardinal Arinze, who lives in the Vatican next door to the Pope, and who fought haven and hell to stop the creation of Ahiara diocese, now insisting on using the position of bishop of my diocese to “settle” his boy just like he has done in many other dioceses in Southeast Nigeria. This, unfortunately, is a Nigeria thing. But one would have expected that the Pope would be a part of healing our country of incomprehensible nepotism and insane corruption in high and low places. I thought that this Pope had the greatest opportunity to reign in on the criminal tendencies of many cardinals in the Vatican. A problem that has not only driven scores of Catholics away from the Church but also, caused the deaths of millions of people. The Hutu and Tutsi ethnic cleansing comes to mind. To whom then should we run!
For years now, every effort made to reach the Pope with the cries of 99.5% of the faithful in Ahiara diocese failed. We resorted to the canon law. We followed all the official processes required to challenge this type of appointment. Every effort was further manipulated from the Vatican, including ordaining this bishop in another diocese in defiance to the laws of the Church. We articulated our opposition and indicated in concrete terms why this Bishop was not fitting for our unique situation. But Cardinal Arinze and his cohorts in Nigeria swore that “his boy” MUST RULE OVER US.
One would expect that the laws or constitution of any organization should be supreme; because the framers were not stupid. They foresaw that a cardinal could go rogue and could to use his vintage position to harm others in the church. First, Pope Francis refused to allow the people of God in my dioceses the right and privilege to either give or withhold canonical possession of our dioceses from someone who was obviously coming as a king rather than a servant. What we are saying is that we will not accept nepotism in our dioceses; that the Pope should follow the provisions of the canon law and make sure that the right bishop is sent to the right people. I am joining the Priests and the 99.5% of the laity in Ahiara diocese to inform the Pope that we disagree with the selection of Bishop Okpaleke and all that he represents while pledging an unalloyed obedience to the Pope.
In all these years, children have been denied confirmation, priests have been denied Chrism Mass and young seminarians have been denied ordinations. Instead, Cardinal John Onayikan who is the Apostolic Administrator recalled banned rogue priests, some of whom went around in immorality on university campuses in Eastern Nigeria. Onayikan did this to increase the number of priests to only seven (7) who support this Bishop. Church leaders in Nigeria decided to use the holy sacraments as a nuclear weapon to silence the people of God for fighting nepotism in the House of God. They refused to correct their obvious mistake. How in this world could Pope Francis be part of this insanity?
I remind the Pope of Luke 18: 1-6; The Widow and the Unjust Judge…  “And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.”… “For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” … And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says”. For many years now, the people of Ahiara who were rightly identified as widows in the missive of June 9, have used several means to say “grant us justice against my adversary”. Instead, the bidding of our adversaries has received world prominence. If the quintessential unjust Judge would do this, does it not mean that the people of God in Ahiara would have had a better chance of being heard by the head of the Italian mafia? I really think so.
I have always referenced the Pope’s humility and sense of care for the poor but the poor people of God in Ahiara have been scattered by the possible inability to confront the high level of corruption in the Vatican. I really think that Pope Francis should resign as the successor of St Peter. The reason is that he failed to squarely fit into the position of Peter in this matter. when Peter was confronted with selecting the twelfth apostle, the Gospel of Luke said that ” Peter determines that Judas’s replacement would come from that small group of believers who had been witnesses of the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry as well as his resurrection”. Is this not the same as the Presbyterium enshrined in the canon law? Is Fr. Peter Okpaleke a member of this small group (Presbyterium) in Ahiara dioceses? NO! By trying to impose this bishop on us, the Pope has revolted against the exceptional diligence, dedication, industry, and ministry of the people of Ahiara in the Univeral Catholic Church. Instead of honoring the spirit of our late Bishop, Dr. V.A Chikwe, who built this diocese with nothing, the Pope chose a curse statement from the Psalmist for Bishop Chikwe’s epitaph thus: “Let his habitation be desolate and let no man dwell therein and his bishopric let another take.” Instead of honoring many qualified priests in the Ahiara presbyterium (that small group of believers) to continue the work of completing the massive cathedral they started since 1988, the Pope chose a “ruler” who never knew the location of our rural dioceses in his whole life and who is a well know prince of pride and worldly exuberance.
As I write, my home parish is a quasi-cathedral for the seven rogue priests. Can anyone believe that Cardinal John Onayikan, the Apostolic Administrator sneaked into my village parish one Saturday, showed up at the church on Sunday and videoed taped unassuming people of God to show the Pope that the new bishop has support in the dioceses? Yet, he refused to give young people confirmation or ordination? Where is the leadership of the Holy Roman Catholic Church headed?
Pope Francis just apologized to the people of Rwanda for the hands of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the killing of millions of Tutsi minorities in Rwanda- has he written another apology waiting for the potential consequences of the action he is alleged to have just taken?. The news is that the people of God in Ahiara dioceses WILL not accept the imposition of a bishop. Bishop Okpalaeke WILL NOT be our bishop. Period.
In conclusion, I like to rely on the words of the Lord in Jeremiah 23 (KJV):” Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. 2 “Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord”.
We hold no judgment. The Lord of Hosts certainly does. Go ahead then Pope Francis. Scatter the flock of the Most High God in Ahiara Diocese!
Dim Chijike K. Ndukwu
New Jersey, USA.