Pope Francis Accepts Bishop Okpaleke Resignation: Flashback



Bishop Okpaleke

“AHIARA: A TEST CASE  DIOCESE” Says  BISHOP CHIKWE after rejection of Bishop Okpaleke.

Bishop Okpaleke was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 as Bishop of the southern Nigerian diocese of Ahiara. Local clergy and faithful objected to his appointment and prevented him from entering the cathedral in order to take possession of the diocese

The Catholic Bishop  of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Victor  .A. Chikwe, on Sunday August 23rd,2008 disclosed to the 3rd Plenary session of the Diocesan Council while thanking them for the  honour done to  him by celebrating his 70th  birthday anniversary, that Ahiara Diocese was declared “a test case diocese” during its creation in Rome, twenty years ago.

(Culled from THE  LEADER newspaper of SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER, 7,2008:17).

Again while preaching a  homily on Easter  Sunday of 2006 at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Ahiara, he spoke  about the  empty  tomb and the corrupt  nature of the Jewish Guards who accepted bribe and lied that Christ’s body was stolen by His Apostles while they (the guards)were asleep.

In the empty tomb scenario, the Prelate  compared the  difference  between Jewish graves and ours pointing out  that theirs are  cave- like and  covered with  huge rocks. He explained that such occasioned the  fear   expressed  by Mary Magdalene and the others about who would  roll off the  rock for them to anoint the  body the  body  of Christ.

He further stressed that  the action of John the  beloved apostle on waiting for Peter to enter the tomb first not  minding that he(John) reached first, smacks of respect  to the elder.

The chief shepherd opined that the  acceptance of  bribe and the lie told  by the Jewish Guards that Christ’s body was stolen by his apostles while they were asleep instead of the truth that Christ had  risen from the dead exposed them to a sickening  height of  corruption.

He disclosed that the  huge rock was pushed aside by vibration of wind as nothing would  abstract  God’s plan while the  corrupt  Jewish  soldiers  resembled the  empty tomb itself.

The  cleric then summoned the attention of the faithful to the message of the empty tomb stating that people of God should always bear witness to Christ, speak the truth and stand firm in their faith otherwise, they are likened to the  empty tomb. He alerted that the disappearance of the holy body of Christ in the tomb generated  confusion and  fears among the women: Mary Magdala, Salomey, the apostles Peter and John who had  forgotten the gospel that  Christ would rise from the dead on the third day and urged the faithful not to  be shaken in their  faith in Christ anytime in their lives.”

(Culled from THE LEADER of MAY 7,2006:6)

The  above  two  reports  were the   words of the Late  Bishop  of Ahiara diocese as   culled  from  the reports   in the  aforementioned   editions of THE LEADER  newspaper.

If you do  a literary  critique of those   words  of the  Late  Most. Rev.Dr.Victor A.Chikwe,  you easily  find out that a section of his faithful, religious  and  ordained fought  valiantly  in tandem with injunction of the  late  bishop that  “they should not  be  shaken in their  faith.”  as well as taking steps to avoid  becoming  the  biblical   “empty tomb.” While we salute the  courage  of  a  section  of  the  Ahiara   diocese: religious, priests  and  laity  who remained  resolute  to  the cause of demanding for a bishop incardinated   in Ahiara  diocese, we  make  haste to add that  a battle  has  just  been won, even though the  main war still  rages on. There is  a  need for the   age-old  Mbaise monolith  to  be  re-enacted so that the tasks  that  lie ahead  can  be   decisively handled in a manner that Ahiara diocese  can no longer  be seen as “a test  case  diocese “ but a  diocese  that  has   come  to   exist permanently  in  the   comity  of  dioceses in Catholicism. There is no alternative to a symbiotic relationship  with  all the   groups  in Owerri  Archdiocese in support of Ahiara diocese.

The mystical  body  of  Christ  should remain  prayerful  until  a  final  decision   from the Pope  is   taken on this  issue. As long as the Pope  has  not  appointed  a  substantive  bishop  for the   Ahiara  diocese, so  long will all involved  stay in a state  of  suspended  animation.  Let us  be  prayerful  so that when next the POPE  speaks EX-Cathedra  on this issue, he will  take a  decision that  will  foster   collective   joy and a state of Sensus Ecclesiae (i.e staying with the Church in love) among the  hitherto  feuding   factions.

But who is Bishop Okpaleke and what is his  connection with  Ahiara Diocese in Nigeria?

Bishop Okpaleke was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 as Bishop of the southern Nigerian diocese of Ahiara. Local clergy and faithful objected to his appointment and prevented him from entering the cathedral in order to take possession of the diocese. In June 2017, Pope Francis asked any clergy personnel who was formally a member of the diocese to write a letter to him pledging fidelity to the Pope, and expressing willingness to accept the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke.
Pope Francis received over 200 letters from individual priests manifesting their obedience and fidelity to him, and explanations regarding their difficulty in accepting the Episcopal appointment of Bishop Okpaleke. According to a press release from the Vatican, “after  taking into account their repentance, the Holy Father decided not to proceed with the canonical sanctions and instructed the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to respond to each of them.”

The Pope “does not intend to appoint a new Bishop in Ahiara, but (…) reserves to Himself the right to continue to have a special and particular concern for this Diocese.” He has appointed an Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia to whom he has granted all the faculties of a Bishop. With this development, Pope Francis ended the stand-off regarding the appointment of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara in southern Nigeria.

According to a report   by Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples released a press statement on Monday,19/2/2018, stating: “The Holy Father, after having accepted the resignation of His Excellency Peter Ebere Okpaleke, has relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara, and at the same time has thanked him for his love for the Church.”

A bulk text message sent to the faithful of Ahiara diocese from the office of FR.Ebii(Vicar/Delegate) reads thus:”My dear respected loyal faithful of Ahiara Catholic Diocese! Based on the information from the office of His Eminence + ,John Cardinal Onaiyekan, our beloved Bishop, Peter Ebere Okpaleke, has resigned the post of the Ordinary of Ahiara Catholic Diocese. We shall meet soon for detailed briefing

In a pastoral letter, Rev Fr..Peter Ebere Okpaleke wrote to the clergy, religious and  faithful of Ahiara Diocese dated 14th February, 2018, he said inter alia”……Taking the  above  consideration, Iam  convinced 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.”.He concluded  by saying: “I consider my resignation from the position of the Bishop of Ahiara as the only proper option now to facilitate re-engineering of the  faithful and most importantly and urgently the priests of Ahiara diocese, especially now that the Holy Father  and his collaborators in the Rome Curiae 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.”

So, it’s  correct  to say that Bishop Peter Okpaleke  emulated the  example  of Pope Benedict XV1 who  also  resigned as Pope  “For The Good of the Church.” It is pertinent to recall that Pope Benedict XV1 stepped down as Pope on February 28,2013.Throwing  more  light  on why he resigned as Pope, the Pontiff said: ”I took the decision in full freedom for the good of the  Church after praying for a  long time and examining  my conscience before God”. Furthermore, the Pope said:” Strength  of mind and  body are necessary, strength which in the  few months has deteriorated in  me to the extent that I have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the  ministry entrusted to  me,”



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