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Mbaise ‘rebel’ priests re-strategise

Catholic priests opposed to the episcopacy of Bishop Peter Okpaleke in the Ahiara Diocese of the Church are holding series of meetings to determine the next move after Pope Francis had given them till July 9 to apologise to the  Bishop and to the Vatican.
The Pontiff, at a meeting with delegates from the diocese on June 8 over the four-year-old impasse, also gave the priests an ultimatum to either accept Peter Ebere Okpaleke who was appointed bishop of the diocese in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI or lose their jobs.
Reports said that the visibly angry Pope declared that whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the church, adding “this is forbidden”.
Pope Francis said that he had even considered “suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children”.
Instead, he said, every priest of the diocese whether residing in Nigeria or abroad, must write a letter to him asking for forgiveness because “we all must share this common sorrow.”
Each priest’s letter, he said, “must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope” and indicate a willingness “to accept the bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed.”
Although the Pope admitted that it was very hard for him to take the stand, he said that the people of God had been scandalized and that “Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences.”
According to the Vatican, the diocese has close to 423,00 Catholics and 110 diocesan priests.
The priests had rejected Okpaleke on ground that they preferred a local priest to  Okpaleke who is from Awka Diocese in Anambra State, a neighbouring state to Imo, home to Ahiara Diocese.
The protesting priests accused Cardinal Francis Arinze as the mastermind of the appointment, arguing that Awka, Arinze’s home, had produced more than six bishops while Ahiara Diocese, width its high number of priests, had none.
All entreaties from the Vatican to the priests, who are known to have always professed the infallibility of the Pope and obedience to his pronouncements to the laity, fell on deaf ears.

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