Embattled Imo Bishop, Okpalaeke resigns

After nearly eight years of standoff with Catholic Priests and faithful of Mbaise extraction, the embattled Bishop of the Ahiara Catholic Diocese of Mbaise in Imo State, Bishop Peter Okpalaeke, finally caved in and resigned his appointment as Bishop of the diocese.

The Vatican has appointed the Bishop of Umuahia in Abia State, Bishop Lucius Ugorji as Apostolic Administrator until the appointment of a substantive Bishop.

Bishop Okpalaeke is from Awka Diocese in Anambra State before he was appointed Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in 2012 after the death of Bishop Victor Chikwe. His appointment was viciously resisted by Catholic Priests from Mbaise, who insisted that the Bishop must be appointed from among them.

Pope Francis, who was piqued by the action of the Priests, had threatened to take disciplinary action against them, after which he gave them ultimatum to write a letter of apology to the Vatican.

A statement issued Monday by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, published in the National Catholic Register, the Vatican said that although Priests from the diocese, wrote 200 letters to the Pope showing him “obedience and fidelity, some priests pointed out psychological difficulty in collaborating with the bishop after years of conflict”.

It added that “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 Congregation was also quoted the Pope to have urged each of the Priest “to reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ and expressed hope that in the future they will never again repeat such unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff”.

Meanwhile, the news of the resignation of the Bishop was greeted with jubilation in the diocese. President of the Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Men Organization, Chief Gerald Anyanwu, described it as “victory for the Catholic Faithful in Ahiara Diocese”.

He thanked the Pope for yielding to the genuine demands of the people, adding that peace has finally returned to the diocese.

Also thanking the Vatican, the Chairman of the Ahiara Diocese Catholic Priest Association, Reverend Father Austin Ekechukwu, said that the people are excited about the news.

But other Catholic Faithful, who reacted to the development, criticized the diocese for setting a wrong precedence that will encourage other diocese to question the authority of the Vatican.

Sir Andrew Ukachukwu, a Knight of St. John International, stated that “Bishop Okpalaeke maybe out today but knows whose turn it will be tomorrow. Ahiara diocese may have succeeded in intimidating the Vatican but they have set a precedence that is totally alien to the Catholic faith. No diocese has ever questioned or resisted the directives of the Pope. The development is really worrisome. They have brought tribalism into the running of the Catholic Church and it should be condemned by all genuine Catholic”.

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