The order of Pope Francis after a June 8 meeting at the Vatican with a delegation from the Ahiara Diocese has been defied again as 3,000 faithful of the Diocese of the Catholic Church protest the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke.
The protesters were reportedly backed by the laity, priests and community leaders.
Mr. Okpaleke was appointed as Bishop and consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, but both the Laity Council and the priests in the diocese rejected his appointment on the grounds that he is not an indigene of the area, Mbaise.
In continuation of the defiance, worshippers again converged on Saturday on the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Mbaise in Imo State for a rally to restate their total rejection of the embattled Bishop, an Anambra indigene, who the Pope said could not be rejected.
At the Vatican meeting, the Pope had called for a truce and directed all the priests and major actors in the crisis to tender letters of obedience to the Church which he said was not owned by the community.
Pope Francis laid down an ultimatum to the defiant Nigerian priests in Ahiara Diocese in Imo state: lose your job if you don’t obey me and your bishop, the Associated Press reported.
Pope Francis said he was acting “for the good of the people of God” by threatening to suspend the priests from the ministry if they didn’t pledge in a letter, by July 9, “total obedience” to Francis and accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment.
Those priests opposing Mr. Okpaleke’s taking up of his office “want to destroy the church, which is not permitted,” the pope said in his address to the delegation.
He told the visiting delegation he was “very sad” about the priests’ refusal to obey and ruled out tribal loyalties as explaining the refusal.
However, the pope’s move to end disobedience to the Vatican appears to have been rebuffed again.
According to The Punch newspapers on Sunday, the diocesan youths, who put on black attire, chanted solidarity songs to reaffirm their support for the position taken by the Ahiara Diocese clerics and the laity council’s to the rejection of Mr. Okpaleke.
Other Catholic men and women who dressed in different church uniforms, also participated in the rally, which started with a rosary procession round the cathedral.
Addressing the congregation inside the cathedral, the President of the Diocesan Laity Council, Gerald Anyanwu, maintained that the people of Mbaise were not against the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis I, but that they were against the irregularities and injustices allegedly perfected against the people of the diocese in the selection of the bishop.
Mr. Anyanwu insisted that Okpaleke was forced on them, and that he was not a priest “incardinated in the Ahiara Presbyterian.”
“There was no time we insisted that the bishop of the diocese must be an Mbaise son, but the prelate must be a priest incardinated in the diocese. We shall accept any bishop whether a Hausa man or a Yoruba man as far as he is incardinated in Ahiara Diocese.”