The spontaneous agitations of the clergy, laity and religious of Ahiara Catholic Diocese for a Bishop of Mbaise extraction seem to be yielding fruits if reports filtering into our newsroom are anything to go by.
Following the continued rejection of Bishop-elect of the Diocese, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke, who underwent Episcopal Consecration on Tuesday May 21, 2013 at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Ulakwo Owerri North, by a reasonable percent of Mbaise Catholics, the Church hierarchy is reported to be taking another option to avert further embarrassing moments.
Reports have it that to diffuse tension and allow peace reign in Mbaise Catholic Churches, as well as the Bishop’s pastoral centre and the Mater Ecclesiae/Mother of the Church Cathedral, Bishop Okpaleke having been ordained a Bishop would be redeployed to a new Diocese. Impeccable sources within the church hierarchy revealed that the creation of Ekwulobia Diocese would be finalized in no distant time and Okpaleke asked to take charge as Option B.
Trumpeta had in the last edition of the newspaper exclusively revealed that the Vatican had ordered that after the Episcopal ordination, Bishop Okpaleke should not be taken to Ahiara Diocese. The prediction came to reality as the newly consecrated Anambra-born Bishop was nowhere near the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral at Nnarambia, Ahiazu Mbaise LGA where protesting priests who wore black and suspected armed youths stationed themselves to ward off advances from the Church and accompanying Bishops wanting to foist Okpalake on the Diocese.
Further developments revealed that Ekwulobia Diocese is in the offing and the “Apostolic See” may fast track its pronouncement.
In the event of Bishop Okpaleke going to the new Ekwulobia Diocese, in Anambra State, his home state, the presiding administrator of Ahiara Diocese, Monsignor Theophilus Nwalor may be consecrated de facto Bishop to take full charge. The consideration of aging Nwalor is to douse tension in the Ahiara Diocese where frayed nerves among the priests, and laity reached alarming crescendo. During the crisis, majority of the priests and laity had preferred Nwalor who has held forte the stronghold of the church and said to be enjoying the support of Mbaise Catholics since the death of Bishop Chukwu.
Another option is the transfer of the Bishop of Orlu Diocese, Augustine Ukwuoma, to Ahiara Diocese. Bishop Ukwuoma is from Njaba LGA in Orlu Diocese. Part of complaints of the Mbaise Diocese is that the Bishop-elect, Okpaleke is not from Imo State.
It was further revealed that the making of an auxiliary Bishop is on for Owerri Archdiocese as Archbishop Anthony Obinna has few years to retire. To avoid unwarranted crisis succession of for Archbishop Obinna, an auxiliary Bishop would be appointed before the final exit of the Archbishop after retirement.
Meanwhile, Mbaise Catholics succeeded in round one of the fight as the ordination was held outside the Diocese, an action that is in contrast to Catholic norms. Also, majority of Mbaise Catholics, especially the priests with a strong number said to be above 300 serving in the various parishes and Catholic formations in the Diocese were absent. Only 13 priests from Ahiara Diocese showed presence.
Our reporters who were at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, venue of the ordination, observed that majority of the priests were those sympathetic to Bishop Okpaleke and others from his home state, Anambra State.
In his speech after the exercise, Bishop Okpaleke disclosed that he had earlier rejected the appointment as Bishop of Ahiara Diocese during the time of Pope Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, but was called upon by the new Pope to reconsider his stand and take up the responsibility. Bishop Okpaleke promised to make out the best of the mission, hoping to carry out his latest responsibility with the fear of the Holy Spirit.
In his sermon, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, Lucius Ugorji, said it is only the Pope who has the final say in the appointment of Bishops. He said the law of the Church does not have provisions for quota system in the appointment of bishops.
Rev Ugorji added that the acceptance of the Papal’s appointment is a respect for the Pope. He said the outright rejection and inflammatory statements and protests are spiteful and disgraceful of the Papal authority. The Bishop advised the people to bury their anger as Christians and work with the new Bishop. He advised Okpaleke to foster peace and reconciliation among the people.