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Imo bishopric row heightens as over 3,000 faithful protest over Pope’s order

The rumpus in Ahiara Diocese of the Catholic Church over appointment of a Bishop on Saturday heightened as over 3, 000 faithful of the diocese protested the choice of the Pope.

The members, who converged on the Mater Ecclesiae cathedral, Mbaise in Imo State, in a protest rally, insisted on their total refusal of Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke.

Pope Benedict XVI had in 2012, anointed and consecrated Bishop Okpaleke as the bishop of the diocese. However, the Laity Council as well as the priests in the diocese refused his appointment because he was not an indigene of the area.

During the protest march, the diocesan youths, who were seen in black attire, women in different church uniforms, chanted solidarity songs in total rejection of Okpaleke as pronounced by the Ahiara Diocese clerics and the laity council against the order of the Pope.

In his address to the congregation inside the cathedral, the President of the Diocesan Laity Council, Mr. Gerald Anyanwu, while noting that the people of Mbaise were not in opposition to the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis I, he however said that they were against the irregularities and injustices allegedly perfected against them in the selection of the bishop.

According to him, Okpaleke, who not a priest “incardinated in the Ahiara Presbyterian,” was forced on them.

“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 an Hausa man or a Yoruba man as far as he is incardinated in Ahiara Diocese.”

Anyanwu therefore decried the activities of the Nigeria representatives of the church in Rome and called one of them (cardinals) in the Vatican City to immediately look into the case of the Ahiara Diocese.

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The protest attracted the attention of Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha who visited the scene. And in his reaction on the matter, he said, “I am the chief security officer of the state and I can confirm to you that there was no time that security operatives planned to smuggle in Okpaleke into the diocese”

Following this development, the Catholic Secretariat in the country has vowed that they will suspend the priests in the diocese by July 9,2017 should they fail to accept the appointment of Okpaleke as directed by the Pope.

The Director of Communications of the Catholic Secretariat, Rev. Fr. Ralph Madu said on the matter, “The point is that the pope has spoken, he had demanded expression of loyalty to him, there is a letter expressing that the priests be loyal to him and they should obey every directive including appointment of bishops and they have till 9th of July to do that.”


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