In what is perhaps the most strongly worded address of the Francis pontificate, the Pope blasted a group of Nigerian priests who have rejected the papal appointment of their bishop to the diocese of Ahiara, comparing them to the “murderous tenants” spoken of by Jesus in the gospel.
The Pope goes on to describe the priests’ offense against the Church as a “mortal sin,” demanding that each one write a personal letter of apology manifesting “total obedience to the Pope.”
This act of rebellion goes beyond “tribalism,” Francis said, and is rather “an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.”
The Ahiara diocese has been embroiled in controversy ever since 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed Peter Okpaleke as its bishop, an appointment that was reportedly opposed by “lay people and priests of the diocese.”
Members of the local church have demanded a bishop from the Mbaise region, like their former bishop, the late Victor Adibe Chikwe, who came from Mbaise and was accepted as a “son of the soil.”
In 2013, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal John Onaiyekan as apostolic administrator of the diocese but no resolution to the crisis has been found.
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