In a bid to finally put the Ahiara diocese crisis to rest, Pope Francis has sent down a representative, Monsignor Antonio Guido Filipazzi who just arrived Nigeria.
Monsignor Antonio Guido Filipazzi is sent by Pope Francis to resolve the crisis which has trailed the appointment of Peter Ebere Okpaleke as Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in Imo State by the then pontiff Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis’ ‘Apostolic Nuncio’ to Nigeria is also expected to make Priests who refused to see Okpaleke as a Bishop, comply with the Pope’s directives.
Bishop Okpaleke, of Anambra origin had been rejected since 2012 when he was posted to the Diocese of Ahiara because he was not a native of Mbaise in Imo state.
The new Pope representative speaks Italian, English, French and German.
Prior to this time the Pope had warned priests in Ahiara diocese to accept a 2012 appointment of a bishop, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke or risk being suspended for disobedience.
Since 2012 when he was appointed by the Pope, priests of Mbaise origin have prevented the bishop of the diocese, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke, from assuming office.
In a bid to administer the troubled diocese and resolve the crisis, the Pope had sent several delegations to plead with the priests and laity to respect the Vatican’s decision, but this was to no avail as the rebellious Mbaise priests continued to insist that one of them rather than Bishop Okpalaeke must be appointed the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese.
In a last-gasp bid to finally resolve the crisis, the Pope invited the rebellious priests/laity and the party backing Bishop Okpalaeke to nominate five representatives each for a private audience with him. Bishop Okpalaeke’s side complied, but the rebel priests ignored the Pope’s summon.
He then authorized that, for their acts of rebellion, the priests must individually write a letter of apology to him within 30 days or be suspended. The letter, he said, must include an expression of loyalty to him as well as acceptance of Bishop Okpalaeke.
Pope Francis said he even had considered "suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children."
Instead, he said, every priest of the diocese, whether residing in Nigeria or abroad, is to write a letter to him asking for forgiveness because "we all must share this common sorrow."
Each priest's letter, he said, "must clearly manifest total obedience to the pope" and indicate a willingness "to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed."
"The letter must be sent within 30 days, from today to July 9th, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended 'a divinis' and will lose his current office,"
"This seems very hard, but why must the pope do this?" Pope Francis asked. "Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences."