. . Commission to End Religious Foundations Crisis in Catholic Church
By Chioma Ndife
The auxiliary Bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye has been appointed the chairman of the Commission on New Religious Foundations in Nigeria by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the people, Cardinal Fernando Filoni.
The appointment to head the commission expected to end Religious Foundation Crisis in Nigeria, came sequel to the crisis rocking the various new religious congregations being formed for religious men and women in Nigeria as perceived by the Congregation for the Evangelization of the People, Rome.
Speaking on the appointment, Bishop Okoye explained that the Commission, being chaired by him, had been charged by the Congregation for the Evangelization of the People to look critically and investigate religious congregations facing one crisis or the other in Nigeria.
In his words, ‘the Congregation for the Evangelization of the People noticed that there are a lot of crises in the various new religious congregations being formed for religious men and women and asked the commission which I’m heading to look into the area, especially where there are fractions; those with and those without diocesan rites. These investigations will be sent back to the congregation.’
He revealed that the commission was expected to study the reasons for the multiplication of religious congregations in Nigeria, identify those that followed the proper canonical process, those with diocesan rites and those without diocesan rite, make recommendations based on the investigations, and report back to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the People, Cardinal Fernando Filoni.
‘Actually what we have done so far is to study closely what could be the reasons for the multiplication of religious congregations in Nigeria. What we tried to do is to do a list of these various new congregations without diocesan rites and those who are with diocesan rites but are not in peace. So what we have tried to do is to look at those who have followed the canonical process for the formation of religious congregations. We are still compiling the list but what we have now already is about 42.
‘Basically, the commission is not just to investigate, or to cause the closure of these new congregations, but to make proper delineation of those who are following the proper canonical procedure and those who are not, to advise and to recommend those who have all the necessary requirements with due process to the congregation for the evangelization of the people for approval for diocesan rites.’
He maintained that it was important for bishops in various dioceses to look more closely and study the activities of the new religious congregations in their diocese. He beckoned on those who have the intention of forming religious congregations to seek the assistance of a canonist who would guide them to ensure they followed the proper canonical procedure.
Bishop Okoye stated that it was worrisome for some congregations to have their communities with novitiates here in Nigeria and then have a bishop in Ghana or Cameroon who ordained their candidates. He regretted that the bishop of the Principle See of the place of formation was mostly thrown far apart from the place where the novitiate was staying.
He said it was necessary for congregations in their early stage to pass through some processes which should begin with private association. He disclosed that at the private association, the bishop of the diocese where the congregation existed would begin to see members of the congregation as those doing a nice work in their congregation. The congregation, according to Bishop Okoye, could be those who had great concern for those in the hospital, education of children, catechetical instructions, among other areas of life.
He explained that the bishop of the dioceses where the congregations existed at some point would give the congregation letter of recommendation and upgrade them to the level of public association while he continued to understudy the activities of the congregation before they formed a committee of a family. He pointed out that the letter of recommendation from the diocesan bishop could only be given if the congregation had distinguished itself in character and had witnessed growth in its numerical strength.
He wondered how a congregation could be a in a country while the bishop that should over see their activities stayed in another country, saying that there would be no supervision nor oversight function of the congregation in such a situation.
He said it was proper for the superior general heading a religious congregation to be close to the Principal Bishop of the See where the congregation worked, noting that such conditions would help the commission to evaluate religious congregations in Nigeria.