Last Monday, the Catholic world received the sudden news of the resignation of Bishop Ebere Okpaleke as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. His resignation followed a long drawn crisis that has lingered for close to six years in that diocese owing to the refusal of some Catholic priests and some lay faithful to accept him as their bishop. They had all along insisted on having a home grown bishop over one appointed from outside; a stance many had seen as uncatholic. Bishop Okpaleke is from Awka Catholic Diocese.
In the immediate aftermath of Bishop Okpaleke's resignation which was accepted by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, Most Rev Lucius Ugorji, bishop of Umuahia Diocese, was appointed by the Pope as the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese with immediate effect. This was contained in a press release signed by Rev Fr Chris Anyanwu, director of Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
With the resignation of Bishop Okpaleke, it is hoped that the crisis in Ahiara Diocese will abate, with the recalcitrant priests and lay faithful returning to their senses. But regardless of whatever action they take, their previous stubbornness and challenge to the Mother Church is highly condemnable. Their action was something that was hitherto unheard of in the Catholic Church and must have caused a damage that may take years to heal.
Granted that the Church in Ahiara has a right to protest what she rightly or wrongly saw as an injustice against her, the truth remains that the actors in the sad saga overstepped their limits, especially when the priests acted contrary to their vow of obedience to the Mother Church represented by the Pope.
It was a brazen display of disobedience which could only be equated with the action of unbelievers, such that must have brought ridicule to the Mother Church.
However, the resignation of Bishop Okpaleke and the appointment of an administrator, it is hoped, will present a new opportunity for parties who have erred to retrace their steps and not only that, apologize for their shameful actions. No one is bigger than the Church and it should remain so.
We commend Bishop Okpaleke for his rare patience and maturity during the crisis and it is our hope that his experience would have prepared him for future higher responsibilities which his resignation has surely opened the gate for.
We also thank the Holy Father, the Pope, for his equally mature handling of the crisis, even as we hope that the Ahiara saga will forever be buried and never resurrect.