Pope accepts Nigerian bishop’s resignation

Pope Francis has accepted a Nigerian bishop’s resignation after months of attempting to convince Nigerian clergy to accept Bishop Ebere Okpaleke’s authority.

Priests of Ahiara diocese, Mbaise in Nigeria’s Imo state have consistently refused to accept Okpaleke since his appointment nearly six years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Okpaleke Bishop of Ahiara.

Local clergy and faithful objected to his appointment.

They rejected him as an ethnic outsider in Mbaise and prevented him from entering the cathedral to take possession of the diocese.

Mbaise, a Catholic stronghold, includes an amalgam of indigenous clans connected by intermarriage.

Last June Francis asked clergy in the diocese to write, pledging their fidelity to him (ie the Pope), and expressing willingness to accept Okpaleke.

He repeated his request last August.

He also told them if they did not write such a letter, they would face suspension from the priesthood,

Over 200 clergy wrote expressing their fidelity to him as Pope, but explaining they could not accept Okpaleke.

Okpaleke wrote to Francis last week tendering his resignation.

He told Francis he had not been able to take possession of the diocese or live within its territory because of continuing “violent reaction and resistance”.

The Vatican’s press release about the situation says Francis has accepted Okpaleke’s resignation and has “thanked him for his love for the Church.”

It also says Francis “does not intend to appoint a new Bishop in Ahiara, but (…) reserves to himself the right to continue to have a special and particular concern for this Diocese.”

He has appointed an Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia, to whom he has granted all the faculties of a Bishop.

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