REFLECTIONS ON ARTICLES WRITTEN ON AHIARA DIOCESE SCANDAL

By Dr Mark C. Nwoga | Published: 29.07.2017

REFLECTIONS ON ARTICLES WRITTEN ON AHIARA DIOCESE SCANDAL

One often receives articles from learned Catholic Priests commenting on the post 9th July Apology letter deadline. Consistently, most of these articles tend to criticize the process of appointment of a Catholic Bishop and blame the authorities for supposedly making a controversial appointment. It is interesting how writers have used the incident of the Ahiara crisis to "advice or educate" the Catholic authorities on how not to go about appointments.

It is noteworthy that most of these priests writers are intellectuals either teaching in seminaries with prominent ecclesiastical degrees, or living abroad. It is not entirely surprising that most of them are using the cover of Ahiara crisis to take a swipe at "the bishop-making process" that has always been the responsibility of the bishops, Nuncio and the Pope.

It is an open process well known to all, outlined in Canon law; and has produced thousands of the world's Catholic bishops. However, against the grumbling of most of the critics, this process is not, understandably, open to public scrutiny and input. Despite the veiled attacks, a process open to public input would likely produce worse controversial bishopric appointments.

Democratic elections in various countries with abundant public input and participation have always been less than friendly exercises. They divided nations, communities and families, while never producing candidates acceptable to all. We witnessed it in the Nigerian election of 2015 and the American election of 2016. The post election ripples and acrimony continue throughout the tenure of the elected governments, with the opposition growing stronger as the next election approaches. This kind of scenario should not happen in the supernatural kingdom that is the Catholic Church.

The Church is made up of the same group of citizens who participated in these political elections, with often sharply and violently opposed parties. Luckily, they are prevented from turning bishopric appointments into politically divisive elective congresses with the attendant destructive consequences.
 
The last thing the Church needs is the wide participation of the congregation, and establishment of an opposition camp waiting till the next bishopric vacancy and appointment, nay election.
 
The Catholic process of appointing bishops has been tested and successful for over 2000 years starting with the appointment of the first bishops by Jesus Christ and his apostolic successors in the person of the Popes. Jesus did not use any democratic process but instead prayed to God the Father in an all night prayer, and appointed 12 apostles including those who were brothers and cousins. Talk about justice and equitable distribution of the office of bishops. It is clear that unlike political appointments, ordinations and pastoral appointments in the Catholic Church are not expressions of individual or ethnic rights or entitlements.

These critics often neglect the real problem (in Ahiara diocesan crisis and similar upheavals in other dioceses): this is not due to a flawed process of appointment of bishops, but rather of a flaw in the presbyterium. They are few, "professional as opposed to vocational" priests, not very prayerful nor pious, but very vocal with a worldly outlook and lifestyle.

These recent articles generally paid little or no attention to the disloyalty and lack of supernatural outlook of these "professional" priests who would seize the vacuum created by the absence of a Bishop on ground, to mobilize other clergy and laity to make demands for one of their kind to be appointed, or to protest a bishopric appointment.

They often fail to profer solutions on how to remind priests of their frequently renewed promises of obedience, poverty and chastity. Necessary virtues often missing in in these troubled priests, whose life achievements and notoreity are leading diocesan uprisings against sitting Bishops and Bishops-elect.

The claim that Mbaise has not produced any indigenous bishop despite numerous vocations to the Church, is a blatant lie. Not only did Mbaise produce a bishop for two decades, it has the distinction of having an Mbaise indigene as the first bishop of Ahiara diocese. This is not the case in older dioceses like Rome, Onitsha, Owerri, Lagos, Ibadan, Benin among others. Ahiara diocese and Mbaise has produced a Bishop in the person of late Bishop Victor Chikwe. The late Bishop was from Ezinihitte Mbaise and was bishop for 23 years, from 6th January, 1988 till his death on 15th September, 2010.

According to Sonnie Ekwowusi, some commentators on Ahiara "liken the priestly ministry to a distributive career that must be governed by distributive justice". "If you take away the supernatural, all that remains will be intrinsically selfish and egotistic..".

They also question the wisdom of the Papal decree on Ahiara, with statements like, " the resolution of the situation in Ahiara diocese will not come about simply by a papal decree ..", and "I worry about any obedience secured through the threat of punishment". One therefore would ask, "Is the threat of hell as taught in Christianity, not helping secure obedience to the laws of God and civil laws? Is the fear of arrest and imprisonment not sufficient to secure obedience of the citizens for the laws of the land? Why would anyone whine when the Pope demands obedience of priests or threatens suspension from the priestly ministry?

One of such writers, Fr Chu Ilo, prays "for a Church that relies less on the threat of punishment and suspension, and more on prayer, patience, and holiness which models moral behavior." He appears to have quickly forgotten that the Church is a wonderful mother who has relied on prayer, patience and holiness in resolving Ahiara crisis for the past 5 years at the great cost of deep scandal to her children!

The Church as mother also models moral behaviour of her children by reminding them of the sins that merit suspension, excommunication and eternal damnation. Therefore, the Church cannot neglect her maternal obligation to smack her children when necessary, since without discipline, the children would follow the path of perdition.

Unless one joined the Ahiara fray recently, following the Papal decree, it would have been evident that the Church in her great wisdom had made appeals, attempted to "convict and compel the conscience", exhausted "dialogue, prayer and patience and the compelling testimony of good example", all to no avail.

In addition, Fr Chu Ilo gave unsolicited advice to the Church about learning from leadership and conflict management in democratic institutions. This attracted the review of a commentator, Emeka Njoku who replied, "In fact the Catholic church tolerated rebellion and insubordination far too long (5 years) than any effective CEO in a democratic society . There is time for dialogue and time for action in leadership. Which democratic institutions would tolerate 5 years of malicious falsehoods and hate speeches and clannish egotistical bigotry! Which democratic institutions would allow anyone violating the terms and conditions of employment or contract with impunity? An effective CEO in a democratic institution would have taken decisive actions including punishment (disciplinary actions including sacking, suspension) to deal with rebellion and gross insubordination in 2013, after Pope Francis reviewed the appointment (of Bishop Okpaleke) and confirmed it."

Fr Stan Chu Ilo misleadingly wrote that, "Starving the people of the sacraments in the diocese has not been a good pastoral strategy..", without qualifying the sacraments referred to. However, we know till date, that five (Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Annointing of the sick) of the seven sacraments continue to be administered in Ahiara diocese. Only the two sacraments (Confirmation and Holy Orders) reserved for the Bishop were prevented by those obstructing Bishop Okpaleke from exercising his episcopal ministry in Ahiara diocese.

Some who wrote on the Ahiara scandal often suggested resignation as the solution to the crisis of disobedience. However, they failed to correctly identify who is to resign for peace to reign in Ahiara. In simple terms, whoever refuses obedience to his boss should resign and go elsewhere.

In a Church where solemn promises of obedience are renewed annually, resignation is recommended for priests who have problems obeying the Pope and the Bishop he appointed and sent. Similarly, bishops who find it difficult to obey the Pope should promptly resign.

Disobeying the Pope is disobeying Jesus Christ, "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me."(Lk 10:16 ). They also disobey the Blessed Virgin Mary's instruction, "Do whatever He tells you" (Luke 2:5 )

Priests make solemn promises to obey their bishops at ordination and renew it yearly on Holy Thursday's Chrism Mass. It is mischievous not to request resignation of those who no longer value their priestly ministry founded on obedience and humility.

Some have also blamed the Ahiara scandal on the lure for power and the dignity vested on a Catholic bishop. The office of bishop has always been a big deal all over the world, not only in Igboland. This is because it is first of all, the fullness of the priesthood with the duties of teaching, governing, and sanctifying the faithful of his diocese. Secondly, a bishop continues in the line of successors of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, a bishop is the Shepherd of a particular group of the faithful and has many deacons, priests and lay faithful under his care. No priest in his right mind desires or aspires to the post of a bishop or Pope, because it is a position of great burden and selfless service. That is why when one is nominated for the position, he is asked to prayerfully consider it and indicate if he is willing to accept the burden. The nomination is only made public if the response is positive.

However, despite the requirement of a spirit of service and a genuine desire for holiness, the office of bishop in the Catholic Church has always been a target of some men who lacked these attributes. Men described by Fr Stan Chu Ilo in his article, (Ahiara Catholic diocese: A time to heal), as beset with "materialism, secularism, nepotism, tribalism, authoritarianism, sexual promiscuity, embezzlement of church funds, lack of decency and honesty in dealings with people, abuse and misuse of spiritual authority among other cankerworms"

Men also described by Uchenna Ibe, as being, "of the 'professional' and not VOCATIONAL stock of priests". Such men would always be with us unfortunately, but hopefully the seat of bishop would be protected from them.

Other writers observed that the recent appointments of bishops are, "generating so much war every time there is a vacant see." This is because of the apparent clash between the Hierarchy and "politician" priests over the duty to select good sherpherds for the flock of Jesus Christ. There is a need to safeguard the flock from those Pope Francis described as "murderous tenants...that want to grasp the inheritance" or vineyard of the Lord. These people have used different guises: "injustice in appointment", "son of the soil", "a pastor close to the people", "foreigner", "different dialect or tribe" etc.

Other critics used the crisis to allege that the bishops and dioceses are not financially accountable to the laity and priests. But the Catholic dioceses are not public companies quoted on the stock exchange with the expected "publicly audited accounts of finances made to all".

Summarizing with the words of Ik Igwilo, "there's absolute need for the reorientation of our respected clergy in the norms and ethics of their vocation." I will add that we need holy and canonizable priests, not political agitators seeking to be appointed bishops. Holy priests to lead the laity along the paths of holiness in the Church.

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