Over 3,000 members of Ahiara Diocese of the Catholic Church on Saturday gathered at the Mater Ecclesiae cathedral, Mbaise, Imo State, for a rally to insist on the removal of embattled Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke.
Okpaleke was anointed and consecrated Bishop of the diocese by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 but both the Laity Council and the Priests in the diocese rejected his appointed on the grounds that he is not an indigene of the area, among other reasons.
The diocesan youth, who put on black attire, chanted solidarity songs to reject the Pope’s choice.
Anyanwu insisted that Okpaleke was forced on them, and that he was not a priest “incardinated in the Ahiara Presbyterian.”
He said, “There was no time we insisted that the bishop of the diocese must be an Mbaise son, but the prelate must be a priest incardinated in the diocese. We shall accept any bishop whether a Hausa man or a Yoruba man as far as he is incardinated in Ahiara Diocese.”
Also addressing the gathering, the Provincial Ambassador, Laity Council of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Lawrence Opara, dismissed as propaganda, reports that the Mbaise priests would be sanctioned by the Pope if the agitation continued.
Opara, who is also the Secretary, Ahiara Diocese Laity Council wondered why the case was different and difficult to resolve since it started in 2012.
He said, “This is time of propaganda but the truth must be told. They gave us a bishop by hook and crook means. We cannot accept him.
“It is biblical that if a priest is given to a people of God and he is rejected, he should go and be assigned to another people, who will accept him.”
Opara described the rumour that the Mbaise priests would be sanctioned as false, maintaining that no priest had been derobed without his bishop’s consent and approval.
The traditional ruler of Okirika-Ama, Umuokirika in Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area, HRH Eze Dominic Okoro (75) also faulted the claims that some traditional rulers from Mbaise visited the Pope in the Vatican.
He said, “Those people they said went to Rome to see the Pope were not our true representatives. Those who went from Nigeria deceived the Pope by telling him that they were the representatives of the Diocese.
“I am a traditional ruler and in the way we conduct our traditional institution, no royal father would leave for the Vatican City without all the Ezes knowing.
“We are not in any way against the authority of the Pope, but what we are fighting is injustice, corruption and evil among other vices in the Catholic Church.”