Breaking News: Pope declares seat of Bishop of Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese vacant, appoints Sole Administrator
Ahiara Mbaise Catholics in Imo State, South-East Nigeria, appear to have won their war against the bishopry of Father Peter Okpaleke. This afternoon, the Catholic website Catholicculture.org announced the appointment of the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, as the apostolic administrator of Ahiara Diocese. This has apparently aborted the prospective 10-year tenure of Father Okpaleke, who was consecrated May 21 in neighbouring Owerri following his vehement rejection by Ahiara Mbaise Catholics.
Below is the text of a story entitled "Pope Francis appoints cardinal as administrator of troubled Nigerian diocese" uploaded by Catholicculture.org around 12 hours GMT:
Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria's capital, as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Ahiara.
Founded in 1987 and located in the Mbaise region of Imo State in southern Nigeria, the diocese was governed by Bishop Victor Chikwe from its inception until his death in 2010.
In December 2012, Pope Benedict appointed Father Peter Okpaleke, a priest of the Diocese of Awka in neighboring Anambra State, as the diocese's new bishop. 400 priests, angered that a Mbaise priest was not appointed, protested the decision.
The appointment sends a very reprehensible signal about the status and reputation of about 500 Catholic priests that trace their origins to the soil of Mbaise, a diocese that has been globally acclaimed as the Ireland of Nigeria, the priests said in a statement.
Some priests and lay protesters saw Cardinal Francis Arinze, the retired prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as the force behind the appointment of Father Okpaleke. Cardinal Arinze comes from Anambra State.
"Awka has five bishops, Mbaise has no bishop, said a placard at the priests protest. We want Mbaise son as Mbaise bishop."
Father Okpaleke was ordained bishop of Ahiara on May 21, but the ordination took place at a seminary in another diocese amid heavy security. At the time of the ordination, youth locked the cathedral of Ahiara in protest. Some protesters placed a coffin with the new bishop's name at diocesan headquarters.
The Holy See has not announced Bishop Okpaleke's resignation from his see. Typically, the Pope appoints an apostolic administrator when a see is vacant (sede vacante), but a sede plena appointment is not unprecedented: Archbishop Joseph Miot served as apostolic administrator of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 1997 to 2008, while Archbishop Francois-Wolff Ligonda remained archbishop, and Bishop Thomas Olmsted was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Gallup in 2008 while Bishop Donald Pelotte remained diocesan bishop.
Ahiara Mbaise Catholics in Imo State, South-East Nigeria, appear to have won their war against the bishopry of Father Peter Okpaleke." . . . News Express www.newsexpressngr.com
They might not have won because what it means is that the diocese has no Bishop for now. And the position of no-Bishop cannot be the ideal position for a diocese.