Pope threatens to fire priests
By Kevin Payne
Pope Francis has given defiant Nigerian priests an ultimatum: obey me and your bishop or lose your job.
The priests in Ahiara, Nigeria are refusing to recognize the authority of Peter Okpaleke, who was appointed Bishop by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI over the Diocese. Pope Francis, in a decision that seems very different than his usual way of handling issues, has threatened to revoke the rebellious priest’s priesthood.
Tribal loyalties were cited as the reason for why some of the priests are refusing to accept Okpaleke’s appointment. According to Crux Now, protests against Okpaleke have been motivated by the fact that he is not a local priest.
According to a report by Associated Press, Pope Francis met June 8 at the Vatican with a small delegation from the Ahiara diocese. He asked every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated, whether he resides there or works elsewhere to write a letter addressed to him asking for forgiveness. He stated that each priest must write individually and personally.
“Priests who fail to do so will be suspended and lose their current office,” Francis warned.
The Pope has often taken a much more conciliatory tone in resolving disputes, but in this case, he was entertaining no diplomacy. He acknowledged that this move seems very harsh. He added that he had even considered suppressing the entire diocese but didn’t, so as not to hurt the rank-and-file faithful.
“The people of God are scandalized,” said Pope Francis. “Jesus reminds us that whoever causes a scandal must suffer the consequences. Maybe someone manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.”
In 2015, the diocese served around 520,000 Catholics, out of a local population of about 675,000, and had 128 diocesan priests and seven other priests. It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the priests were involved in the rebellion against the bishop’s appointment.
The Vatican defended Francis' request for obedience, stating, "The Holy Father, after a careful evaluation, spoke of the unacceptable situation in Ahiara and reserved the right to take appropriate measures."
Photo: Pope Francis delivers his blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)