Eight months after ordering priests in a Nigerian diocese to pledge their obedience to the pope and accept the bishop that now-retired Pope Benedict XVI had named for them, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the disputed bishop.
Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who since 2012 has been prevented from exercising his ministry as bishop of Ahiara because most of the priests in the diocese refused to accept him, said in a statement, “I am convinced in conscience that my remaining the bishop of Ahiara Diocese is no longer beneficial to the Church.”
Bishop Okpaleke’s appointment was met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy. Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo state in southern Nigeria. Bishop Okpaleke is from Anambra state, which borders Imo to the north.
The Vatican announced on 19th February that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop Okpaleke, who will turn 55 on 1st March. The pope named as apostolic administrator of the diocese Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji of Umuahia.
“Exercising the ministry in a diocese where priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to the salvation of souls – including my own soul,” Bishop Okpaleke wrote to members of the Nigerian bishops’ conference in a letter dated 14th February.
“I do not think that my apostolate in a diocese where some of the priests and lay faithful are ill disposed to have me in their midst would be effective,” the bishop wrote in a letter to the diocese also on 14th February, according to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.