By Sam Eyoboka & Chidi Nkwopara
OWERRI—MIXED reactions yesterday, trailed the eventual resignation of the embattled Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev. Peter Ebele Okpalaeke, and the reported acceptance of his resignation by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
According to a statement issued by the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, Rev. Fr. Chris N. Anyanwu, monitored in Owerri, the Bishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, was appointed the Apostolic Administrator.
The terse statement read: “Following the resignation of Most Rev. Peter Okpalaeke as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, as a result of the crisis that has lingered for nearly six years in that Diocese, His Holiness, Pope Francis, has today, appointed Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, the Bishop of Umuahia, as the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese. This appointment is with immediate effect.”
Similarly, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, equally released a statement, Agenzia Fides, from where the CSN hinged it’s release.
Part of the statement read: “The Holy Father, after having accepted the resignation of His Excellency, the Most Rev. Peter Ebele Okpalaeke, has relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara, and at the same time, has thanked him for his love for the Church.
“Following the instructions of His Holiness, Pope Francis, during the months of June and July 2017, he received 200 letters from individual priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, in which they manifested to him,obedience and fidelity.
“Some priests however, pointed out their psychological difficulty in collaborating with the Bishop after years of conflict.
“Taking into account their repentance, the Holy Father decided not to proceed with the Canonical Sanctions and instructed the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, to respond to each of them.
“In this line, the Congregation has urged every priest to reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ and expressed hope that in the future, they will never again, repeat such unreasonable actions, opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff.
“The Holy Father is grateful to the faithful: priests, religious and laity, who have shown closeness to His Excellency, Monsignor Okpalaeke, and have supported him with prayers.
“He is also grateful to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria, for the support given to their brother Bishop, to whom He sends a special Apostolic blessing.
“For the time being, the Holy Father does not intend to appoint a new Bishop in Ahiara, but he reserves to himself the right to continue to have a special and particular concern for this Diocese, assigning a new Apostolic Administrator, see vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, in the person of His Excellency, Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia, to whom he grants all the faculties reserved to an Ordinary.
“The Holy Father, who accompanies with prayer, this new phase in the life of the Church in Ahiara, hopes that with the new Apostolic Administrator, the local Church will recover it’s vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wounded the Body of Christ.”
Meanwhile, anti-Okpalaeke group in Mbaise went into wild jubilation while those in the opposing camp sulked in grief.