MasterwebNews 11/3/16 - Second Letter To Priests of Ahiara Catholic Diocese

[ Masterweb Reports: Ifeanyi Afuba reports ] – “The world is in a tragic state when salesmen do not believe in their products.” -Fulton Sheen. It is some ten months now since I lent my voice to other interventions asking you to relent in opposition to the Vatican’s appointment of Most Rev Peter Okpaleke as the Bishop of Ahiara Catholic Diocese. My letter of April 2015 published in both the mainstream and social media was directed at you the priests for the simple reason that you are considered the inspiration behind the revolt in the Diocese and secondly, for the fact that to whom much is given, much is expected. As I indicated in the aforementioned comment, your stance on the subject matter is something of a puzzle to some of us considering that you are far more educated on Church history and teachings than we, the laity. Your role in this saga is a riddle because you cannot be in doubt about the consequences of the ensuing course of events.
 

Mercifully, the size and scope of clerical activism has narrowed a bit. In late January, 2016, a delegation of Ahiara Diocesan priests and laity were in Awka to pay homage to Bishop Peter Okpaleke. The warm and touching interaction between His Lordship and the visiting faithful of the Diocese which was preceded with the holy Mass gave indications that better judgment had finally started prevailing on the matter. We salute the ranks of these priests who though in the minority have through their courageous witness revived the conscience of the Diocese.

 

But it seems certain to remain a long walk to the Promised Land. The impasse has continued because many of you, our beloved priests have not shifted from your position that the appointment of a bishop must be from the ranks of indigenous priests.

 

In making this demand, this absolute demand, rather than an appeal or application, you are practically trying to command the Church hierarchy. Pitting yourselves against the constituted authority of the Church cannot conceivably lead to the attainment of your objective. As you know so well, the mandate of the Church is not just constituted authority in the civil – political sense but sacred authority founded in the divine realm.

 

Now, you cannot run two parallel authorities in any serious organisation. You cannot have two captains in one ship. To expect a prophetic Church that has kept faith with its doctrines at huge political, economic and social cost for over two thousand years to suddenly renounce her Episcopal policy merely because it has not gone down well with some people is akin to attempting to reinvent the wheel. It would be a permissive Church that seeks to achieve political correctness in the mission of evangelisation.

 

Yes, the Church could and indeed continues to review many of its decisions when she finds cogent reasons for such retreat. This appraisal is neither the product of ultimatums nor does it take place in an unorganised and casual manner. Such review of Church policy or doctrine is often informed by the need to maintain consistency of the eternal truths in the face of new cultural phenomena. It could also be prompted by a need to rectify irregularities, errors or perceived oversight. The end purpose is justice and in upholding the cause of right, the Church’s integrity is underscored.

 

In contrast to the above, the demand for withdrawal of the Vatican’s approved Bishop of Ahiara Diocese seeks to undermine the authority of the Church’s leadership. We do not see in any way how the rejection of the Church’s authority can be legitimized without sparking off a scandal. A reversal of Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment or any other appointment duly made by the appropriate authority; a reversal in the present circumstance would be induced and unhealthy to the system. Where would the Church be if its affairs were no longer to be guided by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit but by the emotions of men? Does it occur to the nay sayers in Ahiara Diocese that if referendum was now to form the basis of progression and changes in the Catholic Church that many of them could lose their present positions? Should this democratization wave also extend to the faithful voting for possible reversal of priesthood ordination?

 

Every age presents its peculiar challenges to the Church of Christ. With the jet age has come a resurgence of neo paganism in such virulent form that even traditionally Catholic societies are in danger of flowing with the tide. Near nudity now passes off in the name of dress fashion all over the world with some insisting on the right of wearing revealing dresses to Church. The sport of gay marriage which started like a joke is now spreading like wild fire. For many in the so – called civilized world, life is simply about satisfaction of material want. It is therefore not surprising that the loss of the sense of sin is gaining momentum and poses one of the greatest dangers to human society in this epoch.

 

For the late reggae maestro, Bob Marley, the crisis of our times had predictable even if imprecise scenario in the sombre lyrics of ‘Natural Mystic’: Many more will have to suffer. Many more will have to die. Don’t ask me why. There’s a natural mystique flowing through the air.

 

For us Christians, the only remedy to our troubled condition is a return to God’s ways with a humble and contrite heart. On the Ahiara bishopric, nothing is gained from the agitation for the clannish card. If there is anything our brothers, the erring priests have achieved by their active and or passive resistance, it is depressing their milieu. And it would be erroneous to assume that time would simply sort things out from here. To be sure, yes, the will of God will eventually prevail in the vindication of the Church. Yes, time heals wound as the cliché says but it is also true that untreated or improperly treated wound worsens with time.

 

We do not solve problems by running away from them or carrying on as if they did not exist. Something has to give to have normalcy restored. Nothing has changed in a situation in which some priests say they are not stopping Most Rev Peter Okpaleke from exercising the reins of office and at the same time these same priests are withholding the recognition due to him as bishop. Until the needful is done, a cloud of incredulity will continue to trail opposition to the Church’s decision. The unease in the Diocese is unhealthy. And the longer it lasts, the more difficult will be the process of lasting peace and reconciliation. Just as in the domestic family, when disagreement between husband and wife linger and positions harden, reunion on the pre – existing level is not easy to forge. And while the strained relation lasts, the children feel the tension.

 

The Church too is a family. And for over a millennium, it was one big, united family. Like his predecessors, Saint John Paul and Pope Benedict emeritus, Pope Francis has invested time in the promotion of inter – faith dialogues – a message he preaches as he visits mosques, synagogues and other places of worship. There is an important lesson for harmony in Ahiara Diocese in the context of continuing efforts at ecumenism.

 

Gazing on the militant Church, the wounded Christ beckons us to avail his mercy especially in this year of mercy. In the serenity of a Lenten encounter his timeless words ring home: I have a lasting covenant with Peter.

 
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