There was tension yesterday in Ahiara community in Ahaiazu Council Area of Imo State as aggrieved youths and priests locked up the Catholic Cathedral in protest against the consecration of Monsignor Peter Okpalaeke as the new Bishop of Ahiara Catholic Diocese. Monsignor Okpalaeke is from Awka Catholic Diocese, Anambra State. Monsignor Okpalaeke was appointed Bbishop-elect of the diocese by former Pope Benedict XVI in December last year after the death of the pioneer bishop, Victor Chikwe.
However, the appointment of Okpalaeke was vehemently rejected by Priests and Catholic faithful from the Ahiara Diocese, who insisted on a native of Mbaise to be elected as bishop of the diocese. The youths who were mainly from the community locked up the entrance gate to the cathedral where the newly ordained bishop was to begin his ten-year tenure as the bishop of Ahiara Diocese.
The aggrieved youths disrupted vehicular and human movement in the area, vowing never to allow the bishop access into the Cathedral. They insisted that the Diocese would remain without a bishop for the 10 years that Okpalaeke’s tenure was expected to last. One of the protesting priests told Daily Sun that, “as far as we are concerned we don’t have a bishop yet. The one they have just consecrated is not our bishop and we are prepared to continue without one. He added that the people had resolved to resist any imposition from any quarters.
“So the bishop they ordained today is the bishop for Archbishop Obinna, Cardinal Arinze and the Papal Nuncio.” However, in apparent disregard to the threat of the youths and priests from the community, the Catholic authority yesterday went ahead to consecrate Monsignor Okpalaeke as the new bishop of Ahiara Catholic Diocese, amidst tight security at the Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary in Ulakwo in Owerri North Council Area. The ordination, held several miles away from the diocese for security reasons attracted Catholic faithful and other dignitaries across the country and beyond. They included John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja.
In his sermon, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia Archdiocese, Lucius Ugorji, stated that it was only the Pope who had the final say in the appointment of bishops, adding that the law of the Church did not have provisions for quota system in the appointment of bishops. He added: “The acceptance of the Papal’s appointment is a respect for the Pope, while the outright rejection and inflammatory statements and protests are spiteful and disrespectful of the Papal’s authority.”