The Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria, on Monday, supported the sanction meted out to the Ahiara Diocese, Imo State, by Pope Francis for rejecting Bishop Peter Okpalele posted to the area.
The pope had warned the priests in Ahiara to accept Okpaleke, who was transferred to the diocese in 2012, or risk being suspended for disobedience.
Addressing the press at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the laity council said it stood with the pope on the matter.
It condemned the priests and lay faithful of Ahiara Diocese over the protracted crisis on the issue, adding that their action had attracted public odium to the Catholic Church hitherto revered for its discipline and obedience to constituted authorities.
The group’s statement, signed by its National President and Secretary-General, Messrs Chizoba Nnagboh and Anthony Idonin respectively, said, “The CLCN is completely scandalised and bewildered by the uncharitable and venomous utterances used against the hierarchy of the church by priests and lay faithful of the diocese.”
It described the attitude of the Ahiara catholics as sacrilegious and unacceptable.
The statement read in part, “On behalf of the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria and indeed the teeming Catholic lay faithful in Nigeria, we wish to express our solidarity with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria on her position on the Ahiara imbroglio and to puritanically identify with the Holy Father, Pope Francis pronouncement on the issue.
“We call on the priests and lay faithful of Ahiara Diocese to religiously comply with the directive of the Holy Father, Pope Francis to accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke as their bishop.
“We are more stupefied by the fact that these utterances were coming from people who are well schooled in the teaching and doctrines of the Catholic Church.
“Is it not sad that priests of the Catholic Church could defy papal’s authority? We cannot profess to be catholic while our words and actions show the antithesis.
“The imbroglio in Ahiara Diocese, which is occasioned by the disobedience of some people in the diocese to obey the directive of the Holy Father to accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke as their bishop, has put us in a quagmire and shamed us before the world.
“The Mbaise people have brought the moral bar too low by their actions and so brought disgrace to everybody.
“The recent appointment, acceptance and peaceful installation of the Bishop of Ogoja who hails from Ikot Ekpene should be instructive enough to the Ahiara people.
“The teaching of the Catholic Church, richly documented in our myriad Catholic literature, is enough to sway any aggrieved members to the path of obedience of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. Enough is enough!”