For a better understanding of this my contribution in respect of Ahiara Catholic impasse, I want to go deep into history. I want to begin by quoting Arnold Smith, a great European Historian. “The protestant reformation was a revolt against Papal Theocracy, Clerical privileges and hereditary paganism by the Mediterean races.”
Before the Reformation of 1517 and its chains of unexpected outcome, there was only principally one Church, the Catholic Church of which the Pope was the spiritual Leaders. His actions were not questioned or challenged under any circumstances. Otherwise, anybody who questioned a Papal’s decision or decree was bound to face the charge of heresy and would be either lynched or executed by members of the Jesuit Order, led by the Ignatius Looyoll.
Incidentally, there were some Catholic practices embedded in the Catholic Church doctrines which some hot-headed growing priests with other young members of the Catholic Church emerging in the then countries where the Church was dominant. These are as included most of the then influential European countries which do in both the faith and world at the same time.
These included Italy, France, Germany, England, and Switzerland and most of the Scandinavian countries. Somewhat and unfortunately, some Historians such as Arnold Smith, Fisher and Green referred to these as the Mediterranean races. Thus, the apparent undercurrent resentment in protest against some of the matters continued in the Catholic doctrines began to be widespread at the University of Wittenberg in Germany and came out with 95 Thesis which the posted on the large entrance door to the University. This publication contained some of those things which the authors would wish the Church to remove, modify or out rightly expunged from the Catholic doctrines.
It must be made very clear that the intention of the Thesis was not to challenge the Church in order to pave way to leave the Church. No, absolutely misinterpreted by some hawks in the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, the church took extreme view of this action of some priests as amounting to challenge and questioning the authority of the Pope. In one swoop, authors of the Thesis were ex-communicated from the Catholic Church, the only Church then. Unfortunately, since many authors of the controversial Thesis were radicals and deeply knowledgeable, they began a process of seeing how best they could implement some of these things they fad queried in the Catholic doctrines. These young radicals included Martin Luther, Desiderius Erasmus, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and Henry VIII.
Principally, although there were quite a number of priests who identified with the reformers, the principal actors included Martin Luther influenced by the writing of Desiderius Erasmus whom was a humanist Scholar.
Once they had been ex-communicated by the Church, they were rather driven to a cause which they never anticipated. Trying to organize themselves into some of a united body, they could not because of their divergent views on how to proceed.
Eventually, they finally broke into several camps and established different churches such as the Lutheran, Welsely, Presbyterian, Calvanism and Zurich Contingent. One striking thing that came out of those groups was that they were known as Reformers, hence, their Churches were known as Protestantism.
However, in the course of history, most of these original reformers went into different religious evangelism with different doctrines and method of organizing their Church services. But the truth remains till this day, most of the Church services in every Church of whatever denomination has tincture of similarities in many aspects, chorus, songs, prayers, etc. in fact, observing any of those Churches today, one must identify some similarities making the fact very undeniable that the Catholic Church was the first Christian Church established by Peter the acknowledged leader of the disciples.
Therefore, when the Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s saga began about six years ago, many dogmatic Catholic faithful strongly defended the appointment of that Bishop. Unfortunately, initially the protest against his appointment attracted heavy protests and resentment not only by the Mbaise Catholic faithful but by many Mbaise intellectuals and professionals who took up their pens to condemn the appointment.
Unfortunately, as the crisis lingered, some began to withdraw or soft pedal in their protests. But sizeable number of those who were genuinely committed to the truth stood firm and sustained their protests. Even when there was a seeming order supposedly to have come from the Papalcy given the priests nine days “to recant” their opposition and to accept Bishop Okpaleke, many remained stubbornly obdurate because they were convinced that their cause was justified and their simple request should be granted to them.
Their opposition against the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke should have been done among the several numbers of Mbaise sons scattered all over the Catholic Church. Besides, how could one community in Anambra specifically, Dunukofia produce the greatest number of Bishops in the Catholic in Nigeria? They saw this as ecclesiastical colonization, hence they cried out loud and persistent without reneging on their stand. On the other hand, many believe that Bishop Okpaleke should be allowed to come, saying that nobody can oppose Papal pronouncement.
Thus, after the lingering crisis and several unsuccessful attempts to cajole the Catholics in Ahiara Diocese to accept Bishop Okpaleke, including series of intimidation and threats to the priests and to the Catholic faithful in Ahiara Diocese, the people remained firm in their demand.
Angered by this unwarranted and obvious marginalization, the priests and articulate members of the Laity in Mbaise including non-Catholics saw this as an imposition they took up “arms” literally weapons of intellectual expose’ to protest, agitate and call for one of their own irrespective of what part of Mbaise or Imo State that such a person could come from to be appointed Bishop of the youngest Diocese in the Ecclesiastical bishoprics.
Their frustration became so persistent and deepen when they remembered that the first Bishop of the Young Diocese was from the Diocese, Bishop Chikwe whom the ugly hands of death cut short his life.
Furthermore, these protesting priests and members of the Laity came to see the imposition not to have come by way of the Holy See but ingeniously contrived and given Papal coloration to enable it sell through. No, not at all. It was the realization that “this was the voice of Jacob but the hands of Esau” that they were reinforced in their drive for justice to be done. To them, it was no longer a spiritual thing but a genuine protest justifiable by several Biblical verses including the advocacy for peace and truth. Therefore, to them, the question of dogma was not part of this struggle nor the issue of disobedience.
From all indications, they had strong and convincing case and argument that they have had enough of over-towering and over bearing influence of Cardinal Francis Arinze who used his dominant position to influence almost every appointment to favour his people. Many began to ask, “ is this fair in Heaven and on Earth?”
Fortunately, the protesting priests and their supporters did not resort to any type of violence including when they were provoked by unguarded utterances of some Traditional Rulers who sold out mid-way the struggle.
In the final analysis, somehow, by the special grace of God the Truth and Justice, the cries of these protesting priests and their supporters filtered into Papal ears. He began to ask questions hence came about the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke, thus bringing that saga to a peaceful end for which there was no victor and no vanquished to the glory of God. With the appointment of Bishop Lucius Ugorji as the Administrating Bishop, it is hoped that before long, the Diocese would recover all it has lost over this four years and steady progress would resume including the appointment of Bishop from Ahiara Diocese. After all, it will be a better way to evangelize the people by one who could call Ahiara than one who would call it “Afiala”. You see what I mean. To God be the Glory.
Thank God a unification church service has been held by the Papal appointed administrator. That is the beginning of good things to come.