A poster containing the picture of a menacing lion had the following words, apparently ascribed to the lion, “It’s hard to be humble when you are as good as I am.” Those words aptly capture the complexity of power and humility. They are indications that very many persons possessing fine qualities over and above others are hardly humble when they get to positions of power. They tend to dismiss, albeit incorrectly, the mixture of supremacy and meekness in an individual called into positions of influence.
Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State made an over-reach, recently, at the reception of the new Cardinal in Nigeria, Peter Cardinal Okpaleke, in Awka, on the return of the cleric from Rome where he was capped by Pope Francis. He was reported as asking the new Cardinal to forgive the Ahiara Catholic Diocese that rejected him as their bishop a few years back.
The curious thing that occurs to an ordinary mind, after reading this, is whether the cardinal had hatched a plan for vendetta against that diocese. Soludo made the statement as if he had a previous dialogue with the Cardinal where the Cardinal divulged to him an intention to harm the Ahiara Diocese, using his influence as cardinal and his closeness to the Vatican. If it was not the case, then, had Soludo expected him to pour venom on Ahiara Diocese? When did the church degenerate to an enclave where vindictiveness is the order of the day? And how did Soludo and every other person saying the same thing expect a cleric that has risen to the rank of a Cardinal to descend so low as to bear grudges, to the extent of not forgiving a wrong done to him? Did Cardinal Okpaleke really need such an appeal to be made to him?
Soludo’s statement can be given diverse interpretations and his intentions could be termed mischievous. By speaking in that trajectory, he could be seen as having the evil intention to open old wounds and to subtly ridicule the Ahiara Diocese.
Under normal circumstances, neither the winner braggadocio nor the loser sulkiness has a place in the congregation of Christ. It is disappointing that the governor, who ought to know this as a staunch Catholic, is creating a scenario of that nature, as if it is his wish that the cardinal is pitched against Ahiara Diocese, like reminding the cardinal of something way off his mind.
On another hand, one would begin to believe, after listening to Soludo’s appeal, that the presence of Francis Cardinal Arinze, Okpaleke’s kinsman, in the Vatican, has given the new Cardinal enough teeth to bite perceived enemies, and that Arinze was actually practising nepotism as is being touted in some quarters. It’s only a swollen head, a superiority complex, which can make a professor stray into making such statements that are uncalled for. If, after making that damaging remark, Gov. Soludo continues to receive the Holy Communion and does not go to confession, he should be prepared to face the consequence of his warped mind in the spiritual realm.
Where did the Ahiara Diocese go wrong? Anyone who, dispassionately, followed the epic battle against the imposition of a bishop on that diocese would see no evil committed against Cardinal Okpaleke.
There has always existed in the statute of the church a right to the rejection or acceptance of a bishop. This is clearly provided in the canonical laws and some other dioceses are known to have exercised this right without much ado.
Why the Ahiara case became so much an interest to Soludo and his likes remains unraveled. Besides, the rejection was backed by reasons which, if examined, made more sense than the touted assertion that the congregation of Ahiara Diocese rejected Okpaleke because he was not of Mbaise origin.
The Clergy and the Laity of the Ahiara Diocese, no doubt, recognised the common brotherhood of the universal church. For that reason, they are not expected to fall to the parochial thinking that a bishop for them must come from Mbaise. Should that be the line of thought, then, the Ahiara Community who donated a large expanse of land for the cathedral could be justified to throw their hat in the ring and insist that the bishop must be a son of their community. But it has not been so.
In their protest, the Clergy of the diocese drew attention to some portions of the canonical law that stated that for any priest to be consecrated bishop of a diocese the priest must have been of that diocese, or the archdiocese, by origin of birth or by origin of ordination. Rightly understood, the logic was that Okpaleke was not from the Ahiara Diocese or even from the Owerri Archdiocese where Ahiara belongs. He was not also ordained within the archdiocese. In other words, a priest who qualified on these grounds would have been accepted by the Ahiara diocese. The Vatican, often regarded as infallible, is not also expected to make a law and violate it, except there is a cogent reason for it.
The Vatican mishandled the case when it failed to explain the reason behind its flouting of the law that it made. Quite alright, there may have been reasons, but the reasons should have been made known for purposes of clarity. If anyone or institution is to pick offence in the affair, it is the Vatican and the Catholic pontiff and not Okpaleke. The rejection did not diminish him but rather seemed to have contributed to his elevation, and so, should he not, instead, be ever more grateful to the diocese than show vindictiveness?
Contrary to that lion poster, there still exists in our society persons that are mixtures of humility and influence in quality. Barring the influence of the likes of Soludo, Cardinal Okpaleke seems to be in this class as his reply to Soludo’s appeal to forgive reflects. Okpaleke said that Ahiara Diocese remains dear to him as he remains the second substantive bishop of the diocese. Perhaps, the Ahiara Diocese erred on the part of morality, decorum and piety by insisting on the provisions of the law. We must also recognise that the Vatican owed the congregation a duty to have appealed to their benevolence rather than railroad their way there.
Ahiara Diocese is at the moment at crossroads. It’s being speculated that the non-pronouncement of another bishop for the diocese is a sort of punishment to the diocese, maybe what Soludo was thinking. This state of affairs is indeed costing the church in terms of loss of faith of some members of the Laity in the Clergy as well as in things concerning the church. The faithful are asking, for how long shall the diocese remain rudderless? And they know that for so long will the members of the Clergy continue to fall into the temptation of doing things according to their own idiosyncrasies. The Catholic Church is not known for that.
The Vatican should make haste and settle the Ahiara Diocese rift.
Dr. Odu can be reached through email@example.com.