Francis met June 8 at the Vatican with a delegation from the Ahiara diocese, where priests have been refusing to accept the 2012 appointment by the then pontiff, Benedict XVI, of the local bishop.
Though Okpaleke is an Igbo from Anambra State, the Catholic leaders in Ahiara rejected him because he is not an Igbo man from Mbaise.
Today, the pope threatened to suspend the priests from the ministry if they didn’t pledge in a letter, by July 9, “total obedience” to Francis and accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment.
Francis told the visiting delegation he was “very sad” about the priests’ refusal to obey and ruled out tribal loyalties as explaining the refusal. His remarks to the visiting delegation indicated how dangerous he viewed any rebellion against papal authority. .
Those priests opposing Okpaleke’s taking up of his office “want to destroy the church, which is not permitted,” Francis said in his address to the delegation. He demanded that each priest in the diocese write to him asking forgiveness and “clearly manifest total obedience to the pope.” .
They must also accept the bishop chosen by Rome. If, within a month, each priest doesn’t do so, he will be “ispo facto suspended,” such as from the celebration of the sacraments, and “will lose his current office,” Francis warned. .
He added that he had even considered the extraordinary remedy of suppressing the entire diocese but didn’t, so as not to hurt rank-and-file faithful.