Ahiara Diocese: Pope backs down in dispute with Nigerian priests, accepts bishop Okpaleke’s resignation

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a Nigerian bishop whose 2012 appointment sparked years of protest from the diocese’s priests, backing down from a confrontation eight months after threatening to suspend the priests should they continue to agitate.

On Monday Feb. 19, the Vatican said the pontiff had accepted the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke, head of the southern Nigerian diocese of Ahiara, and put neighboring Umuahia Bishop Lucius Ugorji in charge as apostolic administrator.

Okpaleke was appointed to his post by Pope Benedict XVI but was never able to take possession of the diocese because of the widespread nature of the protests. Francis wrote to the priests of the diocese last June, giving them 30 days to accept their bishop or be suspended from ministry.

The priests had complained that Okpaleke was not from Mbaise, the region surrounding their diocese. They said it is unfair that there is no Catholic bishop in Nigeria originally from their region, long known as one of the country’s most Catholic areas.

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