Pope Threatens Nigerian Priests – Background and Update

As previously noted, Pope Francis has threatened to punish every priest in the Nigerian diocese of Ahiara [Pope Francis Demands Absolute Obedience]. Furthermore, Pope Francis said that each of these priests will be punished more severely than the worst child abuser. What crime were these priests guilty of?

About the Diocese of Ahaira

By all available measures, Ahaira is a very successful diocese. It is about 90% Catholic, and the laity- members of the Mbaise tribe -are loyal to their priestly leaders and their teachings.  I doubt if any Diocese in Rome can match its success. Objectively, Ahaira must be among the Church’s most successful dioceses.

Ahaira is known as “the Ireland of Africa.” This is ambiguous, and when I first saw it, several forms of child abuse came to mind. But they had an older, outdated image in mind – a country that produces lots of priests. In fact, Ahaira boasts of more priests per capita than anywhere else in Nigeria (here- they didn’t extend the comparison beyond Nigeria). In any case, judging by the numbers as well as the zeal of its people, Ahaira would seem to be a model diocese.

The Problem

In 2012, when Pope Benedict appointed a new bishop for the diocese, he appointed a carpetbagger. In fact, since the founding of the diocese in 1987, no bishop of Ahaira ever came from Ahaira. The Church always appointed outsiders, despite the availability of many qualified local candidates. The priests petitioned Pope Benedict to reconsider his choice of bishop:

“That no priest of Mbaise origin is a Bishop today, based on these criteria is mind boggling. Mbaise has embraced, enhanced the growth of and sacrificed for the Catholic Church, has more priests per capita than any other Diocese in Nigeria and certainly more than enough pool of priests qualified to become the next Bishop of the Episcopal See of Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise.    


Against this background, therefore, we the undersigned appeal to your Holiness to reconsider your decision and for fairness and balance appoint an Mbaise Priest as Bishop of the Episcopal See of Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise.”

Pope Benedict refused to reconsider, and the priests and the people of Ahaira refused to recognize the new, outsider bishop.

Pope Francis’s Moral Judgment

Pope Francis inherited this problem. You would think that Pope Francis, who repeatedly praises democratic principles (for example, Pope Francis as MBA Professor), would be receptive to the request that the people and priests of the diocese have some say in choosing their representative. But you’d be wrong. He never even addressed their complaints, or tried to justify the Vatican’s choice of bishop. According to Pope Francis’s decree (here), the highest principle is “1. one must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope.” Implicitly, he is insisting that popes are infallible, and that pope’s shouldn’t contradict each other [though he recently overrode a papal veto of Archbishop Romero]. Democratic principles be damned – Canon law says that the pope is absolute despot.

Pope Francis demanded that every priest in Ahiara submit a written statement of submission by July 9, and said that any priest failing to do so will be suspended a divinis - a harsher type of suspension than that meted out to serial child rapists.

Pope Francis claimed that failing to recognized the appointed bishop is “an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord. The Church is a mother and whoever offends her commits a mortal sin” (his emphasis). He added, “This seems very hard, but why must the Pope do this? Because the people of God are scandalized” (again, his emphasis).

According to Pope Francis, the people of God are more scandalized by a request for just representation than they are by child abuse and its systemic cover-up, or by the advocacy of heresies like the Gospel of Prosperity – even after the pope himself condemned it. Those people of God that Pope Francis speaks of have a highly perverted moral system that bears little relation to Jesus’s. Recall that Jesus damned those who harmed children: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:16). The Catholic Church has not only made children stumble, it pushed them down and abused them. Jesus never said a word about obeying a pope.


Even though Pope Francis set a deadline of July 9 (four days ago, as I write this), there has been no further news. I assume that many of the priests have not submitted their letter of submission. I also assume that Pope Francis has not followed through on his promise to “fire” the priests.

From the beginning, mainstream media avoided this story. They didn’t cover the pope’s refusal to reconsider the appointment and his demand for abject obedience. While some Catholic publications reported on Pope Francis’ demand for written submission by July 9, none have reported on the failure of the priests to obey, or the failure of the pope to keep his word.

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