Diocese Rebels Against Pope - Religious Press is Silent

Pope Francis gave an entire diocese of priests an ultimatum – either declare your absolute obedience to the Pope and accept his choice of bishop by July 9, or face dismissal. I noted on July 13 (Pope Threatens Nigerian Priests – Background and Update) that the deadline passed with no apparent consequences. Virtually all American media ignored the story. About the only exception, CRUX - a Catholic journal - misrepresented it. Foreign journalists report that on July 2, a week before the deadline, the people of the diocese of Ahiara held a massive protest against Pope Francis’s order (here, here).

Misrepresenting the Problem

The controversy was about who would succeed Bishop Victor Chikwe of Ahiara. Ahiara is about 90% Catholic. It is called the Ireland of Nigeria because it produces so many priests. In most respects, it is a model diocese.

In 2012, Pope Benedict and the bishops of Nigeria selected an outsider as the new bishop. Both the priests and the people of Ahiara protested, and demanded that its bishop be chosen from Ahiaran priests. No Ahiaran had ever been bishop. But Pope Benedict and the bishops of Nigeria refused to change their decision. They did not address the issues, but merely asserted that they knew best, and demanded obedience.

Pope Francis inherited this problem, but failed to resolve it. He continued to demand that Ahiara accept the previously designated bishop. Recently, in an exercise of naked power, Pope Francis issued the ultimatum. Throughout this period, the people of Ahiara refused to allow the outside bishop to enter the diocese and assume office.

This story was more-or-less covered by CRUX. But CRUX and all other American media suppressed the fact that the departing Bishop Victor Chikwe recommended that a priest of Ahiara be selected as his replacement, and offered a list of qualified candidates. Though Bishop Chikwe was the most knowledgeable person on this subject, Pope Benedict and the Nigerian bishops willfully rejected his advice without providing any justification. Even without knowing of Bishop Chikwe’s recommendations, Ahiara’s demand for representation seemed just. But the continued refusal to address Chikwe's proposals during more than five years of “negotiations” seems outrageous. CRUX and others violated fundamental journalistic standards by suppressing Bishop Chikwe’s proposals.

Misrepresenting the Current Situation

CRUX and others would have us believe that the conflict was between some renegade priests and Pope Francis. This is false. The people of Ahiara prevented the outside appointee for bishop from assuming office for over five years. On July 2, a week before Pope Francis’s deadline, they made it clear that they would continue to prevent the outsider from assuming office.  CRUX and others suppressed this. In fact, the obedience of the priests became moot, given the people’s rejection of the pope’s candidate. Pope Francis failed to carry through on his threats, since this would achieve nothing, and would very likely create a major confrontation.

Conclusions

Religious news reporting in the United States basically adheres to the same high journalistic standards as People’s Daily or Pravda. While the establishment directly determines coverage in China and Russia, it does so indirectly in the U.S. – but almost as effectively. In the present case, the media suppressed all information regarding the rebellion of a diocese against not only the country’s bishops, but also the Pope. The media also suppressed key information concerning the injustice of the Church position. And it said almost nothing about the failure of Pope Francis to deliver on his ultimatum.

Like Pravda and the People’s Daily, when the religious press covers a controversial issue, the reader is likely to be disinformed. I will discuss CRUX’s coverage in a future article, as it provides an instructive example. The coverage of the Church’s child abuse scandal over the last thirty years is an even more dramatic example, but one that would require a book or two.