Murmurs from Nigeria’s Diocese of Ahiara

The people and priests of the Nigerian Diocese of Ahiara have repeatedly defied Pope Francis as well as his predecessor. In June of last year, Pope Francis demanded that these priests submit written declarations of their absolute obedience to him. Pope Francis promised to defrock any priest who failed to do so within 30 days. The priests failed to submit such statements, and Pope Francis failed to keep his promise. Most of the press has ignored this, but CRUX has provided occasional updates. John Allen, editor of CRUX, recently talked to the cardinal of Nigeria about the crisis (here).

Mr. Allen also provided a (biased) history of the problem. I have previously provided a summary (From Iron Fist to Limp Wrist - Pope Francis and Ahiarai). In short, the Ibo tribe has historically controlled the Catholic Church in Nigeria. Nearly all the diocese of Ahiara is Mbesi. Its outgoing bishop recommended that he be replaced by an Mbesi priest, and provided a list of qualified candidates. Nigeria's council of bishops rejected this and appointed another Ibo priest as bishop. The people of Ahiara rejected the Ibo candidate, and Ahiara has gone without a bishop for over five years.

After Pope Francis failed in his demand for absolute obedience, he invented a new type of Nigerian mail scam (Pope Francis Hornswoggles Nigerian Priests). He had written notices sent to each priest and demanded that they acknowledge receipt. He later declared that their letters of receipt were considered to be declarations of absolute obedience – another miraculous transformation – including submission to the Ibo bishop. This hasn’t worked either, which may explain why neither Mr. Allen nor the cardinal mentioned it.

According to Mr. Allen, Cardinal John Onaiyekan reluctantly agreed to an interview, claiming that he has had no involvement in Ahiara since Pope Francis got involved. He faulted the pope for being too lenient, creating a loss of credibility that may damage the Church. The cardinal says Pope Francis should have made good his threat of defrocking (or at least suspending) the hundreds of priests of Ahiara who failed to declare their absolute obedience.

Mr. Allen said nothing about this suggestion. I suspect it is a trial balloon created by the Vatican. Mr. Allen is a long-time Vatican correspondent and the author of The Francis Miracle. The Vatican knows they can count on him. I suspect the cardinal is playing the role of the bad cop, so Pope Francis can suddenly become a good cop, rather than a failed despot. We’ll see. It is a tribute to the power of the Church’s propaganda machine that this fiasco has not reached the mainstream press.