Pope demands ‘total obedience’ over bishop appointments
On Saturday, Pope Francis ordered priests from the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria to write him a personal letter within 30 days promising “total obedience to the Pope.” The priests must promise their willingness “to accept the Bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed.”
Any priest who refuses to comply by the deadline will lose their office and be automatically suspended a divinis, meaning they would be unable to exercise any priestly ministry in the Catholic Church.
Conservative priests are praising the move. It takes a harder line than did Francis’ predecessors who also had to deal with priests rejecting bishops appointed by the pope.
For Vatican watchers, it “confirms a key insight about Pope Francis,” as Crux’s John Allen writes. “Popularly, he’s seen as a lovey-dovey man of dialogue and peace…. always counseling restraint and ‘tenderness’’ yet, “when the time comes for obedience, he fully and completely expects to get it… If he doesn’t, he’s also prepared to make heads roll.”
In a similar situation, Pope Benedict XVI gave in to pressures from priests from Austria in 2009. Clergy from the diocese of Linz refused to accept the pope’s appointment of so-called “ultraconservative” Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop. Pope St. John Paul II also caved to pressure from Swiss priests who objected to the appointment of a traditional bishop to the diocese of Chur.
Rather than appointing ‘ultraconservative’ bishops, however, Pope Francis seems to have a penchant for appointing ‘ultraliberals’ as he did in Chicago, Berlin, Brussels and more recently San Diego. Conservative priests, however, are much less likely to voice concern with bishop appointments, let alone reject them.
Pope Francis said he had contemplated suppressing the diocese, which could result in having it placed under a neighboring diocese, thus eliminating the position of a local bishop.
The situation in the diocese that gave rise to the order was the rejection of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke by priests of the diocese after he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in May 2013. The reason for the rejection appears to be that the bishop does not come from the local tribe which has been very rich in vocations to the priesthood.
The youth of the diocese locked the Cathedral so the bishop could not enter. The priests would not serve under the bishop chosen by the pope for what appear to be tribal reasons.
New York’s Fr. Gerald Murray, who has criticized statements from Pope Francis which confuse the faithful, praised the Pope for acting with “apostolic boldness in calling the dissident clergy of the Ahiara diocese to obedience to the Successor of Peter.”
Fr. Murray, best known for his appearances on EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo show, as part of the ‘papal posse,’ told LifeSiteNews he thought the Pope’s move a “wise decision.”
“It is a deep wound to the unity of the Church when priests and deacons refuse obedience to their diocesan bishop and seek to impede his governance of the diocese to which he has been appointed by the pope,” he explained.
In his order to the priests of Ahiara, Pope Francis said, “whoever was opposed” to the bishop appointed to head the diocese by the Pope “wants to destroy the Church.” The Pope added that it was a “mortal sin” which in traditional Catholic teaching means it is a sin which leads to hell unless repented of prior to death.
In his demand letter to the priests of the diocese, Pope Francis acknowledged that his demand was “very hard” but said it was necessary “because the people of God are scandalized.”