CATHOLIC CHURCH IN IGBO LAND ON TRIAL

Something is phishing in some Catholic dioceses in Igbo land. Signal disobedience is acutely brooding among the laity. And it’s worrisome that such imprecatory error is getting capacious by the day. Let’s not forget that it was easy for Christianity (Catholicism) to permeate Igbo land with its tenets gaining general acceptance among the people because it operates, in a sense synonymous with their primordial religion.

In African traditional religious practice prevalent which was among prehistoric Igbo, “Eze Muo” (the chief priest) wields unquestionable reins of authority, since he is believed to be a medium between his people and the gods. Though, by native culture, Igbo operated republican type of gerontocracy, they mixed it with some elements of theocracy. Hence, both the Otochalu (eldest man in the land) who is the leader in temporal order and his subjects pay allegiance to chief priests.

The only time a chief priest loses influence over the people is when the deity/shrine he represents becomes impotent, and unable to meet the essence of its installation. Thus the popular Igbo adage: “Agbala adighi irè, a waa ya nku” (sny shrine/deity that fails its adherents will be readily deposed).

In Catholicism, the bishop is the chief priest, believed to be the visible representative of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. In that wise, he (like the Pope — Bishop of Rome) draws from the doctrine of infallibility of Jesus Himself, whenever he speaks/acts “ex-cathedra” (in his position as teacher of faith and morality in his diocese). The church was founded on the apostles (Matt.16:18), whom penny catechism taught us were all bishops before their martyrdom.

These apostles and their successors-in-priesthood shared directly in the priesthood of Christ, the High Priest. Thus, bishops are, canonically, by ordinances of their offices, vicars of Christ, while priests (reverend fathers) tap from bishops’ priesthood. This was the basis for the popular axiom: “Ubi Episcopus, ibi ecclesia” (wherever the bishop is, there is the church). It also informed the complimentary title of a bishop as “His Lordship” for he represents the person and character of Christ the Lord.

Now that the people are revolting against their bishops in Enugu and Nnewi, as did Mbise, what would have caused it? Is Christ no longer relevant in their lives? Is Christianity, nay Catholicism losing its essence? Are the episcopate of their respective dioceses no longer representing Christ? And have the people lost their sense of piety as a result?

A careful root cause analysis of this prevailing anathematic insubordination implicates poor catechesis and lack of deep understanding of church doctrines among the laity. It also points to pastoral indiscretions of some priests.

But strikingly, each time lay (unordained) persons protest against bishop’s order, there is an underlying sentiment of unruliness whipped by a priest(s) which proportionally emboldens the mob. Catholic youths of Mbise diocese, Imo state had the effrontery few years ago, to reject, and issue death threats on Bishop (now Cardinal) Peter Okpalaeke because their priests urged them on.

As you read this, civil unrest is sweeping across Ihiala region of Nnewi Catholic Diocese, Anambra state over the decision of Bishop J.B Okoye, to sack Holy Ghost Fathers residing at St Martin’s De Porres Catholic Parish. These lay faithful are revolting against their bishop because the Holy Ghost Fathers courted them and whipped the sentiment that they’ve stayed and worked for more than 60 years in the parish. Perhaps, in their minds, long stay in a particular parish qualifies for ownership, and disarming of the diocesan bishop.

In Enugu Diocese, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka’s followers have been consistent agents of desecration to Bishop Onaga’s office.

Fr. Mbaka, by his unguarded utterances and noncompliance to directives of diocesan hierarchy fuelled the exuberance of his worshippers at ‘his’ adoration ministry. He has over the years been drawing people to himself instead of to Christ. If he had been showing his followers Jesus, as Bishop Godfrey Onah exemplified in his episcopal motto: “volumus Iesum videre” (we want to see Jesus), which made Apostle Philip take unbelievers to Jesus (John 12:21), they wouldn’t have been raising Cain from the dead over bishop’s decision on Mbaka their ‘messiah.’

Mbaka had always projected himself before his congregation as “Man of God” not “servant” under a bishop. His followers took him seriously and today they consider Bishop Onaga as “Man of Devil” raising standard against their ‘prophet.‘

Unknown to the diocesan curia, the Adoration ground has bred army of Christian insurgents that could threaten the bishop and violate his courts in broad daylight. Even non-Catholics like Ezugwu Okike described them as “miracle-seeking Pentecostals, not Catholics. A good Catholic would not, even under duress, invade the Bishop’s Court. Mbaka is a Catholic priest herding a large army of superstitious Protestants.”

As the Local Ordinary tried to help Mbaka rediscover himself and reflect on his vocation, these outliers in the diocese went on rampage in civil protest. Then he slammed a temporary ban on the ministry. Five months later, he reopened it with a new, albeit temporary director, Rev. Fr. Amadi, sent to stand in for Mbaka. Mbaka himself was on ground to introduce Fr. Amadi to his ‘fans.’

The rest is history, as Amadi felt the raw anger of those mobs in Christian apparel.

“There is an aspect of this ugly development that Bishop Onaga and the Catholic Church in Nigeria are not seeing. They think it is just enough to stop Mbaka from using the Adoration ground as a springboard for false and dangerous propaganda. That is just one of it. By far the worse is that it is now a breeding place for dangerous fanatics and a miseducation mill. The cure is not in getting another priest to replace Mbaka. It is finding a sane use for the space…” opined Barrister Okike

For Emma Omeke in 2018: “if lay faithfuls’ thoughts and opinions would be entertained, I suggest that the bishop of Enugu diocese sends Fr. Mbaka on at least a one year sabbatical leave. Either for further studies or to a monastery (preferably Cistercian – the strict observers) for meditations, introspection, prayers and studies. He needs a change of environment. This will also enable the church to look into his conducts and that of others like him, remove, reform and make recommendations where need be.”

The point is that Enugu diocese still shows manifest weakness in handling the seriousness of Mbaka’s imbroglio.

It was wrong strategy allowing Mbaka to announce the reopening of the Adoration ministry on his Facebook page. It didn’t convey the message that the diocese is in charge. It elated the minds of his many fanatics. And that explained why they protested. The bishop owes no apology to anyone. The entire diocese is an ecclesiastical jurisdiction canonically under him. He ought to communicate the reopening in a formal circular with strict “caveat” to deviants.

Granted, we are in an entirely new world with fading piety, different from the era of the pious ancient fathers of the Church. But this was why Vatican II council was convoked and a whole document — “Gaudium et spes” dedicated to discuss and issue declarations on the Church in the modern world (aggiornamento). May be it’s high time the teaching authority of the Church in Igbo land revisited those documents. People need to be catechized more on the rudiments of ecclesiology.

Bishops of both Onitsha and Owerri ecclesiastical provinces need to reassert their authorities more firmly on the faithful.

At the risk of being adjudged warped in my analysis, I dare say that two bishops stands out in this regard — Bishops (Emeritus) F. Okobo of Nsukka diocese and Late Ezeonyia of Aba diocese. I had written so much in the past, about the episcopate of Bishop Okobo, who was a quintessential shepherd; just like Dr. Mike Ajemba, who was a palace acquaintance to Bishop Ezeonyia, wrote about his lofty pastoral exploits in Aba. They were completely in charge of their dioceses. Stories were told of how Ezeonyia occasionally disguised as lay man and attended adoration ministries hosted by some of his priests, just to be sure they were leading the people in the path of true faith.

If such punctilious use of episcopal fiat is not reawakened, this ichabod may metastasize across the entire land.

May daylight spare us!

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