"I feel great sorrow for those priests who are being manipulated even from abroad and from outside the Diocese," the Pope stated.
"I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord."
The Bishop of Rome charged that "the Church is a mother and whoever offends her commits a mortal sin, it's very serious."
"I ask that every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally," Pope Francis said.
In their letters asking for forgiveness, the clergy of Ahiara must "clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope" and "be willing to accept the Bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed."
Moreover, the Pope demanded that each cleric's letter be sent within 30 days – by July 9.
"Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended a divinis and will lose his current office."
Acknowledging that this measure "seems very hard," Pope Francis said he must do this "because the people of God are scandalized."
"Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences," he told the delegation. "Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion."
At Bishop Okpaleke Mass of episcopal consecration, Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia had said that "acceptance of the papal appointment is a respect for the Pope, while the outright rejection and inflammatory statements and protests are spiteful and disrespectful of papal authority," according to The Sun of Lagos.
Ahiara's first ordinary, Bishop Victor Chikwe, served from 1987 until his death in Sept., 2010. The diocese was vacant for 26 months before Bishop Okpaleke was appointed.
(Story continues below)
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Awka, whence Bishop Okpaleke comes, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, meanwhile, is located to the south in Imo state. The Mbaise assert that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.
The Mbaise, who are proud of their identity and strong Catholicism, resent what they call the "Anambranization" of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a "recolonization" of the Mbaise.
At the conclusion of the audience on Thursday, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the presence of the Mbaise who came to Rome, as well as for the patience of Cardinal Onaiyekan, and for Bishop Okpaleke, "whose patience and humility I admire."
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is planning to have the Ahiara diocese and its bishop make a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with Pope Francis "at the conclusion of this sequence of events," the Vatican announced June 11.