"Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life," he wrote. He said that he thus believes that remaining Bishop of Ahiara "is no longer beneficial to the Church," as his apostolate would not be effective "where a group of priests and lay faithful are very ill disposed to have me in their midst."
"Exercising the ministry in a diocese where priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to the salvation of souls – including my own soul."
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a Feb. 19 letter to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, that Pope Francis had received 200 letters of apology from clerics of the Ahiara diocese. The congregation responded to each priest who wrote.
The congregation added that with the appointment of a new apostolic administrator, Pope Francis "wants to point out that He continues to have a special and particular concern for the Diocese of Ahiara."
"For the time being, the Pope does not intend to provide normal Governance to Ahiara and reserves the right to evaluate its spiritual and ecclesial progress before He makes another decision."
In a Feb. 14 pastoral letter, Bishop Okpaleke characterized opposition to his appointment as a "Refusal to give the Holy Spirit a chance" and announced his decision to offer his resignation.
He included a call to repentance, saying he wanted "to invite those who have remained in permanent opposition to have an authentic 'sensus Ecclesiae' (i.e. staying with the Church in love), to renew the spiritual bond and to refrain from being guided by ideologies, motivations and ideas that neither belong to Christ nor to the Church."
Obedience is central to discernment, the bishop wrote, and "it involves trust that God is leading the Church."
"I invite any dissenting priests to re-examine their initial motivations for becoming priests in the Catholic Church. Repentance and reconciliation are very urgent!"
In a Feb. 19 statement, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples confirmed that in their letters expressing "obedience and fidelity", some of the Ahiaran priests who wrote to Pope Francis also said they would have "psychological difficulty" in collaborating with Bishop Okpaleke after years of conflict.
The congregation urged each priest involved to "reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ" and voiced hope that in the future, they would never repeat such "unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff."
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"The Holy Father, who accompanies with prayer this new phase in the life of the Church in Ahiara, hopes that, with the new Apostolic Administrator, the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ."