Controversy continues regarding South Sudan archbishop appointment

pope francis and ameyu On Dec. 12, 2019, Pope Francis (left) appointed Bishop Stephen Ameyu of Torit Diocese (right) as the new Archbishop of Juba in South Sudan | Public Domain

Bari ethnic leaders in South Sudan have distanced themselves from critics of the newly-appointed Archbishop of Juba. The archbishop has faced controversy since his December appointment for several reasons, including that he is not a member of the region's predominant Bari tribe.

"Those indigenous clergy and faithful Bari who have rejected the appointment of the new Archbishop for Juba [do] not reflect the position of the entire Bari Community or their association i.e. the Bari Community Association," Cornelio Bepo Lado Kenyi, chairman of the Juba-based association, explained in a Dec. 23 statement.

The statement adds that critics of the newly appointed Archbishop Stephen Ameyu "have not been mandated by either the community nor the association."

The Bari are an ethnic group who are centered in Juba. The Bari Community Association is an umbrella cultural organization representing Bari leadership in South Sudan.

The Bari Community Association issued its statement after letters of protest were sent to the Vatican, protesting the appointment of Ameyu as archbishop. One letter, sent Dec. 12, was signed by three priests and five laymen, who identified themselves as "community elders," and were widely understood to be presenting themselves as Bari tribal leaders. Their letter gave three reasons for opposing the appointment, charging that government officials and some Juba priests had conspired to promote Ameyu as archbishop for personal interests, and had influenced a Vatican diplomat to that end; that a local priest could have been appointed; and alleging that Ameyu has fathered at least six children.

The letter said that Ameyu "will not be accepted to serve as Archbishop of Juba under any circumstance."
  The letter writers said that they are "a generous and hospitable people … kind hearted and straightforward people who do not tolerate any form of humiliation. We take long to react but once the gloves come off, it becomes difficult to calm things later."

They maintained that their opposition "should not be misinterpreted as tribalism," saying they have "no objection in having a bishop from outside the Archdiocese," and noting that most of their bishops have not been indigenous.

"Therefore, it should be the question of being Bari or none [sic] Bari, but rather appointing a good priest with right qualifications," they wrote.

In their Dec. 12 letter, the protesters added that they are "not questioning or interfering with the prerogative of the Holy Father to appoint bishops," but are "only against the manipulation and the buying of the process by politicians and other interest groups.

"We are against a person brought from outside just to promote personal interests while maliciously leaving out the qualified sons of this land," they wrote. But leaders of the Bari ethnic group said the Dec. 12 letter "sparked a lot of reactions in the social media with many negative references labelling the Bari Community as tribalistic community just because those who appended their signatures to the letter happen to come from the Bari tribe."
"To be clear, they have neither sought the opinion of the Bari on the subject under reference nor have they (been) delegated to do so," the Baric Community Association's Dec. 23 statement said. "No Bari will speak on behalf of the Bari Community except when mandated by its leadership and as guided by the BC Constitution," the statement added.

On Dec. 19, the Sudanese bishops' conference issued a statement supporting the appointment of Ameyu.

We "celebrate with Catholics and all the people of Juba and the nation, that there is now a new Catholic Archbishop," the bishops said.

"We acknowledge the decision of the Holy Father of accepting the resignation of Archbishop Paolino Lukudu, allowing him to take a well-deserved and long overdue rest, and appointing his successor, Most Reverend Stephen Ameyu Mulla as the Archbishop of Juba," they added.

Neither Church nor Bari leaders have addressed the allegation made by critics that Ameyu has six biological children and ongoing sexual relationships with women.

A date for the installation of Ameyu as Juba's archbishop has not yet been announced. The outgoing Archbishop Paolino Lukudu remains apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until Ameyu is installed.

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