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The Crisis in Ahiara Catholic Diocese and the Testimony of Liberation Theology
(A Joinder to Fr. Stan Chu Ilo’s “Ahiara Diocese: A Time to Heal”)
By Rev. Fr. Kenneth Evurulobi, PhD
I have followed, stage by stage, the development in Ahiara Diocese, and have as well devoted sincere efforts to evaluating the major inputs that have come from both the local and international media. It is in this regard, and with Ahiara Diocese standing at a very close proximity to my Diocese (that is, Aba Diocese) that I have chosen to react to this contribution made by Fr. Stan Chu Ilo here <https://www.academia.edu/33742947/Ahiara_Catholic_Diocese_A_Time_To_Heal_A_Theological_Appeal_> .
Fr. Stan Chu Ilo, a classmate and a colleague of mine, is and has ever remained an intellectual giant and a brilliant theologian. As an African, especially Nigerian, the practical approach he has brought to bear on vexatious theological topics that are contextual in his capacity as the president of Canadian Samaritans for Africa is legendary.
However, Fr Ilo’s powerful and erudite theological narrative would not fail to plumage into an irremediable canonical obscenity and an irredeemable theological incongruity if the intolerable mask of disobedience worn by the clergy of Ahiara is not identified and placed in its most real and proper context as a necessary free gift donated to the Church in Nigeria by the hypocrisy that speaks more for a cloistered narcissistic self-preservative instincts in red hats than for the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). Thus, the significance of this response – a response that is at the sametime a product of many years of theological research as well as a true experience that has brought this author to explore the frontiers of Liberation Theology as a possible ground for the evolution of authentic and effective Church reforms.
An adequate evaluation of the position taken by Ilo here cannot neglect to unmask a subtle attempt, wrapped up in a certain diplomatic profligacy, to eclipse the truth as a way of evading or repelling the inquisitorial stings which a misplaced Episcopal wrath has always wielded in the Nigerian Church and across national and international ecclesiastical borders as a handy tool for hunting down perceived enemies, real or imagined. It is instructive to observe that the support of the Bishops’ is pivotal for Ilo’s international campaign for funds in his status as the President of the Canadian Samaritans for Africa. Some financial considerations must have contributed a lot in producing the impairment that has reduced this powerfully illuminating treatise by one of Nigeria’s most brilliant and enterprising scholars to a diplomatic ruse and a leaflet of bias.
I have strong reservations about the path indicated by Ilo because it has the capacity to infect the lenses of the world’s theological community with a cataract that is resolute in its resolve to scuttle the emergence of what could be regarded as the equivalent of an Ecclesiastical Spring in the Nigerian Church that is long overdue – a sabotage which such powerful liberative minds like Fr. Camillus Mbaka, the Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministry Enugu, Nigeria (AMEN) could not permit to rule his judgment in his dealings with the situation in Ahiara Diocese and with the administration of Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan respectively.
It needs to be strongly observed that Fr. Mbaka is still nursing the inquisitorial wounds he and his ministry sustained in a sincere effort to address the Nigerian ecclesiastical problematic while remaining true to the priestly vow of obedience.
As an astute intellectual and a member of the Nigerian clergy, I am convinced that Ilo has a lesson to learn from fellow African intellectuals in the ranks of Professor Pius Adesanmi who are genuinely committed to the expanded African liberation projects. Or, in the alternative, he should subscribe to some tutorials from more powerful initiators or gladiators of the new school of Liberation Theology into whose services some of the most finest theological and canonical minds in the ranks of the clergy of Ahiara Diocese have lent themselves despite the contradictions and scandals that may have arisen.
An assessment of the Ahiara crisis that dwells much and feeds entirely on paranoid evocation of the tradition of the Church but refuses to interrogate and call attention to the structural vandalizations and conundrumic occult extrusions which such a tradition has been subjected to in the hands of its presumed custodians and exactors is a fatalism the Ahiara clergy has vocalized and gallantly fought against as well as the real danger to be avoided by every sincere actor or actress in an effort to understand the direction events have taken in Ahiara Catholic Diocese.
Stan Chu Ilo highlighted this anomaly in the Nigerian Church but failed to use it as a constitutive ingredient of justice in his evaluation of the situation in Ahiara.
The dilemma of the clergy in Ahiara can be likened to that of a person who is allowed to dangle from the tightened noose of a suicidal rope fabricated with materials drawn from conscience and obligation, compassion and obedience, grace and law but which have been allowed to become wholly intertwined by the peculiar nature of the kind of redundancy which colonial appetites and manifest criminal attitudes are bound to suffer in the hands of a group of liberatively minded resolute clergy.
Reflecting on the significance of the situation in Ahiara for my diocese, I was compelled to make the submission given below to the Diocesan Administrator of Aba Diocese and my superior presently, Fr. Innocent Ajuonu. I wrote thus:
It is very unfortunate and highly regrettable that frustrated colonial masters and merchants of ugly ecclesiasticism have hijacked, abused and turned these factors of ecclesiastical development (indigenization and decentralization) into a two-way evil. Outside Africa, and purporting to represent the African people and, while depicting Africa as having a geographical size of an Orie Market Square where His Imperial Majesty is the king who irrevocably bought or inherited or owns and rules over a kingdom peopled by liliputans, Rome is deceived into believing that the Episcopal See of Africa is a property of a family dynasty. At home, and wielding a stick that grew out of corrupt and terrorist enclaves in the name of ecclesiastical government, these merchants and colonial masters collaborate and collude with criminal governments to loot and destroy the Church, both as an institution and as the Mystical Body of Christ.
There are, however, very many exceptions – a lot of them. Late Bishop Victor Chikwe of Ahiara Mbaise Diocese left behind a vibrant Church, a missionary pool for the Universal Church and a robust ecclesiastical institution.
Thus, beyond the person of Bishop Okpalaeke and the legitimate efforts of the hierarchy in Nigeria to execute a valid papal decree, the clergy and the laity of Ahiara Diocese are fighting hard to stave off the implantation of an ecclesiastical virus that is ravaging the Igbo Church whose impacts and effects rival those of full blown HIV/AIDs. It suffices to assert here that there are men in the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara Mbaise - who have put everything, including careers, ambitions, money, achievements, comfort, influence, relationships, e.t.c, at stake for the sake of their people and for posterity; and so that the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ will be the matrix of action in their diocese. My prayerful solicitation in this case is that our dear Pope Francis who has emphasized mercy, social justice and productive pastoral action over and against careerism and disgusting bureaucratic portfolios listen to the yearnings of the People of God and act favorably.”
Beyond the wobbling agitations of some ecclesiastical touts in Ahiara and the unappealing resolve of the Church hierarchy in Nigeria to execute a valid and legitimate papal decree, the situation in Ahiara Catholic Diocese is a rudderless interface of the two-dimensional evil that has all along – with one arm – cultivated and nurtured the seeds of egotism, clannishness, materialism, secularism, nepotism and tribalism as veritable weapons of warfare and effective instruments for the acquisition and exercise of power and influence in the fertile Nigerian ecclesiastical field, while showcasing – with the other arm - corruption, terrorism, authoritarianism, murder, oppression, intimidation, executive rascality, heartless deprivations, Satanism, syncretism, cultism and a new kind of inquisition as the only responses that can ever come from the Pope or Rome especially as it affects some serious challenges and critical needs that confront the local Church communities here in Nigeria and in Africa at large.
A genuine recuperative approach to the Ahiara ecclesiastical imbroglio that is not distanced from and stripped of all trappings of executive rascality and abuse of office will always remain evergreen in the mental compartments of many of our local church communities as an event of ecclesiastical infamy. Such a development has the inherent capacity of trivializing and making mockery of the traumatized experience which the real Christian population in Nigeria has been constrained to suffer in the hands of bigots whose real trademarks are careerism and dogmatic decrepitude.
Relying on the much that prudence thinks fit to put at the disposal of public consumption, one cannot help but refer the Holy See and indeed all those who are sincerely committed to finding an effective and lasting solution to the problem in the Nigerian Church which the situation in the Ahiara Catholic Diocese has highlighted though in a very costly manner, to the raw materials I have sent to the Apostolic Nunciature here in Nigeria pursuant to the need for the evolution of a new role for a Liberation Theology that is distanced from the practice of violence and irredentism which originally defined its practice in the Latin American bloc.
If a diocese like Ahiara – an entrenched enclave of pulsating Catholic tradition – would be dragged to or allowed herself to be dragged this far in a game of ecclesiastical infamy and ostentation - then the theological significance of a document I addressed to the Director of Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation has a significant role to play in the evolution of a new role for a Liberation Theology that Pope Francis himself cannot fail to recognize as the manifest driving factor of the zeal of the good people of Ahiara Diocese - the clergy and laity inclusive.
It was the slain El-Salvadorian hero, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who remarked that there are situations, circumstances and hard truths that can be understood and appreciated by only the eyes that have cried.
It is an understatement to say that the Church has suffered by the event of the crisis that has engulfed the Ahiara Catholic Diocese. The truth of the matter is that the Mother Church in Nigeria has been murdered in the juridical personality of Ahiara Catholic Diocese – right there in her own kitchen. This is correct because the Diocese is dedicated to our Blessed Lady, Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesea).
Obviously, the members of Ahiara clergy, including Bishop Okpalaeke himself, are a prime suspect as well as the bereaved.
To call erring, rampaging and recalcitrant clergy to order and discipline – whether this evokes fear and punishment – is the duty of the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. But to request in strong terms that Bishop Okpalaeke submits his resignation as the Local Ordinary of the Ahiara Catholic Diocese and retire into a life of study, teaching and contemplation is the only way of being Francis, the reform pope. Other things can follow from here.
In a moving tribute to the four American Church Women (Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean) who were murdered by the Salvadorian Military on December 2, 1980, Jon Sobrino, the famous Liberation Theologian wrote thus:
With this murder the reservoirs of iniquity have over-spilled their limits. The dams of evil have burst. We have seen everything in El-Salvador. No barbarity would surprise us, we thought. But this time we were overwhelmed…..this time, the murdered Christ was present in the person of the four women, four missionaries, four Americans.
In the drama of the world, and in the drama of the Church, all the actors are human beings. We are all of us equal, as well as different, in God’s eyes. And yet, the two together – equality and difference – are hard to come by in our history. Then suddenly, with these four dead bodies, we see something of it. Men and women are oppressed and repressed in El-Salvador. Men and women have raised their lamentation to God and begged God to hear the cries wrung from them by their exploiters. Men and women have thrown in their lot with the struggle for liberation. And men and women have fallen in that struggle. Here is the most profound equality of all: equality in suffering and in hope. (Sobrino, J; Martyrdom of Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean (January 1981), in “Liberation Theology: A Documentary History”; (Hennelly, A.T;ed), New York, Orbis Books, P 315.)
Beneath the frigid layers of vituperations that have been laid at the door of ethnic jingoists by a concessioning ecclesiastical benevolence is found a visceral acid discharge that attacks directly, and in a very violent way, the foundations as well as the stems of cooperate destinies – including religious, political, economic, social and cultural destinies - and works clandestinely to prove that it answers nor accounts to nobody. At this moment of heightened anxiety in a corrupt and terrorized (or, terrorist?) third world country like Nigeria, such considerations must be seen to be present in the process of determining, selecting or appointing the manager of a cooperate human family like a diocese.
Ahiara is a very peculiar case.
With her natural configurations as a simple rural locality inhabited by a predominantly Catholic population where an inter-marriage has taken place between traditional and ecclesiastical cultures, and having a common ethnic origin imbued with a virile disposition of healthy competiveness among the surrounding neighbors, Ahiara Catholic Diocese is surely a disillusioned homogeneity and an intrepid victim of violent criminal maneuvers by impostors whose only force of argument hinges only on ecclesiastical impunity. Every other attractive mien these imposters put on is a mere garnishing.
Notably, it will take a Church institution that is characteristically Ahiara to place such needful theological and canonical demands for and on behalf of the Church in Nigeria.