Bishop Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 after the demise of Bishop Victor Chikwe, but has been unable to take control of the diocese because of protests by the majority of priests.
Okpaleke was later ordained a bishop in May 2013. The ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.
Ahiara Cathedral and the Bishop’s Court have remained under lock and key.
The clerics have since contended that Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo State and that Bishop Okpaleke was brought from neighbouring Anambra State.
In reaction to their opposition, Pope Francis gave the defiant priests a 30-day ultimatum, which expired Sunday July 9, to write a letter of apology for their opposition, promise obedience to authority and accept the bishop appointed for their diocese.
Although the priests were said to have complied with the Pope’s directive and apologized, they have continued to allegedly act behind the scene urging on Laity leaders to continue with the struggle.
Speaking on the stalemate, President, Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Men Organisation, Chief Gerald Anyanwu, told reporters the Diocese was only demanding justice and equity.
“We are not questioning the decision of the Pope but we will not accept Okpalaeke as Bishop.
“The process of his appointment did not follow laid down procedures for the appointment of Bishops.
Another member of the Laity, Sir Sebastian Eke, said: “Our position is justice. We don’t see any reason why somebody from this Diocese or any other Diocese from Imo State cannot be appointed as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese.
“All we are saying is that we don’t want Okpalaeke and trying to force him on his on us is not justice”.
Vice President of the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) in the Diocese, Dr Liona Ohanu, on behalf of the women, appealed to the Vatican to listen to the people.
She said: “We respect the Pope and cannot disobey his directive as our Supreme Head but the issue of Okpalaeke is an exemption and we will not welcome him as the Bishop of this Diocese.
“Let the Pope appoint any other person from anywhere we will accept but not Okpalaeke”.
Reacting at the weekend, Okpalaeke stated that he was not bothered about opposition to his appointment.
He spoke during the 70th birthday ceremony of Monsignor Johnbosco Akam at his Uga country home in Aguata Council of Anambra State.
“What they are saying is foreign to my vocation; my vocation comes from God, declared by the church.
“I have been living my life as a fulfilled priest. Wherever I found myself as a priest, surely I will see God on the last day. That is my mission,” The Nation quoted him as saying.