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12.06.2017 Nigeria

Pope gives rebel Nigeria priests ultimatum over bishop

Africa Pope Francis has ordered rebel priests in Nigeria to write to him personally pledging
JUN 12, 2017 NIGERIA
Pope Francis has ordered rebel priests in Nigeria to write to him personally pledging "total obedience" following the spat over the Vatican's choice of local bishop. By TIZIANA FABI (AFP/File)

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis has given church officials in southern Nigeria a 30-day ultimatum to obey him by accepting the nomination of a bishop -- or face being suspended from office.

During talks with a Catholic delegation from Nigeria, the pope demanded that priests and church members in the southern diocese of Ahiara write to him personally to "ask his forgiveness", the Holy See said in a statement at the weekend.

"In the letter, one must clearly manifest total obedience to the pope, and whoever writes must be willing to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed," said the statement.

It gave the faithful a 30-day deadline for sending such letters, which ends on July 9.

"Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended a divinis and will lose his current office," it warned.

The dispute involves Monseigneur Peter Okpaleke who was named bishop of the Ahiara diocese in 2012 by Pope Benedict, Francis' predecessor.

But his appointment was rejected on ethnic grounds by the local priests, who protested over the fact the Vatican had not named someone from their own diocese.

As a result, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, was appointed the following year as the apostolic administrator of the diocese.

During his talks with the Nigerian delegation at the Vatican on Thursday, at which both Okpaleke and Onaiyekan were present, the pope denounced the situation as "unacceptable", saying he was "deeply saddened."