The Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese in Anambra State, Nigeria, Right Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye, has dismissed five priests in his diocese over alleged insubordination.
The five priests of St Martin of Tours, Ihiala, had reportedly been having a running battle with the bishop over their residency in the parish.
According to reports, trouble started when the bishop had ejected the priests from the parsonage of the church following an administrative rearrangement aimed at creating a new parish in the area.
The priests, who were said to have claimed that their order had been in possession of the parish for over 100 years, refused the order of the bishop to vacate the parish for new priests sent to the church.
Following their refusal to vacate their parish, the Bishop wrote a letter withdrawing their canonical faculties (authorities to perform acts or function in the parish).
Speaking to journalists in Ozubulu in Ekwusigo local government area, a former director of communication of Nnewi Diocese, Reverend Father Hyginus Aghaulo, said ”the Spiritans claim that Archbishop Heerey gave it (parish) to them in 1967. That was under 1917 Code but Canon 6 of 1983 Code abrogated 1917 Code unless such matters are renewed in 1983 Code but there is no evidence that such happened.”
He added. “Thirdly, 1983 Code abolished making a moral person now juridic person a pastor. Now to be appointed a pastor, the person must be a physical person and be in priesthood.
Even if a parish is given to a juridic person even in soliduum, the diocesan Bishop must appoint one of them the proper pastor.”
“Fourthly, under 1917 Code, when such grant was instituted, there was an express need for apostolic indult in order to have the character of perpetuity.
The 1983 Code gives the discretion and right of free conferral on diocesan bishops and those equivalent to them in law in line with canons 368 and 381, in the spiritual task of appointing pastors.
Thus, the diocesan can freely appoint and freely fire. He can freely create and freely suppress parishes without recourse to existing customs, grants and centennial or immemorial bequests and grants.”
Aghaulo maintained that religious institutes by virtue of their juridic personality were not distinctively and naturally destined for parish administration but for the living of evangelical counsel in their communities and convents, unlike diocesan or secular priests whose destiny and nativity was to administer parishes.
He said in the Ihiala case, “Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye is a successor of Archbishop Heerey and so, has power to interpret or alter the perpetuity clause in such a convention because of “salvation of souls is the supreme law.
Aghaulo disclosed that the development had been reported to the Superior General whose duty it is to supervise the priests.