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British judge allows toddler's life support switched off, despite parents' wishes

Liverpool, England, Feb 20, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A British court ruled Tuesday that physicians can stop providing life support, against his parents' wishes, to Alfie Evans, a 21-month old boy who has an unknown neurological degenerative condition.

Evans is in a “semi-vegetative state” and on life support at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, where doctors have said further efforts are futile and went to court to argue that continuing treatment, as his parents wish, is not in Evans' best interest.

Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court ruled Feb. 20 that “Alfie's need now is for good quality palliative care … He requires peace, quiet, and stability, so that he may conclude his life as he has lived it.”

“I am satisfied that continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s interests. This decision I appreciate will be devastating news to Alfie’s parents. I hope they will take time to read this judgement again.”

Alder Hey Children's Hospital has said it always tries to agree with patients on plans for care: “Our aim is always to try and reach an agreement with parents about the most appropriate care plan for their child. Unfortunately there are sometimes rare situations such as this where agreement cannot be reached and the treating team believe that continued active treatment is not in a child's best interests.”

The hospital may withdraw Evans' ventilation on Friday.

Alfie's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, are considering appealing the decision.

His doctors have described his condition as untreatable, but his parents are requesting their son’s transfer to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome for further diagnosis and possible treatment.

Evans' case echoes that of Charlie Gard, a terminally ill English infant who died in July 2017 after being taken off life support against his parents' wishes. Gard was 11 months old, and had been at the center of a months-long legal debate regarding parental rights and human life.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital treating Gard also went to court to take him off of life support, saying his parent's decision to maintain treatment was not in his interest.

Though Gard's parents raised more than $1.6 million for his treatment and had offers from hospitals in Europe and the US to give him experimental treatments, a High Court judge ordered that he be taken off life support.

Discussing Gard's situation with CNA in June 2017, Dr. Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor, said: “It seems to me completely wrongheaded that the state should be stepping in here when the decision that the parents are making is really aimed at the best interests of the child.”

“It’s not crazy, it’s not abusive, it’s not neglectful. It’s the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life.”

She said such a decision “should be completely within the prerogative of the parent,” citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Moschella, that declaration “clearly indicates that the parents, not the state will have primarily responsibility.”

Recent polls encourage Ireland's pro-life advocates

Dublin, Ireland, Feb 20, 2018 / 02:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Republic of Ireland prepares to vote in a referendum that could liberalize the country’s abortion laws, a recent poll has shown dwindling support for a change in the constitution.

According to a recent Sunday Times Behavior and Attitudes poll, support for abortions past three-months gestation fell to 43 percent from 51 percent, while opposition to changing the country’s abortion laws rose to 35 percent from 27 percent.

“These new figures represent a notional 16 percent swing towards opposition in a two-week period,” Niamh Ui Bhriain, a spokesman for the pro-life campaign Savethe8th, said in a recent statement.

“This tallies with the experience of our campaign, which has been that the more people find out about the government’s extreme proposal, the more they reject it,” Ui Bhriain continued.

Ui Bhriain voiced her hope in the new numbers, but also noted that “all polls should be taken with a grain of salt.”

The proposed bill would repeal the country’s eighth amendment, which recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child. Under current law, the practice of abortion in Ireland is illegal, unless the mother’s health is endangered.

The eighth amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983, with upwards of 67 percent voter-approval. It reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The new legislation is seeking to repeal the amendment, which would allow unrestricted access to abortion for the first three months of pregnancy.

Advocates of the referendum are also noticing the drop in support for the proposed law. Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, said there is a lot of “work to be done” if they are to repeal the eighth amendment.  

“Standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass,” Doherty said, according to the Irish Examiner.

Health Minister Simon Harris said in a Tweet that they were in for “a busy few weeks ahead on an extremely important issue.”  

Some reports have noted conflicting viewpoints among cabinet members, causing confusion in the discussion surrounding the amendment. However, Doherty denounced the speculation, saying,  “I don’t think there is anybody creating problems or muddying the waters.”

The BBC reported that the Irish cabinet is set to release a final text of the referendum bill March 6.

The proposal will be brought to the people, who will vote on whether a “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.” The formal referendum will take place in May.

In an effort to fight against the referendum, Savethe8th will be hosting a rally March 10 at the Dublin City Center at 2:00 PM. This gathering will be the last major pro-life rally in an effort to “keep Ireland a safe place for mothers and babies,” before the referendum vote in the spring.

“If this referendum is passed, there will be no constitutional protection for the unborn child at any stage of pregnancy,” said Ui Bhriain.

“We will campaign will all of our strength to defeat it, and we are going to win.”

South Africa's new president praised for commitment to fight corruption

Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb 20, 2018 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first State of the Nation address by South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been welcomed by one of the country's Jesuit priests for its call to create communities of trust and to dialogue about problems facing South Africa.

Ramaphosa assumed office Feb. 15, following the resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose tenure was marked by numerous allegations of corruption allegations and fostered a decline in morality in public life. South Africa's bishops were quick to welcome Zuma's choice to resign.

In his State of the Nation address Feb. 16, Ramaphosa pledged to “turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions. We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

Ramaphosa also discussed land redistribution and job creation.

Fr. Peter-John Pearson wrote at Spotlight Africa Feb. 19 that Ramaphosa's speech echoed “poignant issues outlined in Catholic Social Teaching.”

Writing at the ministry of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, the priest cited Ven. Pius XII and Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster from 1976 to 1999, in stressing “importance of restoring and building civic relationships thus strengthening civil society.”

“Ramaphosa called for the reestablishment of communities of trust in the face of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders. He underlined that it is everyone’s task to create a common destiny,” Fr. Pearson noted.

He cited St. John Paul II's teaching on solidarity, and said Ramaphosa's “commitment to undoing past injustices and present inequalities is key to establishing the common good.”

“His further commitment to the free basic services which supports 3.5 million indigent households and continuing the payment of 17 million grants to the poorest of the poor, resonates with the fundamental option for the poor as does his promise to deal effectively with those who have plundered the resources of the nation and those who have established a culture of cronyism and corruption.”

The priest also considered it important how often Ramaphosa “promised to hold summits on a variety of important and often contested issues ranging from investment to jobs.”

“While some decried this emphasis as an entrenchment of a culture of talking at the risk of it diminishing action: from a CST perspective it undergirds the importance of dialogue as a powerful way of ensuring the inclusion of usually excluded voices in the process of developing public policy,” Fr. Pearson stated.

“In a country plagued with a history of identity politics and a growing exclusion of the poor from any meaningful decision making about their own futures, creating spaces for dialogue and thus building incrementally those communities of trust, is critical for any sustainable  life  together,” he added.

The priest concluded suggesting that this is the first time that “there seems to be a spirit of hope in South Africa” in several years.

“A solid indication of pursuing the quest for justice, enhancing a dialogical culture together with appropriate processes that implement such dialogues, and the generation of hope, are indeed the benchmarks of CST and a sign of the times in South Africa.”

As immigration bill fails, US bishops call for DACA protections

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2018 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Senate failed to pass a bipartisan bill that would offer protections for immigrants, U.S. bishops noted their disappointment and urged leaders to focus their efforts on finding a humane solution for DACA recipients.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Senate was not able to come together in a bipartisan manner to secure legislative protection for the Dreamers,” read a Feb. 19 statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“With the March 5th deadline looming, we ask once again that Members of Congress show the leadership necessary to find a just and humane solution for these young people, who daily face mounting anxiety and uncertainty,” the statement continued.

The statement was signed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB; Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB; and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB committee on migration.

The bishops’ words come after an immigration bill failed to pass the Senate by 60 votes last week; it would have supported DACA recipients, or Dreamers, on their way to receiving U.S. citizenship.

The plan additionally included several other immigration reform proposals, such as the elimination of the diversity visa lottery and restrictions on family-sponsored migration. The bill would have also offered an increase in border security.

President Trump ended the DACA protection program last fall, which had been set in place by the Obama administration. The program’s termination has left upwards of 1.8 million “Dreamers” in a gray area of their status within the U.S.

After the bill’s collapse in Senate, a March 5 deadline looms for Congress to find a solution for DACA recipients to find a pathway for citizenship.

With the impending deadline, the U.S. bishops announced a National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers, prompting the faithful toward action to safeguard immigrants.

“This coming weekend, we will be asking the faithful across the nation to call their Members of Congress next Monday, February 26, to protect Dreamers from deportation, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process,” the bishops said.

“Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way. Now is the time for action.”

Bishop Robert Coyle returns to Long Island as Rockville Centre auxiliary

Rockville Centre, N.Y., Feb 20, 2018 / 09:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Bishop Robert Coyle, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the US Military Services, was transferred to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where he will continue to serve as an auxiliary bishop.

“I was originally ordained a priest here in 1991,” Bishop Coyle said Feb. 20. “I am very grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis for appointing me to serve the Church on Long Island. I look forward to assisting Bishop John Barres, Bishop of Rockville Centre, in our pursuit of Dramatic Missionary Growth on Long Island.”

“Years back there was a spirit campaign with the expression, 'I’m a Long Islander and proud of it!' I again can say that here as a native son.”

Bishop Coyle was born Sept. 23, 1964 in Brooklyn, and grew up on Long Island. He attended Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre May 25, 1991. He was named a monsignor in 2008.
He had been commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy in 1988, and served at two parishes on Long Island as a Navy Reserve Chaplain from his priestly ordination until 1999.

Coyle  was on active duty from 1999 to 2009, serving in Japan, southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. He served on two aircraft carriers, and was deployed in the Middle East at the beginning of the Iraq War. He was promoted to the rank of commander in 2005.

In 2009 Bishop Coyle ended his active duty and returned to reserve status, returning to ministry in the Rockville Centre diocese.

He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese for the US Military Services in 2013, where he served as episcopal vicar for the eastern half of the US.

“Today I express my gratitude to Almighty God for the privilege to have served the people of the Archdiocese of the Military Services,” Bishop Coyle said.

“I thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality  at the bases I have visited over the years … As I begin a new chapter in my service as a bishop, I will always give thanks for the joy to  have served as a Navy chaplain and auxiliary bishop with the military family.”

The bishop will begin his ministry on Long Island April 2.

Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre said, “I am grateful to the Holy Father for assigning us Bishop Coyle. I am also truly grateful for Bishop Coyle’s pastoral service and for his leadership to the young men and women who defend our great country.”

“Please join me in welcoming Bishop Coyle as he begins his ministry in the spirt of dramatic missionary growth, to the presbyterate of Long Island.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese expressed his deep gratitude for Bishop Coyle's “selfless ministry” as his auxiliary. “At great personal sacrifice, he lived far from his parents and familiar surroundings on Long Island and tirelessly took up the pilgrim’s staff to minister to the men and women in uniform and their families.”

“I know that he will offer the same generous service to Bishop John Barres and to the faithful of his native Rockville Centre. He returns to them enriched by his ministry to a flock stationed in half of the continental United States.”

Iceland's possible circumcision ban raises religious liberty questions

Reykjavik, Iceland, Feb 19, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Icelandic bill that would bar circumcision for non-medical reasons has given rise to opposition from various religious groups, including Christians as well as Jews and Muslims.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatise certain religious communities. This is extremely worrying,” commented Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is president of the Catholic Church in the European Union.

Circumcision is a religious ritual in both Judaism and Islam. Jewish boys are circumcised eight days after birth, while Muslim practices vary widely.

The proposed bill states that “Anyone who...causes damage to the body or health of a child or a woman by...removing sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”

Female genital mutilation has been banned in Iceland since 2005.

The bill was introduced by Silja Dogg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party of Iceland, who said, “We are talking about children's rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.”

The health risks and benefits of circumcision have been a topic of debate for several years in some European countries, although none have banned the practice outright.

Iceland, which has a population of around 334,000, has a small Muslim population of less than 1,500, , and an even smaller Jewish population of fewer than 250.

Agnes Sigurðardóttir, the Lutheran Bishop of Iceland, has warned that “the danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalised religions. We must avoid all such forms of extremism.”

Yair Melchior, chief rabbi of Denmark, and and Yoav Melchior, rabbi of Oslo, have commented that “There is no country in the world now that bans circumcision. This sets a dangerous precedent that may affect other countries.”

Ahmad Seddeeq, an imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland, said that circumcision “is something that touches our religion and I believe that this is... a contravention [of] religious freedom.”

Abortion bill on Isle of Man raises multiple concerns, critics say

Douglas, Isle of Man, Feb 19, 2018 / 02:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid efforts to legalize abortion on the Isle of Man, critics of a new abortion bill have spoken out in defense of human life, saying the proposal would introduce a number of dangers.

“Every abortion is an act of desperation,” stated Monsignor John Devine, Dean of the Catholic Church on the Isle of Man, in a letter to the island’s Chief Minister Howard Quayle, according to IOM Today.

“The Catholic Church wishes to be supportive of those who find themselves contemplating an abortion, whatever decision they take,” Devine continued, noting his overall concern with the new abortion bill on the island.

He noted his concern that the bill cites “'serious social grounds' or 'impairments like to limit either the length or quality of the child’s life’ as justification for a late abortion.”

“The former could be cited if an unplanned pregnancy was considered to be inconvenient,” the priest wrote. “The latter is already being used in the UK to abort children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome or even cleft palate, a condition routinely corrected surgically at a later date.”

The Abortion Reform Bill, which would allow elective abortion up to 14 weeks and up to 24 weeks if medical reasons were presented, was in the clauses stage at the House of Keys last week and has passed the first two initial readings.

Abortion policy on the the Isle of Man, a crown dependency located between England and Northern Ireland, is currently governed by the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995, which allows abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or if the baby has a low survival rate.

Since 2011, about 40 abortions have been performed under the island’s current law.

Devine noted his concern with the proposed abortion provision, saying that “premature babies delivered at 24 weeks can now survive.”

Devine additionally distanced the Catholic Church from some ongoing reform protests around the island, which have included graphic images and “explicit material,” saying these demonstrations do not represent the Church.

Other critics of the reform, including Lord Brennan QC, said the bill would introduce other discrepancies that would include “profound consequences.”

Brennan’s first concern was the bill’s allowance for only one doctor to approve an abortion. This, he said, could open the door to certain abuses within the practice, and recommended that abortion should remain the decision of two physicians.

If the abortion bill passes, Brennan also said that other provisions need to be set in place that would protect against sex-selective abortions and abortions where the baby has a deformity or disability.  

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the charitable organization Karma Nirvana, also advocated for more protections against sex-selective abortions on the island, noting that the new legislative provision could further endanger women in abusive situations.

“I think the failure to address sex selection and coercive abortion is a problem which I believe has to be addressed through amendments, because that in itself will send out a very direct, clear message,” Sanghere said, according to IOM Today.

Some other pro-life advocates said they have experienced discrimination amid the introduction of the abortion bill.

Sue Richardson was attending the second reading of the abortion reform bill when she was asked to remove her pro-life logo sweatshirt before entering the chamber.

“There were a lot of ladies and men dressed in red, the Handmaids colour, which is all right,” Richardson recalled, according to IOM Today.

“But when I reached security I was asked if I could take my sweatshirt with the LIFE logo off,” she continued, noting that security had been informed to not allow pro-life logos through.

Richardson noted her concern with the bias, saying that other attendees were allowed to showcase their stance on the issue.

According to the Humanity and Equality in Abortion Campaign, if the abortion reform bill is passed on the Isle of Man, it will represent the most permissive abortion legislation on all of the British Isles.

Bermuda repeal of gay marriage to stand

Hamilton, Bermuda, Feb 19, 2018 / 01:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The British government has said it will not overrule a Bermudian law passed earlier this month which abolishes same-sex marriage, less than a year after the institution was imposed by a court decision.

Bermuda's parliament passed a bill in December 2017 which abolished same-sex marriage, and rather allowed both opposite- and same-sex couples to form domestic partnerships. The Domestic Partnership Act was approved by Bermuda Governor John Rankin Feb. 7.

“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” said Bermudian home affairs minister Walton Brown.

“Bermuda will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.”

In a 2016 referendum, Bermudians had voted against gay marriage by 69 to 31 percent, but a May 2017 Supreme Court ruling legalized the practice.

As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is a self-governing territory under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The British government is thus able to block Bermudian laws, but it was deemed inappropriate to do so.

“That bill has been democratically passed by the Parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the overseas territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Eight same-sex marriages were contracted in Bermuda while the practice was legal, and they will continue to be recognized.

Some proponents of gay marriage have advocated a boycott of Bermuda over the new law, but others have argued it would counterproductive and would only harm same-sex persons in the territory.

The Domestic Partnership Act 2018 already faces legal challenges in the courts.

Bishops in Nigeria release books on marriage, family life

Ibadan, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Nigeria's Ibadan ecclesial province recently launched two books addressing marriage and family life within the country, drawing particular attention to the respect for human life from conception to natural death.

According to CEO Africa, the book launch took place at the John Paul II Centre at the University of Ibadan. The occasion featured various speakers, and included a prayer for the family, a choir, and a “eulogy of God” presentation.

The two books presented at the event were titled Marriage and Family: the Teachings of the Catholic Church, and A Catechism on Human Life: from Conception to Natural Death. The books were penned by the bishops of the Ibadan province in an effort to support and strengthen marriage and family life within the country.

The event was chaired by Dr. Juliana Iyabo Olusanmi, who said the books served as an “eye-opener” to the various issues surrounding married and family life. She also noted that the books are aimed at correcting “moral values in the society which will further preserve the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

Among those in attendance at the book launch were Archbishop Gabriel 'Leke Abegunrin of Ibadan, his five suffragan bishops, and Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo III, who is Alake, or king, of the Egba, a Yoruba clan.

Archbishop Abegunrin addressed those gathered, emphasizing unity within the nation. He also pointed to the books as resources to boost the quality of family life and strong marriages – not only within Nigeria, but also around the globe.

Others commenting on the books, including Fr. Michael Banjo, saw them as ways to fight against the practice of abortion and contraception within the country, which he said threatens the sanctity of human life. He also applauded the books’ sections on same-sex marriage and their defense of human dignity.

Pope accepts resignation of disputed Nigerian bishop

Ahiara, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis accepted the resignation Monday of a Nigerian bishop who had been rejected by many of the priests of his diocese since his appointment more than five years ago.

In June 2017 Pope Francis met with clerics of the Diocese of Ahiara and demanded that they accept the bishop appointment that had been made, or face suspension and loss of office.

In accepting Bishop Peter Okpaleke's resignation Feb. 19, Pope Francis chose not to take action against the clergy of Ahiara, saying they have since expressed repentance.

At the same time, Pope Francis appointed as apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of Ahiara Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia.

Bishop Okpaleke's resignation letter was sent to the Vatican Feb. 14.

Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in December 2012 by Benedict XVI. However, the Ahiara diocese is dominated by the Mbaise ethnic group, and as an outsider from the nearby Diocese of Awka, Okpaleke was rejected by much of Ahiara's clergy and laity, who wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.

The Mbaise are among the most Catholic of Nigerian peoples, with 77 percent of the diocese's population of 670,000 being Catholic. Nearby dioceses range between 19 and 70 percent Catholic.

However, Awka, Bishop Okpaleke's home city, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, on the other hand, is located to the south in Imo state. The Mbaise have often asserted that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.

Many members of the tribe resent what they call the “Anambranization” of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a “recolonization” of the Mbaise.

The Mbaise also have a high number of priestly and religious vocations, many of whom end up serving as missionaries in Western nations. The diocese has seen at least 167 priestly ordinations since its establishment in 1987. Because of this, many had hoped that one of their own would fill the two-year episcopal vacancy in the Ahiara diocese.

After Bishop Okpaleke's appointment, his Mbaise opponents blocked access to Ahiara's cathedral for his episcopal ordination, forcing the prelate to instead be consecrated and installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri, May 21, 2013.

In July 2013, shortly after his election, Pope Francis named Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja as apostolic administrator of Ahiara in a bid to resolve the problem; however, the effort proved to be unsuccessful.

In his letter of resignation, Bishop Okpaleke remarked that the situation in the Ahiara diocese “unfortunately … to the best of my knowledge has not improved.” He has remained in Awka since his espiscopal consecration.

Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life,” he wrote. He said that he thus believes that remaining Bishop of Ahiara “is no longer beneficial to the Church,” as his apostolate would not be effective “where a group of priests and lay faithful are very ill disposed to have me in their midst.”

Exercising the ministry in a diocese where priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to the salvation of souls – including my own soul.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a Feb. 19 letter to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, that Pope Francis had received 200 letters of apology from clerics of the Ahiara diocese. The congregation responded to each priest who wrote.

The congregation added that with the appointment of a new apostolic administrator, Pope Francis “wants to point out that He continues to have a special and particular concern for the Diocese of Ahiara.”

“For the time being, the Pope does not intend to provide normal Governance to Ahiara and reserves the right to evaluate its spiritual and ecclesial progress before He makes another decision.”

In a Feb. 14 pastoral letter, Bishop Okpaleke characterized opposition to his appointment as a “Refusal to give the Holy Spirit a chance” and announced his decision to offer his resignation.

He included a call to repentance, saying he wanted “to invite those who have remained in permanent opposition to have an authentic 'sensus Ecclesiae' (i.e. staying with the Church in love), to renew the spiritual bond and to refrain from being guided by ideologies, motivations and ideas that neither belong to Christ nor to the Church.”

Obedience is central to discernment, the bishop wrote, and “it involves trust that God is leading the Church.”

“I invite any dissenting priests to re-examine their initial motivations for becoming priests in the Catholic Church. Repentance and reconciliation are very urgent!”

In a Feb. 19 statement, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples confirmed that in their letters expressing “obedience and fidelity”, some of the Ahiaran priests who wrote to Pope Francis also said they would have “psychological difficulty” in collaborating with Bishop Okpaleke after years of conflict.

The congregation urged each priest involved to “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ” and voiced hope that in the future, they would never repeat such “unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff.”

“The Holy Father, who accompanies with prayer this new phase in the life of the Church in Ahiara, hopes that, with the new Apostolic Administrator, the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ.”