Pope Gives Nigerian “emeritus” Prelate New Diocese, Appoints Bishop in Congo-Brazzaville

Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke who has been appointed to shepherd Nigeria's Ekwulobia, a new diocese curved from Awka diocese. He had been ordained in May 2013 for Ahiara diocese, where he never set foot due to protests against his appointment.

Pope Francis on Thursday, March 5 announced the establishment of the diocese of Ekwulobia in south eastern Nigeria and appointed Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, previously rejected by a section of the clergy and lay faithful of Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese, as its first Local Ordinary.

In a message published by the Holy See Press Office, the Holy Father also appointed Fr. Ildevert Mathurin Mouanga as the Bishop of Congo-Brazzaville’s Kinkala diocese, taking over from 77-year-old Bishop Louis Portella Mbuyu.

The Papal assignment of Bishop Okpaleke, a clergy of Nigeria’s Awka diocese, to the newly created diocese of Ekwulobia gives the 57-year-old Nigerian Prelate an opportunity to exercise his episcopal ministry, having been forced to resign as the Local Ordinary of Ahiara diocese in February 2018.

“The situation in Ahiara Diocese to the best of my knowledge has not improved. Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life,” Bishop Okpaleke stated in his letter of resignation referencing the sustained opposition to his appointment from a section of the clergy and laity of Ahiara Diocese since his appointment as Bishop in December 2012.

“I am convinced, in conscience that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara is no longer beneficial to the Church,” Bishop Okpaleke stated in the February 14, 2018 letter addressed to Pope Francis adding, “I do not think that my apostolate in a diocese where a group of priests and lay faithful are very ill disposed to have me in their midst would be effective.”


He explained, “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 salvation of souls - including my own soul.”

Bishop Okpaleke’s decision to resign, which he considered “the only option to facilitate re-evangelisation of the faithful of the diocese especially the priests” came after a protracted back-and-forth tussle with the clergy and lay faithful of Ahiara diocese that resulted in a Papal intervention with threats of canonical sanctions on protesting clergy and lay faithful.

The uprising on the part of Ahiara’s clergy and lay faithful was based on the fact that the Episcopal candidate, Peter Ebere Okpaleke, comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of the diocese, the Mbaise, and which also feels under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in Africa’s most populous nation.

Ordained in May 2013 outside the diocese, Bishop Okpaleke was impeded from setting foot in Ahiara and many Church activities halted including the ordination of candidates to diaconate.

In July 2017, Pope Francis directed all members of clergy of the diocese of Ahiara to pledge fidelity to him in writing, and at the same time express their acceptance of the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as their Shepherd.

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According to a report by Agenzia Fides, the Holy Father “received 200 letters from individual priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, in which they manifested to him obedience and fidelity. Some priests, however, pointed out their psychological difficulty in collaborating with the Bishop after years of conflict.”

The Pope did not take the route of canonical sanctions and instead, through the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, directed the clergy of Ahiara diocese “to reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ and expressed hope that in the future they will never again repeat  such unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff,” Agenzia Fides reported.

On February 19, 2018, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of Bishop Okpaleke and “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara.” He appointed Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji of Umuahia as the diocese’s Apostolic Administrator, expressing the hope that “the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ.”

Ekwulobia, the newly created diocese that Bishop Okpaleke will oversee, has been formed from Awka Diocese within the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Onitsha.

“The see of the newly-erected diocese of Ekwulobia, Ekvulobian(us) is located in the state of Anambra, south-east Nigeria, with Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church as its cathedral. The new ecclesiastical circumscription is constituted of territory taken from the diocese of Awka and is a suffragan of the metropolitan see of the archdiocese of Onitsha,” according to the Holy See Press Office.


The diocese measures 675.8 square kilometres with a Catholic population of 602,115 across 82 parishes.

The diocese has 240 diocesan priests, 12 priests belonging to different religious orders, nine men religious, 22 women religious and 58 major seminarians.

With the creation of the new diocese, Nigeria now has 55 Ecclesiastical Sees comprising nine Archdioceses and 46 dioceses.

Meanwhile, the Bishop-elect of Congo Brazzaville’s Kinkala diocese, Fr. Mouanga has been ministering at the Cardinal Emile Biayenda Major Seminary of Brazzaville as the Rector.

A cleric of Kinkala Diocese, Fr. Mouanga was born on May 27, 1966 and ordained a priest in August 1998.

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He holds a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from Rome-based Pontifical Biblical Institute and a doctorate in Biblical Theology from Pontifical Urban University, Rome.

Erected in October 1987, Kinkala Diocese measures 20,000 square kilometres with a 54.3 percent Catholic population according to 2017 statistics.