, 23 April, 2020 / 6:10 AM
One month after the installation of the new Archbishop of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese, which took place following months of protests characterized by strongly worded letters and threats, the South Sudanese Prelate says he has already started seeing signs of reconciliation and acceptance.
“My experience so far is good because on the Holy Thursday that we celebrated on the 9th of April, all the priests came, including those who signed those papers against me,” Archbishop Stephen Ameyu says in an interview with ACI Africa, referring to a chain of letters that some Clergy and lay faithful of Juba Archdiocese wrote, protesting his transfer from Torit diocese to Juba.
Pope Francis appointed the 56-year-old Prelate as the Archbishop of Juba on December 12, 2019. Since his appointment was communicated, at least seven letters opposing his appointment were written and circulated, most of them addressed to the Vatican-based Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, also known as Propaganda Fide.
In the days leading to his installation, “There was a lot of uncertainty all around as concerning the celebration,” Fr. Nicholas Kiri who was at the helm of the installation committee has recalled and added, “People were afraid of what the celebration would turn out to be and all of us were afraid.”
Looking back on the installation event, Fr. Kiri who was at some point attacked by a group of angry youth who were part of the group against Archbishop Ameyu's installation as the Local Ordinary of Juba expresses gratitude for a historic day that he was part of.
“I believe the day has gone down into our present history and we are grateful for the fact that we were part of this history; not only us but many people; some of them remained behind the curtain but they were part of this whole celebration,” Fr. Kiri says.
He adds, “Our people are resilient and no matter what you subject them to, they always come out at the end victorious.”
Reflecting on his installation, Archbishop Ameyu says the event was the height of his own vindication after months of defamatory letters.
“It felt like I was being vindicated because all the stories about me obscured my name even though many people who know me did not associate me with those stories,” he says, and adds in reference to March 22 when he was installed, “That day, I made the resolution to forgive people who had accused me. I will forgive them as Christ has forgiven those who accused Him.”
Written in the name of “representatives of the indigenous clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Juba” and signed by some lay faithful and a few Archdiocesan Priests, the authors of the letters continually emphasized three claims.
One allegation was that Bishop Ameyu has multiple concubines and at least six biological children. The writers also claimed that a native of the Archdiocese who would have been the best choice was short-changed.
The protestors also alleged that some Clerics of the Archdiocese alongside South Sudan government officials had conspired with Vatican officials in the country to have a candidate from outside the Archdiocese for personal interests.
Referencing the event of Chrism Mass, a couple of weeks after his successful installation, the participation of all priests including those who had protested against him was “a sign that they were now beginning to accept me,” Archbishop Ameyu says and adds, “We had a very good celebration.”
During the interview, Archbishop Ameyu responded to the most recent allegations contained in “an open letter” address to him dated Holy Thursday, April 9, which ACI Africa has seen.
Signed by three lay people who claim, at the beginning of the three-page letter, to be “the legitimate representatives of the indigenous clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Juba,” the authors revert to the issue of concubinage and state that the Archbishop is “married to seven women” and has “fathered more than six biological children.”
The writers go on to accuse the Archbishop of plotting, alongside some priests and lay faithful, to act against members of the Bari community within the Archdiocese including “abolition of Mass in Bari language, gradual dismissal of all Bari seminarians, deprivation of Bari priests from going for further studies, frustration of all Bari priests from active ministry, systematic dismissal of Bari employees from the institutions of the Church, incardinating to Juba more none Bari priests from the other dioceses of Sudan and South Sudan, etc.”
“I am not coming here to dismiss priests as they accuse me that my plans are to dismiss the priests or to dismiss the seminarians or the indigenous people; I am not here for that; I am here to help people,” Archbishop Ameyu tells ACI Africa.
The Archbishop who was ordained a Bishop in March 2019 says that he had been a formator for nearly 20 years and that most of the priests of the Archdiocese of Juba were his students.
“Majority of them (priests of Juba Archdiocese) were my students and if I were to be dismissing them, they wouldn’t have been in the Archdiocese today,” the South Sudanese Prelate says and adds, “It is important for us to understand that I have come here to serve them, to put them together and to forge a way of living together in a spiritual way, the way the Church intends us to do.”
Regarding concubinage and children claims, Archbishop Ameyu says the allegations were thoroughly investigated and the disgruntled group accorded an opportunity to argue their case with evidence but were unable to.
“Propaganda Fide sent a high delegation to investigate the accusations that were launched against me. That was from the 4th to the 7th of January, and so this was a high delegation to investigate all those accusations they forwarded against me,” he says adding that among those interrogated by the Vatican-led team of investigators were “around 36 women.”
“They found no evidence concerning those accusations,” he says in reference to the team of investigators from the Holy See and adds, “In fact, that is the reason the Vatican had to reinstate my appointment.”
He discloses that he had made it known to the Holy See, the Catholic Church’s appointing authority, that “if I am found to be guilty, I would prefer (to step down from) my See in the Catholic diocese of Torit, not only (from the appointment in) the Archdiocese of Juba.”
“These were very strong accusations, which are against the whole tradition of the Church that a Bishop has concubines and almost innumerous children, that is unbecoming,” he says and emphasizes that if the allegations were true, he “was going to accept my destiny, that of relinquishing my status of being a Bishop.”
Going forward, Archbishop Ameyu says he is looking at a collaborative ministry, bringing on board people of God who will assist him administer the Archdiocese in line with his mandate as the Local Ordinary.
He says that he plans to constitute a college of Archdiocesan Consultors comprising a group of priests that he will be consulting “for major decisions” and who will help in “the running of the Archdiocese.”
He explains, “The Archbishop or the Bishop is always appointed to work with people and collaborate with the people and that is why the first step that I would like to do is to form the body of Consultors that will help me to administer the diocese whether it is the assets, the people or the sacraments; these people will help me.”
Archbishop Ameyu says that he also plans to put in place a Presbyterial Council, which he describes as “a group of priests to (oversee) the pastoral ministry” of the Archdiocese.
He is also planning to establish a financial committee, comprising lay faithful with relevant expertise and Archdiocesan and Religious Clerics “to help the Archdiocese in finances and investments, so that the bishop will not be directly involved,” he says.
“In regard to the assets of the diocese, this is not one man’s show,” Archbishop Ameyu clarifies and adds, “There are clear structures that are there to make the diocese run well.”
He anchors his hope for a collaborative ministry and possible reconciliation on his encounter with all the clergy of his Archdiocese during Holy Week.
“It has been a good experience for me because here I am in front of those who accused me and those who have signed the papers against me coming together,” he says recalling Holy Thursday.
He adds, “It is a great step, that was my happiness; reconciliation is a process but now here is a sign that they are ready to reconcile with me, so I accepted that.”
“It was a happy moment for me to see that these priests have looked for a way to reconcile and to be loyal to me as their Bishop,” Archbishop Ameyu recalls and concludes, “What is important is that we need to heal.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa