Nigerian Bishop Who “resigned” amid Sustained Opposition among 21 Newly Named Cardinals

Newly named Cardinal from Nigeria, Bishop Peter Okpaleke of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke who resigned in 2018 following sustained opposition to his Episcopal appointment for Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese is among the 21 new Cardinals that Pope Francis named on Sunday, May 29.

Bishop Okpaleke and Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Wa Diocese in Ghana are the two newly named Cardinals from Africa who, alongside 19 other Catholic Church leaders from across the globe, are to be created Cardinals during the next Consistory.

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square after reciting the Regina Coeli prayer on May 29, Pope Francis said, “On Saturday, 27 August, I will hold a Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals. Let us pray that they will help me in my mission as Bishop of Rome for the good of all God's people.”

Bishop Okpaleke is the pioneer Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese that was erected on 5 March 2020. 

The 59-year-old Nigerian Bishop was appointed the Local Ordinary of Ahiara Diocese in December 2012. His appointment was rejected by a section of Clergy and Laity of the Nigerian Diocese.


The rejection of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Awka Diocese was based on the claim that the Episcopal candidate comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of Ahiara Diocese, the Mbaise, and that Priests of the Diocese feel under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in the West African nation.

He was impeded from setting foot in the territory covered by Ahiara Diocese and many Church activities halted including the ordination of candidates to Diaconate.

The May 2013 Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Okpaleke took place outside Ahiara Diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Ulakwo, in Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese.

The rejection persisted even after the Nigerian Bishop’s Consecration. In July 2017, Pope Francis directed all members of Clergy of Ahiara Diocese to pledge fidelity to him in writing, and to express their acceptance of the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as their Shepherd.

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 (Okpaleke) after years of conflict.”

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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.

Having failed to exercise his Episcopal Ministry in the Nigerian Diocese, Bishop Okpaleke made known to Pope Francis his decision to resign in writing.

In his letter of resignation, the Nigerian Bishop made reference to the sustained opposition to his appointment saying, “The situation in Ahiara Diocese to the best of my knowledge has not improved. Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life.”

“I am convinced, in conscience that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara is no longer beneficial to the Church,” Bishop Okpaleke stated in his 14 February 2018 letter addressed to Pope Francis.

He added, “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.”


“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,” the Bishop explained in his resignation letter.

He said his decision to resign was “the only option to facilitate re-evangelisation of the faithful of the diocese especially the priests.”

On 19 February 2018, the Holy Father accepted Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation and “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara.”

A year later, Pope Francis announced the establishment of the Diocese of Ekwulobia in Southeastern Nigeria and appointed Bishop Okpaleke the pioneer Local Ordinary.

The newly named Cardinal was installed Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese that was curved from his native Diocese of Awka on 29 April 2020.

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Meanwhile, Bishop Baawobr from Ghana named Cardinal alongside Bishop Okpaleke is known for his love for people suffering from mental illness in his native West African country.

Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa who was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) on 4 July 2020 is known in Ghana and beyond for many acts of charity has had keen interest in those neglected by their respective families.

In 2016, the year that the Holy Father appointed him Bishop, volunteers at the Bishop’s project that takes care of people with mental illnesses started going on the streets looking for patients and providing them with care.

The project that involves Parishes, faith-based organizations, women and men Religious and the Laity also brought on board doctors and nurses who started providing free medication. The Bishop reportedly started using media platforms to create awareness about mental illnesses in Ghana where stigmatization of people with such challenges is high.

The Ghanaian Bishop who will turn 63 in June has been at the helm of Wa Diocese since his Episcopal Ordinary in May 2016.

Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla is ACI Africa’s founding Editor-in-Chief. He was formed in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans), and later incardinated in Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan. He has a PhD in Media Studies from Daystar University in Kenya, and a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Marist College, New York, USA.