A Laity’s Take of Protests against Papal Transfer of South Sudan’s Torit Bishop to Juba

On December 12, 2019, Pope Francis (left) appointed Bishop Stephen Ameyu of Torit Diocese (right) as the new Archbishop of Juba in South Sudan
Credit: Public Domain

As the people of God in South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese await the decision of Pope Francis regarding his earlier transfer of Bishop Stephen Ameyu from Torit diocese to Juba, a Papal decision that was resisted by a section of clergy and laity, a South Sudanese lay faithful has, in a recent letter to ACI Africa, weighed in on the matter, highlighting issues he considers pertinent and making appeals to Church personnel to be obedient to the Vatican.

Multiple sources told ACI Africa that a Vatican-led delegation was in South Sudan capital, Juba, the week of January 6 to investigate the accusations leveled against the Archbishop-elect Stephen Ameyu.

Following the news about Bishop Ameyu’s appointment as Archbishop of Juba last December, a series of letters addressed to the Congregation for the Evangelization of People (Propaganda Fide) were written, protesting the elevation of the 56-year-old South Sudanese Prelate as head of the only Metropolitan See in the country.

The attempts to reject the appointment of Bishop Ameyu as Archbishop of Juba proves “that South Sudan society is really divided on tribal lines,” Clement Aturjong Kuot, a native of South Sudan’s Wau Diocese, says and highlights other manifestations of tribalism in the East African nation including the fact that “government jobs are given based on tribal lines.”

“Civil society projects are funded based on regionalism or tribalism but in very intelligent way that you cannot know if you are (not) very keen,” Aturjong, a journalist, linguist, and Arabic-language translator based in South Sudan capital, Juba, adds in his letter to ACI Africa.

The clerics and lay people who have expressed their rejection of Bishop Ameyu’s transfer to Juba are attempting to push the people of God in South Sudan “into dirty politics of division and tribalism, which does help the Church but is devil’s work,” Aturjong says in reference to signatories to letters opposed to Bishop Ameyu’s appointment as Archbishop.

The main reason for protesting Bishop Ameyu’s appointment is “he does come from their community,” Aturjong says referencing the clergy and lay people who signed the December 2019 letters rejecting the Papal transfer. All the signatories are of Bari ethnic group.

The leadership of the Bari community in South Sudan, the Bari Community Association (BCA), distanced itself from those protesting the Papal transfer of Bishop Ameyu, a non-Bari.

“Those indigenous clergy and faithful Bari who have rejected the appointment of the new Archbishop for Juba (Archdiocese) (do) not reflect the position of the entire Bari Community (BC) or their Association i.e. the Bari Community Association (BCA),” read the December 23, 2019 statement signed by the Chairman of the Juba-based BCA, Hon. Cornelio Bepo Lado Kenyi.

In his letter to ACI Africa, Aturjong, the Chairman of Angong Foundation (AF), an NGO in South Sudan working toward peace building, community empowerment and media advocate says the controversy around the Papal transfer of Bishop Ameyu is painting the world’s newest nation in bad light, a nation that has had, together with its sister nation of Sudan, the significant reputation of producing “two International Saints namely St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Daniel Comboni,” Aturjong says.

Utterances from some South Sudanese Juba-based clerics and lay leaders are “shaming the entire Church in South Sudan” and many in the country are considering these “wicked elements” as serving the “devil, not Jesus,” he says.

It is unfortunate, he says, that a Church that has had a long history of being “obedient to the Vatican” and “very good hospitality” has been infiltrated by clerics and lay people bent on damaging the “very good legacy” that had been nurtured over the years.

Rejecting the Papal transfer of Bishop Ameyu from Torit to Juba is an expression of disobedience and a lack of gratitude to the Holy See, Aturjong says, recalling the role the Vatican has played in the “liberation of the people of South Sudan.”

In particular, Aturjong, a graduate of Khartoum-based Omdurman Ahlia University, recalls how, “through the Vatican, Sudan Bishops were able to visit some countries such America, Canada, Australia, Europe to (advocate) and lobby for peace in Sudan.”

The Holy See “coordinated these visits through its Embassies in USA and Europe, Canada and Australia and mobilized their resources to support South Sudan peace Agreement and Referendum,” Aturjong says, recalling the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan Government and the 2011 South Sudan referendum respectively.

The holder of Advanced Diploma in Planning and Management of Development from the Kenya-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) also highlights the contribution of the Vatican in education of the people of God in his country as well as coordinating humanitarian interventions through Church-based institutions and personalities.

Aturjong, a parishioner at Juba’s Holy Rosary parish faults those opposed to the appointment of Bishop Ameyu to head the only Metropolitan Archdiocese in the world’s youngest nation saying the claim that the process of identifying candidates was “not transparent is a mere lie.”

The rejection “is not accepted by the majority of Catholic faithful in all dioceses of Sudan and South Sudan,” he says adding that the news of the rejection astonished “the Catholic faithful as well as other Christian’s dominations” in the country.

“The Vatican has a right to choose (Prelates) among priests who were presented,” Aturjong underlines.

Unlike signatories to the protest letters who claimed that the personnel at the Apostolic Nunciature in South Sudan are compromised by the Government, Aturjong says that “the majority of people in the Archdiocese of Juba appreciate the role of the Vatican through its Nunciature in Juba.”

According to Aturjong, a native of South Sudan’s Wau diocese, Vatican’s decision to establish a Nunciature in South Sudan is a visible expression of the closeness of the Pope to the people of God in South Sudan and a success story.

The Holy See “officials namely H.G. Bert Van Megen, Apostolic Nuncio (in) South Sudan and Kenya and Msgr. Mark Kadima, Papal Chargé d’affaires (in) South Sudan have contributed significantly in repairing the broken relationship between government and Church  as well as the faithful who are from  different Catholic  dioceses of South Sudan and Sudan,” Aturjong testifies.

He adds, “Chargé d’affaires, Msgr. Kadima managed to bring back the South Sudan Catholic faithful who abandoned the church due to bias criticism. He managed to encourage all clerics and laity to work together as followers of Jesus Christ as well as people from the one Catholic domination.”

He terms the allegations leveled against the Vatican diplomats in South Sudan as part of the “local dirty politics of tribalism which does not serve the interest and will of the (Lord) Jesus but individuals’ interest.”

In their December 12 letter, the group of three clerics of Juba Archdiocese and five laymen charged South Sudan government officials and some Juba-based clerics of conspiring with Vatican diplomats to promote Bishop Ameyu as Archbishop of Juba for personal interests.

The signatories of the letter accused Bishop Ameyu of having concubines in Juba and for being a biological father of six children.

“The accusations tabled against (Archbishop-elect) Ameyu are baseless and unfounded,” Aturjong, a former parishioner of Juba’s St. Joseph’s parish, says.

Although Aturjong acknowledges Archbishop Paulino Lukudu’s many years of service and his impact on the people of God in South Sudan in general and Juba Archdiocese in particular, he raises questions about the Prelate’s role in the rejection of Bishop Ameyu.

Archbishop Lukudu “has been a charismatic leader, who is admired by all people of South Sudan and Sudan as well as African Countries for his role in keeping faith in Archdiocese of Juba,” 56-year-old Aturjong says and recognizes the Prelate’s standing with the people through the many years of conflict.

“He did not abandon his Christians,” Aturjong says in reference to 79-year-old Archbishop and adds, “He saved lives of many Christian and non-Christians. He stood against National Congress Party and its security agents in Juba and round Juba. He was for dignity and freedom of the people of South Sudan and Sudan.”

However, the seeming silence of Archbishop Lukudu on the issue of Bishop Ameyu’s rejection concerns Aturjong, a holder of an online degree of Mass Communication at Washington International University (WIU).

“Since he (Archbishop Lukudu) is still the spiritual leader of Catholic Church of Sudan and South Sudan,” Aturjong observes, the Prelate “should come up clearly to disassociate himself from shameful act of some clerics and laity.”

Focusing specifically on the allegations leveled against Bishop Ameyu, Aturjong faults Archbishop Lukudu.

If it were true that Bishop Ameyu has concubines and children, why did the Archbishop remain silent over the years, Aturjong probes and concludes, “by failing (to) inform the Vatican, that means that these accusations are baseless.”

Referencing Bishop Ameyu’s ministry before his appointment as a Bishop in January 2019, Aturjong probes, “How comes a married Father is entrusted to train future priests at St Paul’s Major Seminary in Juba?”

He also wonders why Archbishop Lukudu, aware that Ameyu has wives and biological children, failed to oppose his “appointment as bishop of Torit” and in fact went ahead to be the Principal Celebrant at Ameyu’s episcopal ordination.

He also wonders about the apparent silence of the three South Sudanese Prelates who belong to Bari ethnic group.

That Archbishop Lukudu, his Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio, and Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe of South Sudan’s Yei Diocese “did not produce a statement openly to disassociate themselves (as to say) they are not part and partial of (the) rejection letters” raises questions about their innocence.   

Aware of the challenges that have bedeviled the world’s newest nation since December 2013, the South Sudanese media practitioner calls on Church personnel to work toward peace in his country, remaining obedient to the Holy See.

“I call on our clerics and laity to work for peace and unity of the people of South Sudan and (remain) obedient to the Vatican since Catholics all over the world are obedience to the Vatican,” Aturjong says.

“I also urge the Vatican to work closely with local Church leaders and laity to make sure that this humiliating and shameful act is not repeated by some South Sudanese clerics and laity,” he adds.

Aturjong encourages the Holy Father “to appoint Bishops or Archbishop outside of their dioceses of origins so that the tribalism or ethnicity can be discouraged.”

“Some wrong elements in the Church do think that (the) church is their property, therefore they should own its resources,” the South Sudanese Catholic says and concludes, “The Church in South Sudan and Sudan is a church of Jesus Christ; it is not a tribal Church in which some individuals work for their own interests rather than Jesus Christ’s interest and the will of God.”


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
[email protected]