, 07 March, 2020 / 1:06 AM
Pope Francis has reconfirmed his earlier appointment of Bishop Stephen Ameyu of South Sudan’s Torit Diocese as the new Archbishop of the only Metropolitan See in the world’s youngest nation and announced the date of his installation, a move that seems to put an end to controversies around politics of succession in the Archdiocese of Juba.
The Holy Father’s reconfirmation was announced Friday, March 6 at a Press Conference in Juba by Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, Delegate of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, accompanied by the Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in South Sudan, Msgr. Mark Kadima.
“I am here on behalf of the Holy See, being Delegated by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, acting under the mandate of the Holy Father, to facilitate the preparation and to supervise the installation of His Grace Most Rev. Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla as the new Archbishop of Juba,” Msgr. Kulbokas told the Press at the South Sudan Apostolic Nunciature.
The Lithuanian Vatican diplomat recalled the earlier Papal transfer of Bishop Ameyu from Torit diocese to Juba Archdiocese and the controversies that followed saying, “As you know, this appointment was made and announced on 12 December 2019, which was then followed by an investigative process concerning some allegations that had been presented by some individuals.”
Following the news about Bishop Ameyu’s appointment to shepherd the people of God in the 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.
In one of the letters seen by ACI Africa, eight signatories who identified themselves as “the indigenous clergy and faithful representing the majority of concerned people of the Archdiocese of Juba” put forth three reasons for rejecting the Papal transfer of Bishop Ameyu.
The protestors claimed that Bishop Ameyu had fathered six children; a native of the Archdiocese would have been appointed; and that some clerics of Juba Archdiocese alongside government officials had conspired with the officials of the South Sudan Nunciature to have Bishop Ameyu promoted for their own personal interests.
The protestors wondered why one of the natives of Juba Archdiocese, particularly from the Bari tribe, would not be appointed and probed Vatican’s interest in a candidate with questionable moral standards.
“we still find it inexplicable why and how the local church of Juba, already blessed with over 30 local priests who have excelled in their pastoral, administrative and academic experience should be humiliated by getting a Bishop who has two concubines and six biological children,” the authors of the letter wrote and further questioned, “How can our mother Church go for this Bishop when some of our priests were disqualified on unfounded rumours of fathering only one child?”
They went on to threaten violence stating, “Should we understand that the Vatican listens only when there are real violent threats attached?”
Writing that Bishop Ameyu “will not be accepted to serve as Archbishop of Juba under any circumstance,” the protestors made reference to their previous December 10 letter in which they had called for the “suspension of the announcement” of Ameyu as Archbishop-elect of Juba Archdiocese and had expressed their disappointment.
“Now that the misled Vatican has arrogantly ignored our concerns by choosing the path of undue confrontation, we have no other option than to respond with proportional means,” they wrote.
In their protest letter, the authors detailed a “series of conspiracies and briberies by some determined interest groups and lobbyists both inside and outside Juba” and claimed that they had “substantial evidence that the Nunciature in Juba was heavily compromised by some officials from the government of South Sudan from its inception up to date.”
The signatories to the letter who included three priests claimed that the Vatican's Chargé d'Affaires at the South Sudan Apostolic Nunciature had been bribed “to gain leverage over him” and that they did have evidence that “some high profile politicians influenced the process by ruling out some of our candidates and worked to promote Bishop Stephen Ameyu.”
The protestors went on to write that some of the clergy of Juba “who are also polygamists, businessmen and senior government security personnel” had succeeded in manipulating Kenyan-born Msgr. Kadima to support Ameyu “who would … protect their personal interests.”
“I am pleased now to announce to you that after evaluating diligently that entire situation, Pope Francis has confirmed Most Rev. Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla as the new Archbishop of Juba,” Msgr. Kulbokas stated.
The Vatican-based diplomat further disclosed that he had “duly informed His Grace and Archbishop Emeritus Paolino Lukudu Loro, MCCJ” about the Pope’s decision to reconfirm his earlier appointment of Bishop Ameyu.
He announced that “the date fixed for the installation of the new Archbishop” is Sunday, March 22 at 10 a.m., an event expected to take place at St. Teresa’s Cathedral, Kator in Juba.
At the Friday Press Conference, Msgr. Kulbokas further announced that he had constituted a committee to organize the March 22 installation ceremony.
“I have formed a committee, consisting of some parish priests, as well as some priests of the Archdiocese of Juba, who are holding administrative positions in this local Church,” the Vatican diplomat stated and added, “This committee will be headed by the Episcopal Vicar for the Clergy and Religious in the Archdiocese of Juba, Rev. Fr. Nicholas Kiri.”
The controversy around the appointment of the Archbishop of Juba called to mind that of Nigeria’s Ahiara diocese where the December 2012 appointment of a Bishop from outside the dominant ethnic group of the diocese, the Mbaise, occasioned an uprising.
In the case of Ahiara, the protestors who included a significant number of native priests and lay faithful seem to have had their say and way. The candidate, Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, was never allowed to set his foot in the diocese. He was ordained Bishop in May 2013 outside Ahiara diocese and eventually wrote to Pope Francis asking to resign in February 2018. The Holy Father accepted the Bishop’s resignation “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara.”
Just yesterday, March 5, the Pontiff appointed Bishop Okpaleke as the Local Ordinary of the newly created diocese of Ekwulobia in south eastern Nigeria.
In the case of Juba Archdiocese, the candidate, already a Bishop but not part of the dominant ethnic group of Juba, the Bari, has received support from the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC), which is constituted by Prelates from the seven dioceses in South Sudan and the two in Sudan.
A section of the laity have also criticized the actions of those protesting Bishop Ameyu’s appointment, with the leadership of the Bari community in South Sudan distancing itself from the authors of the protest letters.
A Juba-based Catholic professional told ACI Africa that the attempts to reject the appointment of Bishop Ameyu as Archbishop of Juba demonstrated “that South Sudan society is really divided on tribal lines” and that the controversy does paint 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.”
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