Open letter to Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria: Danger is in the offing
It is with utmost regards to your highly placed ecclesiastical offices that I, a lowly-rated and humble lay faithful of your flock put forward this piece in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). I know the implication of discussing the conduct of a priest of God in public sphere and I accept responsibility for whichever sanctionable blunder I may commit in the course of this writeup. Nothing but demands of christian charity pushed me to address this open memo to you.
I had elected not to join those who, hiding under the rhetoric of ‘respect’ for the anointed, refuse to offer advice and proffer solutions to Church hierarchies when they tend to digress on the rungs of the ladder that is our faith; yet they murmur and grudge off record.
I stand on the double authorities of the holy writ and numerous Church documents to execute this piece observing the boundaries set by ecclesiastical laws for a layman to discuss the conduct of ordained ministers of the church. I am also following the example of the saints who cautioned: “interfice errorem sed diligere erratum” – “condemn the offence but love the offender” as posited by Augustine of Hippo.
2Thes 3:15 remains my watchword here; without neglecting Gal. 2:11-13 where St. Paul admonished the Prince of the apostles, St. Peter, and going further he urged us to “admonish each other in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
It means I will only talk to the extent that the provisions of Canon law, Synodal and post-synodal documents, papal encyclicals as well as apostolic letters permit me as a lay man enjoying the royal priesthood of the faithful. I restrict my expression to the permittable bounds of the extant laws in appraising and expressing my personal view of the recent Mbaka and partisan politics imbroglio.
The event of the past two weeks has placed Nigeria Catholic church in the spotlight for the wrong reasons for the third time in six years. The founder and spiritual director of Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN), Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka was at the centre yet again.
Within a space of twelve days too many visuals of the popular priest made it to the cyberspace. It would amount to monotonous repetition, presenting the scandals here again, since we all saw and heard it.
I want to believe, His Lordship, Rt. Rev. Dr. Calistus Onaga, (Mbaka’s local ordinary) have relayed the situation to your secretariat.
As a kid in a catholic family which the magisterium rightly defined as “ecclesia domestica” (domestic church), I was made to understand that the church is hierarchical. And unconditional obedience to this norm gives life to one’s membership of the church.
As a catechumen, I read that the Pope, duly represented by Bishops in our dioceses is the vicar of Christ. Therefore, whatever the church authority (the Pope in collegiality of bishops) teach us we must believe, as a derivative of “ex cathedra” doctrine, which support their infallibility in matters of faith and morality. Adherence to, and observance of, this norm informed why the church survived centuries of belligerent empires, crusades, internal and external turmoil etc.
When I became adult, the codes of canon laws, conciliar and post conciliar documents of the church affirmed all I learnt in my teen.
It summed up the teaching that only those who occupy episcopal positions (bishops) directly share in the priesthood of Christ. Priests don’t have such privilege. Rather, they share in the priesthood of their bishops. Thus, they (priests) have canonical obligation of unreserved obedience to their bishops. Anything less is marked as signal disobedience, and it violates their sacerdotal vow of obedience.
From the foregoing, one is tempted to ask: what is really happening in the case of Fr. Mbaka over the years? Is it that his diocesan bishop okayed it or has he outgrown his bounds? How did you all sit back and watch a priest become “author” and “definer” as it were, of Catholic involvement in politics for almost two decades?
From 2002 till date, Mbaka had thrown himself into circus of murky political waters unchallenged by his superiors. He had been speaking more like a politician more than a theologian. Within those periods he was under two bishops in succession. Bishops Gbuji and now Onaga. Could it be that none of them saw the danger that his meddling in partisan politics portended then?
The revised code of Canon Law Chapter III: section 287, subsection 2 states: “Clerics are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labour unions unless, in the judgement of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the church or the promotion of common good requires it”
The sacred Congregation for the doctrine of faith in November 24, 2002 under the prefecture of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI) on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life declared:“It is not the Church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person. It is however the Church’s right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or moral law.”
It also taught that: “Pope John Paul II has warned of the dangers which follow from confusion between the religious and political spheres.”
This last statement is warning the Church members/ministers against mixing what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar (Matt. 22:21).
This was always the first point of issues people have whenever any leading priest or pastor wields into politics.
As 2018 was the eve of general election, we heard your voice through your secretary, Bishop Augustine Akubueze, on August 7, forewarn all of us, both lay faithful and clergy to desist from the use of church’s liturgical functions or her sacred instruments of worship for campaign purposes or political candidates’ endorsement. Yet Mbaka defied it and endorsed Buhari/Osinbajo openly, while he rejected Atiku/Obi candidacy, with impunity.
He always go further than mere use of holy altar of worship to do that. He uses the hallowed name of third person in trinity to validate what should at best pass for his personal feeling and sentiment. The mother church taught that all public revelations before and after Christ were consumated in the greatest divine revelation — “God became man for our salvation and dwelt among us.” Thus, since the incarnation, every other revelation or prophecy is private and never public. Regularly Mbaka keeps using the name of the holy spirit as a magic wand to validate his private ‘visions’ on national or state political bearings.
This turned his followers into army of warped christians, who would have no respect for anyone else except their ‘Messiah’ prefigured in Mbaka. That was why they could tag Bishop Onaga a “kidnapper’ and break into his residence to cause damages and desecrate the church, in search of their ‘Lord.’
All these were because, Mbaka (unchallenged) has been using the paraclet as the validator of his private revelations, giving it public coloration. Today the monster has grown almost irremediable. Insubordination of one person has led to insurrection of many, with the church at the receiving end.
Everyone knows that the church in her orthodoxy is rich in rituals, protocols and exegesis none of which was designed to accommodate secularism or profanity. She has over the centuries remained a pillar of truth and moral conscience of the decadent world.
However, we are aware that temptations abound at the level of her stewards in priesthood luring them to the side of the angel of darkness characteristically interposing as angel of light making life more difficult for them.
We are not oblivious of such gimmicks from the ancient enemy of man’s salvation, therefore you all who are the teaching authority of the church in Nigeria need to always stand tall in guiding and directing our clergymen and women on the right path to take in critical situations.
As royal priests in secular order, we live in the larger society. We are not confined to parish houses or monasteries as you people in the ministerial priesthood. Rather we occupy the streets, markets, offices and other wider abodes of human dwellings. We hear the talks and criticisms of the ecclesial community. We palpate their pulse. We bear the shame as Catholics each time our priests get involved in such scandal. The burden of public stigma from such error smears our foreheads.
CBCN please come to our rescue.
The revised code of Canon Law Chapter III dealing with the obligations and rights of clerics stated: “Clerics are to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming of their state., according to the prescripts of particular law.” (Can.285 $ 1). It went further to declare that “Clerics are to avoid those things which, though not unbecoming, are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state”.
In Can. 282 of the same chapter it urged Priests to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have semblance of vanity.
Fr. Mbaka should know the provision of this law better. But here we are, seeing a different reflection. Allegations of his visit to Aso Villa in demand of contract as a compensation for his support for Buhari doesn’t speak well of us. He had dragged the church to a new low, that a pressman like Reuben Abati could be bold to write: “Mbaka represents an emerging face of the Church, a living embodiment of the rise of utilitarian capitalism in the Church of Christ, and the conflation of priesthood with hedonism.”
The topic of this piece reads: “there is danger in the offing.” The danger is no more about Mbaka. At least we have seen a video clip of his ‘apology.’ The danger is about thousand other young Nigeria priests who may be tempted to toe this same road. Many a seminarian may be modelling him. A handful of priests (who are Mbaka apologists) wrote long epistles, last week trying to defend the indefensible. And that portends danger to our future as a faith community, if his scandal was not justly redressed to serve as deterrent to others who nurture similar thought.
It is time a dilidgent root cause analysis is made to nip future occurrence in the bud. I wanted to suggest a review of seminary formation curriculum in Nigeria. It seems it no longer meet the needs of the time we found ourselves in the digital era.
But when I remember that the same curriculum produced your types (the likes of Card. Arinze, Blessed Tansi and other saintly prelates) I could not help but wish it away.
But I trust in your charisma. Please do the needful.
✍Eze Jude O.
Catholic Diocese of Nsukka.