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Catholic bishop, priests face-off: Diocese explains invitation of armed men to church

The crisis between the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Jonas-Benson Okoye and some Spiritans priests over the ownership of St Martin of Tours parish took a new turn on Friday, when armed security men allegedly invaded the church.

Sources from the parish in Ihiala, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State said the bishop sent security men to forcefully take over the parish and chase away the priests.

St Martin of Tours Catholic Church has been in dispute for months now, since Bishop Okoye notified the Spiritans managing the parish of his intention to create new parishes and also send priests to manage the parish, while the Spiritans were posted out of the parish.

The priests have long refused to vacate the parish, and have obstructed efforts of priests posted to the area to take over. This led to the withdrawal of the faculty by the Spiritan priests by the bishop, making them incapable of celebrating masses in the parish.

The bishop, speaking through the director of communication of the diocese, Rev. Fr Martin Onwudiwe in a press conference on Saturday denied that the bishop sent security men to recover the perish.

He said: “They (security operatives) never invaded the place as said, they were rather sent there by the diocese to protect the church property, especially the Blessed Sacrament.

“The security men were briefed by the bishop to release gunshots or teargas anyone or even touch anyone. We were surprised to hear people insinuating that they were there to forcefully take over the parish.”

Onwudiwe said there have been recent incidents where the blessed sacrament has been stolen in parishes within the diocese, so it sent security men to avert such.

He also added that because of the briefing of the Bishop to the security operatives, they retreated when the priests and some parishioners mobilized a mob to attack them.

“On November 11, the blessed sacrament was made away from St Christopher Catholic Church, Ihiala, and same at All Saints Parish, Oraifite on November 14. These are the kinds of situations the bishop was trying to avoid by sending security men there.

“Some parishioners mobilized and confronted the security men who because of the briefing by the Bishop, they rather retreated.”

He said the trouble in the parish was being engineered by just a few individuals, who were bent on fighting the bishop.

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