Following Thursday night’s invasion by some armed Anambra Vigilante Group, 12 parish priests in Ihiala Episcopal Region today drove in convoy to St Martin of Tours Parish, Ihiala for forceful takeover of the church.
They were, however, stopped by the parishioners who had earlier laid siege and rounded up the men of the armed Anambra Vigilante Group who stormed the church.
Recall that Most Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye, the Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, under which the Parish is, had withdrawn the canonical faculties of five Spiritan priests hitherto overseeing the parish over alleged insubordination.
It was gathered that the five priests of St Martin of Tours, Ihiala, had been having a running battle with the bishop over their residency in the parish, which hitherto led to their ejection from the parsonage of the church, following an administrative rearrangement aimed to create a new parish in the area.
But the Holy Ghost priests refused the order of the bishop for them to vacate the parish for new priests sent to man the church, claiming that their order had been in possession of the parish for over 100 years.
Speaking to TNC correspondent on Friday, one of the parishioners who witnessed the attempt by the armed men to invade the parish on Thursday night, said the 12 priests drove in a commando manner into the church, but were also stopped by the parishioners who have been keeping vigil there.
The eye witness said: ”When they were stopped, the 12 priests went to the nearby Mary the Queen church where the armed men relocated to.
“The Divisional Police Officer, DPO, for Ihiala later came to the church and, after meeting with the parish priest, went to Mary the Queen where he also met some soldiers and told them that the matter was purely religious and thereafter advised them to leave, and they did.”
Meanwhile, Nnewi Diocese has reacted to the incident, describing it as false alarm against the Diocese and the Bishop.
A statement by the Chancellor of the Diocese, Reverend Father Raphael Ezeogu read: “I have been directed by the Diocesan Bishop, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, to alert all our priests on the texts flying around in the media against Nnewi Diocese and the Chief Shepherd.
“For record purposes, the State Security men sent to Ihiala, by the Diocese are there just to protect Church property, especially the Blessed Sacrament, given the current spate of desecration of the Sanctissimum.
“The SSM got express briefing from His Lordship never to release any gunshot, nor teargas anybody.
“They were not to touch the priests at all.
“The truth is that any sincere priest on ground Church premises, who feels insecure, alarms first the Bishop and not thugs.
“Our Bishop empowers each and every one of us to debunk this falsehood with the truth, all in charity, to avoid appearing degenerate like some of them disobeying legitimately constituted Church authority.
“Prayers are that Priests and Religious might remain obedient and truthful.”
Reacting on the latest development, a spokesman of the parish wondered why the Diocese should send armed men to settle church quarrels.
“Which church property were they deployed to protect? For the past seven weeks since the Bishop withdrew the Faculty of the Holy Ghost Priests in residence, has there been any recorded case of robbery anywhere in the parish premises?
“If they came to protect the church property, how come they tied parish security personnel and their phones taken away?”, he asked.
According to him, the truth of the matter was that the armed men were sent as an entry behaviour preparatory to planned forceful takeover of the Parish.