The dispute over the ownership of St Martin of Tours parish between the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Jonas-Benson Okoye, and some Spiritans priests took a new turn on Friday, when armed security men allegedly raided the church.
According to parishioners in Ihiala, Ihiala Local Government Area, Anambra State, the bishop deployed security guards to take over the parish and chase away the priests.
St Martin of Tours Catholic Church has been in controversy for months, ever since Bishop Okoye informed the parish’s Spiritans of his intention to establish new parishes and send priests to govern the church while the Spiritans were posted overseas.
The priests have long refused to leave the parish and have thwarted attempts by priests stationed in the region to take charge.
As a result, the bishop revoked the Spiritan priests’ faculty, rendering them unable to celebrate masses in the parish.
In a press conference on Saturday, the bishop denied sending security officers to reclaim the items, speaking through the diocese’s director of communication, Rev. Fr Martin Onwudiwe.
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.”
According to Onwudiwe, there have been recent occurrences of the blessed sacrament being stolen in churches within the diocese, hence the diocese dispatched security personnel to prevent such thefts.
He further stated that because the security agents were briefed by the Bishop, they retreated when the priests and other parishioners organized 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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