Juba, South Sudan, Dec 13, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A group of three priests and five laymen from the Archdiocese of Juba wrote Thursday to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples protesting the appointment of Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla as archbishop.
In their Dec. 12 letter, obtained by CNA, the group say they are indigenous and represent “the majority of concerned people of the Archdiocese.”
That day the Vatican announced the resignation of Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, 79, and the appointment of Ameyu as his successor.
Ameyu, 55, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Torit in 1991, and had been appointed bishop of the same see earlier this year.
The concerned people of Juba gave three reasons for opposing the appointment, charging that government officials and some Juba priests had conspired to promote Ameyu as archbishop for personal interests, and had influenced a Vatican diplomat to that end; that a local priest could have been appointed; and alleging that Ameyu has fathered at least six children.
They wrote that Ameyu “will not be accepted to serve as Archbishop of Juba under any circumstance.”
The situation calls to mind that in the Diocese of Ahiara, where a December 2012 appointment of a bishop from a neighboring diocese was rejected by the people of Ahiara. The Mbaise ethic group whom the Ahiara diocese serves objected that the new bishop was not Mbaise. That episcopal installation was performed outside the Ahiara diocese because of protests, and while Pope Francis in 2017 demanded the acceptance of the appointment, the rejected bishop’s resignation was accepted early in 2018.
The letter from clerics and laymen of Juba indicated that they had written to the congregation Dec. 10 asking for “dialogue over the serious allegations raised against Bishop Stephen Ameyu.”
“Given the genuine concerns based on the legitimate issues cited in our memo, we had honestly expected the suspension of the announcement, until further investigation can be conducted on the matter,” they wrote.
“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.”
According to the letter-writers in Juba, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, apostolic nuncio to South Sudan and Kenya, “has dismissed the allegations brought against Bishop Stephen Ameyu and put the whole blame on Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro.”
Detailing a “series of conspiracies and briberies by some determined interest groups and lobbyists both inside and outside Juba”, the group said they have “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 letter’s signatories said that Msgr. Mark Kadima, the Vatican’s chargé d’affaires in South Sudan who was appointed last year, was given money and goods “to gain leverage over him,” and that they have evidence “some high profile politicians influenced the process by ruling out some of our candidates and worked to promote Bishop Stephen Ameyu.”
The group also wrote that they have evidence that some of the priests of Juba, “who are also polygamists, businessmen and senior government security personnel” worked to manipulate Msgr. Kadima to support Ameyu “who would … protect their personnel [sic] interests.”
These priests, the concerned clerics and laymen charged, divided several senior positions in the archdiocese, including vicar general, among themselves Dec. 8.
Secondly, the letter asks, “Who among our priests in Juba can be appointed bishop anywhere?”
It charges that priests from Juba were passed over for episcopal appointments in Yei in 1986, and recently in both Rumbek and Torit.
“Should we understand that the Vatican listens only when there are real violent threats attached,” they asked. “Otherwise, 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. How can our mother Church go for this Bishop when some of our priests were disqualified on unfounded rumours of fathering only one child?”
Finally, the letter says that Ameyu’s having fathered at least six children “is common knowledge and does not need much prove [sic].” They charge that he has a concubine in Gudele, located just outside Juba.
The concerned people of Juba wrote that they are “a generous and hospitable people … kind hearted and straightforward people who do not tolerate any form of humiliation. We take long to react but once the gloves come off, it becomes difficult to calm things later.”
They maintained that their opposition “should not be misinterpreted as tribalism,” saying they have “no objection in having a bishop from outside the Archdiocese,” noting that most of their bishops have not been indigenous.
“Therefore, it should be the question of being Bari or none [sic] Bari, but rather appointing a good priest with right qualifications,” they wrote.
The Bari an ethnic group who are centered in Juba.
The protesters added that they are “not questioning or interfering with the prerogative of the Holy Father to appoint bishops,” but are “only against the manipulation and the buying of the process by politicians and other interest groups.
“We are against a person brought from outside just to promote personal interests while maliciously leaving out the qualified sons of this land,” they wrote.
The letter says that Archbishop van Megen and Msgr. Kadima “have gone so low and naïve that they have irrevocably lost the good will of the people of Juba,” charging that they have given in “to worldly pleasures to the extent of misleading the Propaganda Fide” and the Holy Father, choosing “to serve individual government officials and some lobbyists instead of serving the local Church.”
According to the protesters, Ameyu’s appointment had already been made while the consultation to find an Archbishop of Juba was being conducted.
They charge that the Juba archbishop “must be a visible sign of unity among all the faithful,” saying that this requires mastery of English and Arabic, as well as “ample knowledge of local language and the culture of the indigenous tribes of the Archdiocese of Juba: Bari, Nyangwara, Mundari, Pojulu, Lokoya and Lulubo.”
“Where does Bishop Stephen come close on these requirements,” they asked.
They charged that the nuncio, based in Nairobi, has dismissed their allegations against Ameyu as unsubstantiated, and believed those against local priests “without any investigation.”
“How can these men of God (Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima) who are barely three years in our country pretend to know our priests more than us [sic] who live and work with them on daily basis,” they asked.
“We cannot overstress that there is absolutely no chance for Bishop Stephen Ameyu to serve as the Archbishop of Juba,” the priest and laymen wrote. They said that “there will be no cooperation by the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese … he will be resisted tooth and nail on the ground to the point of abdicating the helm by himself. But he will eventually regret why he accepted the appointment as he will be spending the rest of his life in protecting himself rather than shepherding the people. We feel that the Vatican can still save the situation now instead of or having to eat its words the hard way later.”
They said the people of Juba are ready to close the doors of all churches in the archdiocese on the day of Ameyu’s installation, saying that “the Nunciature will have to hire government troops to scatter the protesting youth, children, priests, religious, women and other people of Juba. It will be a traumatic situation for the people of Juba since the installation will be over some dead bodies.”
They added that Juba’s indigenous people have said that “they will cancel all the contracts and withdraw all the lands they had given” to the archdiocese and the bishops’ conference.
The group also said that Archbishop van Megen and Msgr. Kadima are unwelcome in the archdiocese, and “will no longer be safe in our roads, land, churches and towns. They will have to rely on the protection of the forces whose interests they serve and seek to advance.”
They said the Vatican diplomats should have known “that the era of ‘Roma locuta est, causa finita est, is over and that is now time of ‘vox populi vox dei’.”
“Why should the fate of the Church in Juba be left to the mercy of Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima alone. Why would the local church not have a say in the appointment of its own shepherds? … How and why can Nuncio Bert and Msgr. Kadima not know that the Archdiocese of Juba is not their chocolate to divide and give it to whoever they life?”
They also asked what experience Ameyu gleaned in less than a year of being Bishop of Torit, to be appointed Archbishop of Juba.
Concluding, they reiterated a desire for “dialogue with the Vatican while the appointment is called off. We are left with no option than to say that if the Vatican adamantly insists to have its sole way; there will be no way in Juba. Do it your way and reap the consequences.”
The concerned group wrote that “given that this question is so existential to us, we now turn to the Holy Spirit to do His work in the Church.”
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