THERE is no smoke without a fire, says a popular adage. Or how else might observers explain why one Catholic Bishop sings a certain tune while his colleagues harp a negative refrain. Is the Catholic Church at all embarrassed by the trigger-quick pronouncements of one of its own?
The Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta, Monsignor Christopher Ajala, went public recently with explanations on why, at the national level, the Catholic Church “decided to withdraw from the activities of CAN.
Ajala said: “The Catholic Church took their stand before the purchase of the aircraft was donated to him (Oritsejafor). But what the Catholic Bishops Conference is complaining about is the way they are running the national CAN. It is not meeting the objectives and the goals of CAN and the forefathers of CAN.
“It is now being run as part of the government and we said, “no”, because they (government) will dictate to us what to do and they will not take our advice seriously. What we are saying is that our religious leaders should be honest and upright… If you can use money to buy our religious leaders, then there is no hope for the common man.”
But speaking to The Guardian, last week, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Adewale Martins, played down Ajala’s worries about Oritsejafor’s acquisition of a private jet. “The problem of owning a private jet is not an issue between Catholics and Ayo or CAN,” he said.
Martins, however, suggested that while the Catholic Church does have an axe to grind with the CAN leadership, it actually intended to have gone about issues in a more discreet manner; “in private”, to be specific.
“The correct picture,” according to Martins, “is that the Catholic Church has a number of issues to discuss in private with the national executive of CAN. That was the situation before the publication came out.
“We have not withdrawn from CAN. Rather, we are raising issues to be addressed by the national executive of CAN. They are meant to be discussed in private, not in the open. We still have our bishops and priests who are still participating at state and local government levels.
“The Issues raised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) are meant to be discussed with CAN and CBCN, not for public debate. The Catholic Church and CAN should separate issues and not mix things up. We still have obligation in CAN. Withdrawing from CAN is not an option; we can discuss issues and strengthen matters.”
Also, the Director of Communications, Catholic Secretariat Abuja, Rev. Father Ralph Madu, who also spoke to The Guardian on phone said: “We have not pulled out, only that there are some issues to be discussed. There is no pull out of anything. We are still a part of CAN.
“I have come out to correct the earlier information you heard. Your paper published me. And what I said is also in the Internet. There is no total pull out. A call for dialogue has been made and we are having our meeting in February. I believe those issues will be discussed and we will eventually come out with better information.”
But if some observers of Catholic-CAN relations are to be believed, the words of Monsignor Ajala might be representative of the pent-up grouse Catholics hold against the election of Oritsejafor, perhaps something like a volcano’s futile efforts at restraining rivers of hot lava in its belly.
“The Catholic Church has been sulking since its candidate, Archbishop John Onaiyekan was defeated at the polls in 2010 by incumbent president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor,” the PRO of TEKAN Churches, Elder Sunday Oibe, was reported to have said in an interview with the Vanguard.
“Why won’t they allow Oritsejafor to be? Why is it that whenever a Catholic is on the saddle, every other bloc supports them and they (Catholics) won’t allow other blocs to run the show? The constitution of CAN makes provision for membership to be terminated by any group,” Oibe said.
Unfortunately, the man at the centre of issues would not comment. When The Guardian spoke to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor on phone, last week, he responded: “I cannot discuss anything. You can talk with any of my media persons. No comment from me at all.”
In a statement signed by the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua, the Church said she remains committed to the promotion of Christian unity in Nigeria.
The statement reads: “We have been receiving series of calls from different international and national media, requesting for the stand of the Catholic Church in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Given the different version of reports in newspapers recently, we wish to state clearly that the Catholic Church did not ‘pull out of CAN’ as reported on the front page of the Daily Trust of January 24, 2013.
“It is however true that on September 24, 2012, a letter was addressed to the President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, to raise issues on the concern of the Catholic Church to promote Christian unity. This letter was signed by the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama. The key statement was: ‘The CSN bloc hereby suspends participation in CAN meetings at the national level until such a time the leadership of CAN reverses back to the original vision, mission and objectives of CAN’.
“We did not make this matter public because it is an in-house discussion of the Christian body. The Catholic Church remains committed to the promotion of Christian unity in the country rcalling her major contributions at the founding and growth of the association. The Catholic Church remains open to the ongoing discussions and dialogues. It should be noted also that some Catholic bishops are still presidents of CAN in some states.
“The president of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has responded promptly to the letter from the CBCN, and indicated his long wish and desire to meet with the leadership of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCN). The Catholic Church has replied this letter and explained that a meeting may be scheduled after the plenary of the CBCN in February with the leadership of CAN.”
With another election for the CAN presidency around the corner, the Catholic Church will be hard pressed to prove that the “issues” it hopes to resolve with Oritsejafor are not the subtle rumblings of a hurt but powerful bloc seeking to wrest the steering of authority of the umbrella body.
Meanwhile, the Prelate of Methodist Church, Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, sounds a conciliatory note: “We are still one body and under one umbrella. The Catholic Church is one of the builders of CAN and they cannot pull out. If there is anything, we will talk it over. Christians will not allow them to pull out. That is my comment.”
On his part, the Primate of African Church, Most Rev. Emmanuel Josiah Udofia, noted: “In a large family, there is bound to be misunderstanding. There are no major crises going on in CAN and it is not true that the Ayo-led CAN is too close to the government. In fact, I want all blocs of CAN to come together and resolve whatever difference we have. This man (Ayo Oritsejafor), as far as I know, has sacrificed so much for Christians and for Nigerians.”
What is certain on relations between the two is that the world is watching how these acclaimed representatives of Christ would settle their differences in the peaceful footprints of their Lord and Master.