• Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Fr James Anelu and the Call for a Synodal Church in Nigeria


The topic in the mouth of the average Nigerian today is the case of Fr James Anelu. Fr Anelu, we were told, was suspended for making unacceptable comments about Igbo songs in the Church. However, what gave the incident its notoriety was the prompt response of the Lagos Archdiocese. She quickly distanced herself from the priest's action and moved ahead to suspend him until they carry out a proper investigation.

As usual, Nigerians have been creative in arguing for or against his action. Many agree that the Archdiocese acted well. I don't wish to continue debating on the exhausting question of his motives.

However, we need to examine the real question behind the incident. How could a priest single-handedly decide which song could be sung or not in the Church?

Since when did Nigerians learn to stand up against a priest who abuses his authority?

And finally, what's the message the Archdiocese is trying to communicate to us.

Fr Kelvin Ugwu, MSP, has already underlined some of these points on his Facebook page. Among many other things, he said was that we ought to look further than the unfortunate tribal aspects of this incident. He wasn't trying to deny such connotation, but he wanted us to look at it from the point of view of the Archdiocese. Yes, he argued, those are facts, yet the Archdiocese sent a more serious message that we're trying to drown.

The Archdiocese, he said, has made it clear through this response that no priest is permitted to impose his personal (biased) opinion and caprices upon the parishioners.

Besides, those who have seen the video will understand that the situation was more than stopping the choir from singing in Igbo. From the altercations in the Church, it was sure that the priest had lost his bearings. And, listening to him exchange words with the parishioners, we see that the problem was on another scale.

I have seen my fellow priests speak about it simply like the situation doesn't call for a general re-examination of our religious environment. Today, the Archdiocese suspended Fr James for stopping the choir; what will it be tomorrow? And if that occurred, it's because the parishioners spoke out. A few years back, a priest could have sent out a whole people from the Church, and no one would have heard about it. There is always a first, a second, and a third before it becomes a norm.

We should be asking ourselves when our people started standing for their rights inside the Church. Does that say something about what is coming next? Almost everybody in our Nigerian Church must have seen a priest abuse the power entrusted to him by the Church. So, as you celebrate the courage of those parishioners, ask yourself if you're ready to stand up against other Fr Anelu in your respective parishes.

Also, as you admire the Archdiocese's effort, ask yourself if your diocese is conscious of such clericalism and abuse of power in her local churches. And finally, as a priest, or a leader in the Church, ask yourself if you don't act exactly like Fr Anelu. He ridiculed himself by abusing the power of service entrusted to him.

The Pentecost is coming to the Nigerian Church, and the mother Church has given us this time of Synod to return to our drawing boards.

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