By Nchumbonga George Lekelefac
Last week, January 19, 2023, I wrote an article titled “Controversy rages overappointment of Five Monsignors in the Archdiocese of Bamenda” which was published in The SUN Newspaper on Monday, January 23, 2025, on page 8 and 9.
Before I analyze the response of Archbishop Nkea, I would like to succinctly recap the points of our article. The article was concerned with four points: 1) Did Pope Francis inform the appointment of five monsignors to Archbishop Nkeavia phone or was it done through the formal way, that is, through the Secretariat of State to the Nunciature in Yaoundé, Cameroon?2) I disagreed with Archbishop Nkea regarding his exaggeration that the appointment was a surprise for Bamenda. My point was based on the fact that it is Archbishop Nkea who initiated the process by forwarding these names to the Holy See for confirmation by the Pope, therefore, the Pope did not surprise Bamenda, for it was the handwork of Archbishop Nkea; 3) I objectively and constructively criticized Archbishop Nkea for distracting a whole Eucharistic celebration just to announce the creation of five new monsignors by citing two great theologians of the Eucharist (Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Arinze).
In his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” published by Ignatius Press in 2000, then Cardinal Ratzinger expressed that whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. (Cf. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 198.) In addition, Cardinal Francis Arinze stated vehemently fervent on the Question and Answers Session in 2007 at the Totus Tuus Conference that: “…we do not come to mass to enjoy. We do not come to mass to admire people and clap for them and say, repeat, repeat, excellent. That is alright for the auditorium, for the theater.” (Nchumbonga Lekelefac, ‘Francis Cardinal Arinze: 90th Birthday Festschrift,’ 2022, Volume 1, page 434).
Archbishop Nkea interrupted the mass and made the announcement of the appointment of monsignors immediately after the Lord have mercy. To my mind, that announcement could have been done at the concluding rite of mass, because during mass, there should be no interruption whatsoever to make announcements. Above all, the theme of that celebration was the opening of the Eucharistic year; and 4) I congratulated Archbishop Nkea for having recognized these five priests by forwarding their names to be confirmed as monsignors by the Pope and I encouraged other bishops in the Ecclesiastical Province to emulate Archbishop’s Nkea’s example. Having reiterated these four points, I would like to continue with our topic of today.
Reaction of Archbishop Nkea
On Sunday, January 22, 2023, at about 16:23, I received a response from Archbishop Nkea regarding the article which read: “Young man, I thought you were establishing a research institute to document facts about our local Church for posterity. I did not know that you would be caught up in this temptation of cheap journalism of commenting on unverified facts and insulting the hierarchy in public. I saw one of your write-ups in which you vented your personal anger on the Bishops of Kumba and Kumbo. George you have to grow up. I sincerely hope that you will change this attitude of yours and use your talents more constructively. If not, stop sending me your write-ups. Otherwise, I will block you from my mailing list. Be assured of my prayers. God bless.” Before I react to this message, I would like Archbishop Nkeaand lectors to lucidly understand what journalism is from the mouth of Pope Francis who appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of Mamfe, Cameroon on 10 July 2013 with right of succession. (Cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 403.3 and canon 409.1).
Mission of a genuine journalist explained by Pope Francis
Now, on 17 November 2021, Pope Francis paid tribute to journalists saying that society today is in “great need” of journalism to hold power to account and uncover truths which might otherwise remain hidden from public view. As you could see, the journalist is out to account and uncover truth which might otherwise remain hidden from public view, which is exactly what we have been doing with our institute of research, documentation, language and culture.
Further, in a speech honouring two veteran Vatican journalists, Pope Francis thanked the journalistic community for helping to uncover sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and its wider role searching for the truth. Pope Francis said journalism was a mission to “explain the world, to make it less obscure, to make those who live in it less afraid of it and look at others with greater awareness, and also with more confidence.”That is exactly what our institute has been doing. We have taken the mission to enlighten the world how things are done in the church so that they could be aware.
Moreover, Pope Francis underscored that three verbs characterize good journalism: listen, investigate and report.Pope Francis said that to listen is a verb that concerns the journalists, but it concerns us all as a church, at all times and especially now that the synodal process has begun. For a journalist, listening means having the patience to meet face-to-face with the people to be interviewed, the protagonists of the stories being told, the sources from which to receive news. Listening always goes hand-in-hand with seeing, with being present: certain nuances, sensations, and well-rounded descriptions can only be conveyed to readers, listeners and spectators if the journalist has listened and seen for him – or herself. We have made it a priority to listen to grievances, investigate and report them to our lectors who have a right to know the TRUTH.
In addition, Pope Francis noted, citing his year’s message for Communications Day that we need journalists who are willing to “wear out the soles of their shoes”, to get out of the newsroom, to walk around the city, to meet people, to assess the situations in which we live in our time, noting that listening is the first word that came to his mind. That is exactly what our research institute has been doing. We have travelled far and wide to interview people to uncover hidden truths and to educate.
As if that was not enough,the Pope noted that journalism is about investigating, which is a consequence of listening and seeing adding that every piece of news, every fact we talk about, every reality we describe needs to be investigated highlighting that at a time when millions of pieces of information are available on the web, and when many people obtain their information and form their opinions on social media, where unfortunately the logic of simplification and opposition sometimes prevails, the most important contribution that good journalism can make is that of in-depth analysis. That is what we have attempted to do so far.
Pope Francis stressed that “In contrast with information on the internet, journalists can offer context, precedent, and interpretation that help to explain the fact that has happened”. That is exactly what we did with the appointment of monsignors in Bamenda by attempting to inform the people that there was a controversy regarding the appointment of five monsignors in which I attempted to explain to the lectors how monsignors are appointed in the Catholic Church.
Finally, Pope Francis added that: “To listen, to investigate, and the third verb, to report: I don’t have to explain it to you, who have become journalists precisely because you are curious about reality and passionate about telling it. Reporting means not putting oneself in the foreground, nor setting oneself up as a judge, but allowing oneself to be struck and sometimes wounded by the stories we encounter, in order to be able to tell them with humility to our readers.He noted that today we need journalists and communicators who are passionate about reality, capable of finding the treasures often hidden in the folds of our society and recounting them, allowing us to be impressed, to learn, to broaden our minds, to grasp aspects that we did not know before. In order to do this, I need to be objective and independent without taking sides from anybody. This is a mission which we must fulfil. Weonly write what we know to be true after thorough investigation, whether it hurts or not, for our mission is to uncover the truth of the reality of our Ecclesiastical Province so that healing could take place.
My Reaction to Archbishops Nkea’s Message
As you could see from the message of Pope Francis, the journalist is about reporting, uncovering truths which means not putting oneself in the foreground, nor setting oneself up as a judge, but allowing oneself to be struck and sometimes wounded by the stories we encounter, in order to be able to tell them with humility to our readers. That was exactly what we did. I heard about a controversy, which is the reality and I decided to document, and report it without judging or taking sides. I did not say Archbishop Nkea told a lie. I simply said it was not the formal way that the Holy See informs the appointment of monsignors and I enlighten my readers on how the process is carried out, for I am curious about the reality and passionate about telling it. That is the mission of a journalist as Pope Francis has clearly explained.
Now, let me comment on the message of Archbishop Nkeaunder 4 points:
1)Archbishop Nkea begins his message to me by addressing me ‘young man.’” This address could portray someone who COULD be a bully, that is, a blustering, browbeating person who is habitually threatening to others who are weaker, smaller and who thinks that he is high up there while all the others are below. I would like Archbishop Nkea to know that we are equal by our baptism, brothers in Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”(1 Corinthians 12:13). Secondly, I would like to humbly and respectfully remind Archbishop Nkea that we are different only in function and that his function is not greater than mine, for we are both players in this team which is called the church, and that each player is equal by baptism and that each player matters, regardless of his state in the church as Cardinal Francis Arinze has repeatedly illustrated (Cf. Nchumbonga Lekelefac, Bernard Fonlon Crusaded to Sainthood in Africa, Enugu, page 701), for it is not the state that matters in the Church, it is FIDELITY TO THE STATE that matters. Thus, no matter your state – lay person, cleric (deacon, priest, bishop), what matters is your faithfulness to your duty, not your state. Could it not have been better and respectful for Archbishop Nkeato address me accordingly by writing “Dear Mr Nchumbonga George Lekelefac,”instead of addressing me as “young man”?
2)Our research institute is aimed at documenting facts for posterity. Does it mean that controversies should not be documented? Does it mean that we should not be the voice of the voiceless? Are we not in a civilized society where intellectuals and journalists observe, listen, report and document events with critical minds? And was the distraction by Archbishop Nkea during the Eucharistic celebration not a fact or was it not? Also, is the orientation and enlightenment of the people of God in Bamenda on the formal way of nominating monsignors not a fact? What did I report in my article that was not a fact? I noted that I do not know with certitude whether Pope Francis informed Archbishop Nkea by phone and I educated the public on the process of appointment of monsignors which Archbishop Nkea portrayed as a mystery and as a surprise from Pope Francis which is not true because it is Archbishop Nkea who initiated it and not the Pope. Was I wrong to state that fact? What facts is Archbishop Nkea talking about? Pope Francis underscored that “today we need journalists and communicators who are passionate about reality, capable of finding the treasures often hidden in the folds of our society and recounting them, allowing us to be impressed, to learn, to broaden our minds, to grasp aspects that we did not know before. That is exactly what we did which Archbishop Nkea is uncomfortable with. Archbishop’s Nkea’s mindset to my mind is still old school. Times have changed and Archbishop Nkea needs to update his mindset with regards to his understanding on what journalism is all about. I think he could learn from Pope Francis.
3)Archbishop Nkea noted that he did not know that I would be caught up in this temptation of cheap journalism of commenting on unverified facts and insulting the hierarchy in public. What cheap journalism is Archbishop Nkea talking about and what unverified facts? And what insults is he talking about to the hierarchy in public? Since when did truth become an insult when Archbishop Nkea has repeatedly said that: “Only the truth matters? Why is Archbishop uncomfortable with the truth? Should the truth be hidden when it is not in his favour? Is Archbishop Nkea a politician, a diplomat or a genuine pastor of souls? I leave you to answer this question. The coat of arms of Archbishop Nkea has the words “In spiritu et veritate” (In spirit and truth) and this echoes values that the late Saint Pope John Paul II had, his main “model of spirituality”, which he held dear. So, when has the truth now become an insult and why is Archbishop Nkeaso interested in hierarchy and is it wrong to constructively criticize hierarchy? Why should journalists not uncover truth about hierarchy in public? Witness, that it is thanks to this uncovering of issues by journalists that the sexual abuse crisis has been uncovered. Now, on 17 November 2021, Pope Francis paid tribute to journalists saying that society today is in “great need” of journalism to hold power to account and uncover truths which might otherwise remain hidden from public view. So, why is Archbishop Nkea uncomfortable when the truth is uncovered and why does he see it as an insult to hierarchy in public? It seems to me (my opinion) that Archbishop Nkea does not understand the function of a journalist. I hope he could learn from Pope Francis who has stated that the function of a journalist is to uncover truth and document reality and events which might otherwise remain hidden from public view. And that is exactly what our instituteis doing.
Is the hierarchy of the Catholic Church untouchable? No! Is it perfect? No! The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is made of human beings who make mistakes. Jesus Christ is not hierarchy. Jesus Christ is the founder of the church and that is why the church is holy through him. Therefore, Archbishop Nkeacould focus more on Jesus Christ, not on hierarchy. We all know the terrible abuses and covered truth that the so-called hierarchy has done in the past in the church. The hierarchy is not perfect! The covering of sexual abuses and so on by some members of the hierarchy simply confirms that the hierarchy is not perfect and that the so-called hierarchy has done much harm to the people of God in the history of the church. Times have changed and the hierarchy has to be constructively criticized when it is not doing humble service to the people, for it is about serving the people and not haughty power. It is because of all this silence in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda that some bishops think they are “Pantocrators or literally defined as ‘ruler of all, almighty, or all-powerful.’ I would like to respectfully and humbly remind Archbishop Nkea that he is not a ‘ruler of all, almighty, or all-powerful’, for he is simply a sinner whom God has called from among the people to serve his people as a simple pastor of souls and not as a diplomat nor a bully.
In the church in Europe and America, the bishop is seen as a servant and minister of souls and it is the constant constructive criticism that challenges them to do their work well for they are accountable to the people. Every genuine leader must be accountable to his people. They have been able to understand the positive side of constructive criticism. Whereas, in Africa, some of our bishops like Archbishop Nkeathink that they are rulers and kings who should not be criticized because of their wanton interest in hierarchy. Some Bangwa people noted when he was appointed archbishop of Bamenda and elected president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) that he could be Cameroon’s next cardinal. To my frank mind, what matters is not to become a cardinal or pope, for what matters is to live a life emulating Jesus Christ who did not come to be served, but to serve, and who was a very humble person, even though he was the son of God. That is the legacy we wish archbishop Nkea to leave behind, not haughty power, but humble service to the people of God in the TRUTH. The hierarchy is not perfect, for only God is perfect. Hierarchy in the church is meant to provide order, not to lord it over on others as Archbishop Nkea is trying to portray. The people of God have the right to constructively criticize their shepherds when they are not fulfilling their mission, because they are accountable to the people. They are there toserve as humble servants. Lay men are not only there to contribute funds when the bishops need. They are also there to criticize them constructively when they go wrong.
On January 25, 2023, in an interview with Associated Press, Pope Francis confirmed that if he resigned, he would like to be called “bishop emeritus of Rome.” He also said that if and when the time comes he would like to live in the diocese’s residence for elderly priests as any other retired priest would do. The Pope said that for him it is important to emphasize that the pope is a “bishop in communion with all other bishops rather than a ‘power player.’”Likewise, Archbishop Nkeacould know he is not a “power player,”rather, he is called to be a simple pastor of souls. Thus, let him not forget that he was called from among the peoples. Pope Francis also spoke of the criticisms he’s recently faced from cardinals and Curia members. He said it’s unpleasant, but at least it is a sign that there is freedom of speech. We all know that Archbishop Nkea is the first bishop in Cameroon to be appointed by Pope Francis in 10 July 2013 as Coadjutor Bishop of Mamfe, Cameroon, barely about 4 months after Cardinal Bergoglio was elected on 13 March, 2013. That is why we expect that Archbishop Nkeacould emulate Pope Francis in the way he understands hierarchy and power in the church. Pope Francis noted on November 12, 2018 that the bishop is an Administrator of God not of Goods. He also said that a bishop, above all must be humble and meek, a servant not a prince, and he should be aware of the fact that he was chosen from among people. Finally, in his 8 Beatitudes for Bishops, on November 23, 2021, Pope Francis noted: “Blessed is the bishop who considers his ministry a service and not a power, who makes meekness his strength, gives everyone a right to a place in his heart, so as to give the promised land to the weak.” It is my humble wish that Archbishop Nkea could portray humble service in his episcopal ministry of a bishop. His response to simply portrays someone who think he has power over others to do what he wishes in the liturgy of the Eucharist and one who thinks no one should constructively criticize him.
4) Archbishop Nkea noted in his message that he saw one of my write-ups in which I vented my personal anger on the Bishops of Kumba and Kumbo and noted that I need to grow up. I would Archbishop Nkea to note that bishops are not kings or princes who cannot be criticized constructively. The articles I wrote on Bishop George Nkuoregarding his gross abuse of power is a fact.I am an independent journalist and I have the right to listen to the grievances of some priests of the diocese of Kumbo, investigate and report.They are human beings who deserve respect and humble service from you, the bishops, not haughty power. The mission of the journalist is to uncover truths by listening to the grievances of the people of God and stating them clearly. That is why I do not hide my identity when I write my writeups, because I am truly convinced about what I write. My writing the truth has nothing to do with growing up. I constructively criticized Bishop Agapitus because as a journalist, I listened to seminarians whom he terribly maltreated as rector and I thought it important to include it in my open letter of the Golden Jubilee of Bambui Seminary so that reconciliation and healing could take place. With regard to Bishop Nkuo, I criticized his gross abuse of power in the diocese of Kumbo with regards to the way he has treated some of his priests whom I gave examples. These are uncovered truths that should be reported and that is the work of a journalist. Therefore, Archbishop Nkea could try to be objective without taking sides. We know that late Bishop Awa groomed Archbishop Nkea and Bishop Nkuo to be future bishops, but that does not mean that Archbishop Nkea must support Bishop Nkuo. As a metropolitan, we expected Archbishop Nkea to be objective without taking sides. The errors committed by these two bishops (Bishop Nkuo and Agapitus) could be attended to for healing and reconciliation to take place. Hiding them is not the solution. That is what some bishops did with regards to sexual abuse of minors and where did it land? Covering truth does not solve any problem, it only worsens it, for if the walls of a house are cracking up, you do not save that house by covering the cracks over with paper as Archbishop is trying to instruct me to do. No! The only right thing to do is to pull it down to its foundations and raise it up anew which is what I am trying to do by uncovering these truths. To cure a disease, as I have said, above, a doctor is often obliged to rip his patient open to find the source and cause of it. It is therefore necessary to lay our ailings bare so that, with this evidence naked before our eyes, each one may examine his conscience and see his own portion of blame, if any, and correct himself for the good of all. Thus, seeing where we went astray and what to do, we shall be better able to right all wrongs and put our Ecclesiastical Province on its feet.
5) Lastly, Archbishop Nkea noted that he sincerely hopes that I will change this attitude of mine and use my talents more constructively. If not, I should stop sending himmy write-ups. Otherwise, he will block me from his mailing list. I would like Archbishop Nkea to know that as archbishop, he has to be open to constructive criticism whether he likes it or not, for there is freedom of speech in the church. So, whether Archbishop Nkea blocks me or not, let him know that his blocking me will not stop me from uncovering the truth. Thus, it would be best for Archbishop Nkea to do the right thing as a humble pastor of souls, following the example of Archbishop Verdzekov. Let Archbishop Nkea know that people are reading and taking note of his attitude. Therefore, blocking me does not solve any problem. Instead it simply portrays a leader who has decided to close himself from the reality. Iwill continue to send my writeups to the archdiocese of Bamenda so that the people of God may record them for posterity. Pope Francis has made that clear. If Archbishop Nkea does not wish to know what people are saying about him, then he is just the opposite of Pope Francis. As a religious leader, know that you ought to be open to constructive criticism even if it hurts. That age of silence has past. It is now time to listen, investigate and report the truth and the media is the best place to make them known worldwide. We have Archbishop Verdzekov as an example in the province which you could emulate. As an archbishop, you have the obligation to read and listen to what others are saying about your activities, even if you disagree, because you are not a king nor a prince. You are a pastor of souls who is accountable to the people of God.
Most importantly, I am an independent ecclesiastical journalist and canon lawyer who is out to be a voice of the voiceless, those who cannot write and bring up their cases, grievances and sufferings to ecclesiastical authorities. I am passionate about documenting the realities in our Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda and Cameroon and I am ready to call a spade a spade without any fear of ecclesiastical authority thanks to my state and experience inside the church, not to cause confusion, but rather to uncover and enlighten truths that no one has ever dared to document in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda.
It is my wish that Archbishop Nkea could emulate the example of Pope Francis who has made it clear that there is freedom of speech in the church and that the bishop is not a power player, but a humble servant to the people of God, in fact, the servants of the servants of God.