Dear and Rev Fr,
Thanks very much for this very salacious piece which portrays “nicodemously” albeit a personal vendetta against Bishop Bibi. Evidently you are a priest of Buea diocese, a mole or better still a fly on the Bishop’s wall. Sadly, you have defined yourself as an angry priest speaking on behalf of other angry priests! This piece is a priest’s hit job on his Bishop. The details paint the picture of one who is a fly on the Bishop’s wall!
The danger for readers like us is to chase the shadow and dismiss the “facts” based on the author’s anonymity and forget the substance of what was written! And hence it is important to acknowledge the issues raised and give perspective. The one thing this piece so eloquently portrays is the fact that Bishop Bibi is no saint! It is wrong for anybody to seek to sanitize Bishop Michael Bibi or make him a hero as if it’s some movie he is acting. This truth epistle is the honest assessment of one man which is unfortunately nothing but an informed opinion packaged and shipped off as the Truth! It is disingenuous, self-serving and pretentious.
Let me get this out now: While we have focused on the issues that have necessitated the current apostolic visitation in the diocese of Buea namely the suppression of religious orders, the CUIB and its corollary issues clearly Buea diocese has a conflagration of other issues! In other words, while Bishop emeritus Bushu created and left a mess, Bishop Bibi is cleaning that and also creating his own mess. There is no denying that! The question I have is: Does Bishop Bibi not have a “right” to make his own blunders? There is no school where people learn how to become and be a Bishop. Hence, magnanimity demands that Bishop Bibi should be given time to learn his lessons. It is barely three years for God sake!
On the other hand, it is great that these invectives are coming out so early in his ministry. If it were born of genuine intent, it will not be laced with the innuendo and corrosive verbiage. If any good can come from evil, then it could be worthwhile as painful as these comments are for Bishop Bibi to meditate on them as a letter from an enemy. He could ask himself, why are some people saying I am bully? As a father who is the head of the family, criticism is inevitable. Yet, it is important that even though delivered so abrasively, should be taken as a moment of grace. It is not only important that this is not true but perception is reality and one must be careful especially as a father not only to be right but also to be seen as right.
As the Synthesis document from the recently ended synod on synodality recommends: The bishop also must come to terms with his own frailty and limitations and sometimes lacks the support he needs, whether human or spiritual. A certain sense of loneliness is not uncommon
Unfortunately for him, Bishop Bibi came to Buea as a firefighter and while he struggled to quench the fires, many more are springing forth. Many are stoking the flames for an inferno hoping it consumes Bishop Bibi. Firefighting is a dangerous enterprise. As a troubleshooter, the troublemakers were bound to cry wolf. Little wonder then that his head is being demanded on a petri dish! Why would Rome appoint him an apostolic administrator with residence in the diocese and then confirm him if not of the satisfactory job he had done with the trouble shooting.
Bishop Michael Bibi: An authoritarian despot or a tough father?
One of the triple functions of the Bishop is that of governance! This has turned out to be an area of grave concern for some. Bishop Bibi has been described as a tyrant, a bully with some going to the extreme of labeling him “Hitler.” He is said to be using an “iron fist” to rule the diocese! This befuddles me. The author presents the image of Bishop Bibi as being a monster who takes pleasure in yelling at his priests in front of Christians etc Who remembers the fun nickname ascribed to Bishop Awa by his priests? Pantokrator – ruler of all, but usually translated as “Almighty” or “all-powerful! And what was that of Archbishop Paul Verdzekov of the archdiocese of Bamenda: Pa Danger! Don’t we miss those days when though we railed against them and complained about them in our armpits, today we vindicate them! Then Pere Bushu came and ushered in an era of laissez faire in Buea. He moved from one extreme to another extreme and now with the pendulum swinging back to a more orderly era, there was bound to be the screams.! Like the Israelites in the desert when the tough times came instead of them being tough and get going they yearned for the fleshpots of Egypt! The very ones who lambasted Bishop Awa yesterday, today hail him and those who vilified Bishop Bushu now vindicate him! It is understandable. It is human nature! And as we read in Lk 7:33-35 For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, He is possessed by a demon. The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.
Is this a pattern or character trait of the Bishop? What were the circumstances surrounding this public berating? So because Bishop Bibi supposedly scolds at his priests in public, this priest has decided to exact a pound of flesh and pay him back in his coins by also publicly shaming Bishop Bibi? It is easy to become prophets after an event rather than seek an impassioned evaluation of the extenuating circumstances.
But one should ask: Isn’t it disingenuous to seek to deny the experience of a priest’s reality living the “diktats” of Bishop Bibi who espouses the ecclesiology of the episcopacy as an African Fon? Obedience can be very depressing so much so that even the simplest demands appear to be oppressive! For as Pope Francis remarked: Speaking and acting decisively and with authority — for example, in giving a priest an assignment — is not the same thing as authoritarianism.
One must hasten to add that the many cries by priests of the authoritarianism by Bishops deserves not mere introspection but a reconsideration of the governing authority of the Bishop. The priest is not a “son” just on ordination day or a “brother” and “friend” just when they follow instructions.
In a sense, this acerbic letter came on the heels of the just ended synod on synodality which recommended among others that It is necessary to implement, in forms legally yet to be defined, structures and processes for regular review of the bishop’s performance, with reference to the style of his authority, the economic administration of the diocese’s assets, and the functioning of participatory bodies, and safeguarding against all possible kinds of abuse. A culture of accountability is an integral part of a synodal Church that promotes co-responsibility, as well as safeguarding against abuses.
Bishop Bibi and “errant” priests of Buea
This is a difficult one to broach but we must. First it is contradictory for the truth teller to claim that the Bishop is a bully and priests are not his slaves and yet claim in the same breath that the Bishop is a workaholic! What’s the correlation between slavery and bullying?
It is a cop out to claim that “fidei donum” priests would refuse to return because they have learnt about Bishop Bibi’s highhanded style of governing. That is simply a smokescreen. Of course, every priest has a right to excardinate but we must agree that it is not and should not just a free-willing process. It is simply disruptive and sets the wrong precedence. Here again, we are faced with the do you are doomed, don’t you are doomed. Fatherly correction, brotherly correction and amical correction require a paradigmatic shift
What is more, we speak about mercy and often always neglect justice!
Bishop Bibi, the scammer, Shylock Businessman or a shrewd custodian?
Bishop Bibi “money” is another moniker that has been ascribed to the prelate. To understand why, it suffices simply to review the financial health of the diocese before he came. For example: Buea diocese lost 175 million francs cfa to the contractor of the Co-cathedral project. Do you remember the American Platinum project that cost Buea diocese over 250 million fcfa? Isn’t it understandable then that a new Bishop would want to close the leaking faucet? Am not sure anybody will quarrel with that! The centralization of finances with tight controls in the Bishop’s house by the Bishop is raising alarm bells because the loopholes that led to the financial drainage are being closed. There must be a reason for a Bishop to micromanage things this way. The pettiness with claiming a Bishop approved the catering services of a Christian because he is benefitting from the profits for the business speaks more to the mindset of the writer than reality. One of the most ludicrous part of this letter of lamentations is this line: You have made many of your own priests, beggars and as they have lost respect in the eyes of their Christians so to(sic) the Church has little or no authority left. So there were some enrichment schemes that priests availed of that have now been curtailed and hence the cry. Are these being redirected to Bishop Bibi’s private and personal accounts?
From time immemorial, the issue of cars for priests has been a thorny issue for the Church Province! Why is Bishop Bibi invested in purchasing cars for parishes? When a Bishop gets involved in the mundane day to day business of buying cars in complete violation of the principle of subsidiarity, it must be for serious and grave reasons. The problem from investigation is not so much the Bishop managing the car purchase but that parishes are now compelled to pay for these when they are not ready!
Yet, it would seem that the Bishop is so engaged in the nitty-gritty and financial minutiae so as to shore up the bases and rebuild broken financial foundations! it is getting the system out of the shock to a system of stability and with the new reorientation, that Bishop Bibi seeks so desperately to implement that is attracting the vitriol against him. Financial mismanagement by priests is not new and the stories abound! Could it be that the Bishop seeks to spare his priests the temptation of inadvertently mismanaging funds and the consequent headaches and that’s why he is not absent from the finance office?
Bishop Bibi’s opulence Vs Priest’s poverty
One thing is clear: Buea diocese as an old diocese loves its archeological status! There is no doubt that it was for good purpose that Bishop Awa did not find it necessary to build a new cathedral and for years availed of the outdoor grounds next to the small and old Cathedral for all major diocesan events! Bishop Bushu came and found it imperative to improve on this and hence began building the ultramodern expansive co-cathedral! None of these two found it imperative to improve on their own home. Go to Kumbo and look at the Bishop’s house! Talk less of Bamenda! Is the Bishop’s house Bishop Bibi’s personal real estate? Is he not just the temporal tenant? Is that not the property of Buea diocese? Glaringly, much ado about nothing! What arrogance to claim that Bishop Bibi ought not to have chastised the priest for seeking to improve accommodation!
What the whistleblower failed to point out is that the Bishop is currently constructing at least four rectories! Did he have to tear down all parish houses and improve on them before and/or as well as improving on his? The line: Bishop Bibi drinks wine and eats fruits at every meal should have been accompanied by while his priests go hungry! In anger, we often conflate things. We hungry Christians are often just satisfied with the aroma that comes from most parish houses!
A Few Comments: General
There is something sinister and apocalyptic about this article. The author asks the question: How Will Bishop Bibi be remembered? Clearly this is a calculated attempt at precipitating the demise of Bishop Bibi! It would seem the author’s aim is to recommend to the apostolic visitors to ensure Bishop Bibi is removed as Bishop of Buea! The author writes: Bishop Michael Bibi cannot change. Really? It seems the author has the Bishop under a spell that he can conclude so authoritatively that Bishop Bibi cannot change!
Buea diocese, a diocese of gossips and calumny.
Buea diocese is on record as one of the most “flippant” in the Church province. This anonymous piece is classical gossip and calumny writ large. In general, if there is one thing Bishops must help their priests with it is gossip! Priests who want to be in the Bishop’s good books by tattletales of their confreres should be counseled. In a toxic environment that the diocese currently is, a spy network is easy to elevate. When you have a cabal of anonymous critiques and an underground smear machinery distilling and disseminating sleazy stories about hierarchy, it becomes inevitable that people watch their every move! It is so sad to see such a divided presbyterate with some saying: I am for Bishop emeritus Bushu and others saying I am for Bishop Bibi. With the perennial issue of angling and jockeying or rather jostling for juicy positions fertilizing the soil for jealousy and gossips, the added tension between the emeritus and his successor makes for a toxic mix.
One has learnt that in a certain diocese, when a priest comes and complains to the Bishop about another priest, the Bishop relays the complaint and who made it. And he has succeeded to curb the gossiping. Like Pope Francis, it might be a good idea for the Bishop and his priests to read Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu’s, The Abused Word which unravels the cankerworm of gossips.
The author betrays a nauseating clericalist mindset!
It is understandable that the one dominant word throughout the document is priest! No wonder the complainant sees the laity that have been hired as a danger to the presbyterate! Calling women, “husband snatchers, free women who have no shame” is beneath the pale! How do priests talk to Christians? Why vilify these women? While the recrimination could be genuine, the characterization of these women is despicable and saps out whatever sting the author had! Within the context of synodality, these comments are bizarre. And by the way, remember the prostitutes were Christ’s best friends! The author’s ecclesiology is retrogressive: Church is Bishop and priests!
I recently learnt of efforts Bishop Bibi made to improve on the relationship among his priests and also between himself and his priests through inviting CARA. The dust is yet to settle on that report and while the author speaks of a bizarre ending to this, there is no doubt that Rome was not built in a day! It was not meant to be a magic wand. There needs to be intentionality in building unity and dissipating the simmering tensions.
Every Bishop is or should be a father, a brother and a friend to his priests! And the priest must be seen to be a son, brother and friend to the Bishop. The father-son dialectic exacts different demands from brother-brother and friend- friend dynamic! In this complex web, I contend that many find it difficult to see the Bishop as father especially within his role as governor! I offer to the priests of Buea the example of Shem and Japheth who seeing their father Noah had drunk some wine, became drunk and laid naked inside his tent, took a robe, and holding it on their shoulders, walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness; since their faces were turned the other way, they did not see their father’s nakedness! (Genesis 9:20-23)