The Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria has denied its reported withdrawal from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of Christian organisations in the country.
The church has, however, said it will come up with a final position on the matter after its bishops' conference scheduled for February, 2013.
The church was reported to have issued a letter to CAN, declaring its intention to pull out of the body and citing "recent attitudes, utterances and actions of the national leadership of CAN, which in our opinion negate the concept of the foundation of the association and the desire of our Lord Jesus Christ 'that they all may be one.'
In the said document, the church reportedly suspended participation in CAN meetings at the national level until such a time "the leadership of CAN reverses to the original vision, mission and objectives of CAN."
A letter addressed to the national president of CAN, signed by the president, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, had given reasons for the decision to include: "that the present state of CAN has departed from the original concept of her founding fathers of which our bloc is a prominent stakeholder; that the directorate of ecumenism and inter-faith which is one of the missions of CAN is not given a priority attention to promote peace and unity in the nation, which is the mandate of Christ to all Christians; that CAN is being dragged into partisan politics, thereby compromising its ability to play its true role as conscience of the nation and voice of the voiceless."
He further wrote that CAN was not a mega church but an association of churches, thereby debunking claims by the president of CAN to be the leader of all Christians in Nigeria.
The director, Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Cornelius Omonokhua, who spoke with LEADERSHIP in a telephone interview yesterday, said that while it was true that the church, through the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), had written a letter on September 24, 2012, and signed by its president, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, to the president of CAN, Ayo Oritsejafor, to raise issues on the concerns of the Catholic Church to promote Christian unity, it was yet to make a decision on whether to pull out of the association or not.
He emphasised that the church had only suspended taking part in national meetings of CAN, but was still participating at the state level, noting that, at the moment, some Catholic bishops, among them those of Calabar and Zaria diocese, still held state chairmanship positions of CAN.
He also denied insinuations that the church's current position had anything to do with the private jet donated to the national president of CAN.
According to Rev. Omonokhua, "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.
"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.
The Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Dr. Ralph Madu has already corrected this notion in an interview with the Guardian Newspaper that "the CBCN did not pull out of CAN and that the body was only trying to sort out some issues with the national Christian body."
Omonokhua added that the church remained bound by one of the aims of CAN, which is to foster unity among Christians and non-Christians alike in the country.
Meanwhile, CAN has welcomed the decision of the Catholic church to partially withdraw from the association.
CAN, in a statement signed by its spokesperson for the 19 northern states, Sunday Oibe, said the church was free to leave.
Oibe said that the constitution of CAN made provision that any group's membership could be terminated as a result of misdeed, while any group could also terminate its membership of its own accord, adding that the exit of the church would not affect the association in any way.
He alleged that the decision of the Catholic Church to leave CAN was because the presidency of the association had moved to another bloc of the group, adding that the church had been unhappy since its candidate, John Onaiyekan, lost the presidency of the association to Ayo Oritsejafor.
"Why is it that when Catholics were in the leadership of CAN, every bloc supported them, but now because power has changed hands, they are threatening to pull out and causing confusion?" he said, accusing the church of engaging in party politics.
"They are an appendage of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They are known for double standards. A man of God should not be double speaking," he said.