YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading Nigerian priest and scholar has told the country’s bishops conference that the credibility of the Catholic Church in Africa’s most populous nation is being eroded by the explosion of ministries within the Church.

Father Anthony Akinwale, Professor and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Augustine University Ilara-Epe in Nigeria’s Lagos State, was speaking February 19 at the 2024 Plenary Assembly at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Resource Center in Durumi.

“We have witnessed an explosion of new religious communities, some with little or nothing in terms of spirituality and charism of consecrated life,” the priest said.

“It is the explosion of ministries in the Church in Nigeria established and patronized by some priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful. Some of these ministries and ministers pretend to be Catholic … They even display statues of our Blessed on their websites or expose the Blessed Sacrament in a way that points to sacrilege,” he said.

Akinwale accused the leaders of such religious communities of engaging in “fake prophecies and arranged miracles” which are used to exploit a  “ traumatized, bewildered and gullible populace” even as  shepherds fail to rescue the flock “from ravening, ravaging and manipulative wolves.”

“The populism of these ministries, the advertisement of un-authenticated miracles and prophecies, the opium these ministries administer on our people, erode the credibility of Christianity, of Catholicism in particular, in our country,” the priest said.

He predicted that an emerging critically minded population will repudiate Catholicism because “it is unable to see the difference between the Pentecostal pastor and a Catholic priest.”

Akinwale also addressed the spread of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, complaining that it is invading the Catholic space.

“We have witnessed an explosion of new religious communities, some with little or nothing in terms of spirituality and charism of consecrated life,” the priest said.

“It is a well-known fact that in Nigeria, our Catholic space has been invaded by Pentecostalism,” he continued, and described the phenomenon as “contemporary Nigerian religiosity in its expression within and outside the Catholic Church.”

The priest suggested that the noise being made around Fiducia Supplicans – the Vatican document that requires Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples – was a distraction from the deeper issues affecting the Church.

Pentecostalism in Nigeria, he said, is “a greater concern than blessing of same sex couples”

But Father Stan Chu Ilo of the DePaul University in Chicago said the spread of Pentecostalism in Nigeria isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In comments to Crux, the Catholic priest a noted that Pentecostalism, just like the charismatic renewal movements in the Catholic Church, could offer valid lessons for the Catholic Church.

“Every religious movement has its own weaknesses and strengths,” Chu said.

“I will say that Pentecostalism and Catholic Charismatic is a good thing for the Catholic Church and the churches of Africa. I edited a volume a few years ago – ‘Pentecostalism, Catholicism and the Spirit in the World’ – where we took a global look at Pentecostalism in the Catholic Church,” he said.

“I have learned from these writings and my own research in Africa on Pentecostalism that we need to take a broader look at this phenomenon than simply dismiss them as inferior or false. We can learn a lot from them; we can cooperate with African Pentecostals and develop a greater understanding of each other and work together ecumenically to improve and strengthen authentic Christian witnessing to the truths of the Gospel in Africa,” he told Crux.

In his presentation, Akinwale proposed his own ways of addressing the challenges facing the Catholic Church. Among other things, he proposed a constant review of seminary formation in order to “attain the objective of safeguarding the faith.”

He underscored the need for Church leaders to recognize the fact that formation neither ends “with priestly nor with episcopal ordination.”

“We must be formed to respect and to lead the people, to appreciate the baptismal dignity and charism of the lay faithful, and of consecrated persons who are sometimes treated like tenants with clerics as their landlords. We are doing well. But we can do better,” Akinwale said.

And doing better, the priest explained, means that the Church in Nigeria “must have the courage of martyrs of old in receiving, preserving and transmitting the Gospel that comes to us from the apostles.”

“ She will exercise this courage by identifying, raising and addressing issues of concern for apostolic tradition, for the synodal process, and for social and ecclesial realities that confront her,” Akinwale said.