YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Despite a warning from the Vatican, rebel priests in a diocese in West Africa are not backing down from their refusal to obey their bishop.

Three priests in the Diocese of of Kpalimé in Togo, were suspended by Bishop Benoît Alowonou on April 4 for refusing to renew their promise of obedience during the March 28 Chrism Mass.

Father Yves-Paul Azaglo, Father Gerson Gale and Father Daniel Gbadji later held a press conference, where they accused the bishop of arrogance and disdain towards his co-workers, in addition to engaging in hate speech.

During the Chrism Mass, the three priests refused to renew their vows, keeping their seats as their brother priests stood to pledge allegiance to the bishop. They also tried to incite the people to disrupt the Mass and spoke harsh words to the bishop personally.

In an April 3 statement, the Bishops’ Conference of Togo condemned the actions of the priests, calling them “scandalous and sacrilegious,” and called on Alowonou to take canonical measures against them, which he did the next day.

Although their actions at the Chrism Mass triggered their suspensions, the priests were already in trouble with their bishop.

According to his degree of suspension, Azaglo is accused of being “guilty of refusing to obey his bishop, especially during transfers made on September 8, 2017.”

The priest refused to leave St. Joseph de Danyi Kudzravi Parish, where he was the administrator, for Sts. Peter and Paul Parish at Notsè, where the bishop had appointed him associate pastor (in effect, a demotion.)

Gbadji was accused of violating the conditions of a sabbatical year that Alawonou had granted him and of staying “irregularly” in the Diocese of Atlanta in the United States.

Gale, the founding parish priest of St. Joseph of Assahoun Fiagbe church, joined in the other two priests’ protest.

Despite the actions taken by the bishop against them, the priests continue to disobey, and several of the parishioners support them.

On June 29, the sanctions were validated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

“The gravity of the facts and the public scandal thereof, led to the subsequent measures, including the suspension of the authors from performing their priestly missions,” said Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, the Vatican representative to Togo, in a communique relaying the Vatican’s decision.

Udaigwe said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the head of the Vatican congregation, regrets that “despite the measures taken against them, the priests continue to cause trouble in the diocese and the country and to use various methods to defame their bishop, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Church.”

He warned that the priests could lose their clerical status if they don’t submit to the measures.

However, the priests continue to be supported by their flock.

In a strongly-worded letter to Alowonou dated July 2, parishioners of Saint Joseph of Danyi Kudzravi said: “From this date, we don’t consider you as our Bishop anymore.”

“In this regard, you, Bishop Benoit Alowonou, have no jurisdiction on us, or on the material and immaterial goods of our parish, given that the parish’s land is purely and simply the patrimony of our ancestors. Consequently, priests will no more cite your name during mass celebrations throughout the parish.”

They said as long as the bishop remained at the helm of Kpalimé Diocese, “there is no more communion between you and us, the Catholic faithful, living and practicing our faith in the Saint Joseph Parish Danyi Kudzravi.”

The three priests have vowed to take the matter to the highest authorities of the Catholic Church. In a communique on July 11, the trio said they were “bitter” at what they said were “untruths that have been told about the origins of the crisis.”

They said what provoked their open manifestation was “a motion of support presented by a tiny group of priests to the bishop on the day of the Chrism Mass, and which motion constituted an untruth in relation to the crisis of management that has afflicted the diocese for the past two years.”

“We will, at the right time, meet the Holy Father, His Holiness, Pope Francis,” the priests’ statement said.

“The decisions the Church will take must be a reflection of justice, equity, truth, moral probity and correspond to the spirit of canon discipline,” it continued.

They said they were ready for any outcome, including the loss of their priestly status, as long as it enhances the wellbeing of the Church in their diocese.