Pope Francis' smackdown: Obey me or lose your jobs

An extraordinary row has culminated in Pope Francis laying out a harsh ultimatum: obey me or lose your jobs.

A group of Catholic priests from the Ahiara diocese in Nigeria have refused to accept their bishop since he was appointed in 2012 by then Pope Benedict XVI. 

There was no hint of diplomacy or conciliatory tone as the pontiff met with them last Thursday and laid out the options.

VaticanPope Francis met with Nigerian priests last week, with the Vatican publishing details the day after.

Seeking to crush their disobedience the Pope them he was 'very sad' at their behaviour that has blocked Bishop Peter Okpaleke from taking up his post in the area.

He said those blocking Bishop Okpaleke taking up his office 'want to destroy the church, which is not permitted', he said, adding 'the Pope can't be indifferent' in this case.

The 'people of God are scandalised' by the rebellion, Francis told them in an unusually harsh rebuke.

He has given them until July 9 to formally write to the Vatican, repent and 'clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope'.

If they do not each priest will 'lose his current office' and be suspended from the priesthood, Francis warned.

It isn't clear how many will comply.

The row centres around a tribal dispute with the priests coming from a different clan of the Igbo ethnic group to the bishop.

The Ahiara diocese is dominated by the Mbaise ethnicitywho are the most Catholic of Nigeria's different people groups – amounting to 77 per cent of the area's 670,000 population.

But Bishop Okpaleke is an outsider from the nearby diocese of Awka in the Anamra State.

Before the appointment in 2012 the clergy held protests and organised petitiions, calling for a bishop to be chosen from their own area.

They claim a coordinated campaign is being run against them by their opponents but Pope Francis was uncompromising in his meeting with them last week.

Africa is the continent with the fastest church growth and Pope Francis move to crush the disobedience shows how dangerous he sees any action against his authority.