Christian unity in Nigeria suffered a blow when the nation's Catholic leaders indefinitely suspended relations with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)—the first split in the umbrella body's nearly 40 years of existence.

Catholic and Protestant churches formed the association to promote Christian unity and to speak with one voice on national issues. But the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria—the largest of CAN's five blocs—said it was pulling out because of president Ayo Oritsejafor's leadership. Catholic leaders believe the Pentecostal pastor has made CAN too cozy with the government and too confrontational with Muslims (in response to continuing attacks on Christians).

In a letter listing their grievances, Nigeria's bishops alleged that CAN was "being dragged into partisan politics, thereby compromising its ability to play its true role as conscience of the nation and voice of the voiceless." They also alleged that CAN's interfaith mission was "not given a priority attention to promote peace and unity in the nation," but instead CAN was being used as "an army put in place to defend Christians against Muslims."

The bishops will vote on whether to make the withdrawal permanent.

When founded in 1976, CAN comprised only the Catholic Secretariat and the Christian Council of Churches (CCC). It later expanded to include the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the Evangelical Fellowship of West Africa, and the Organization of African Instituted Churches.

Catholics or CCC Protestants stayed in charge until 2010, when Oritsejafor won a contested election to become the first Pentecostal leader.

Since then, Catholic bishops have been increasingly uncomfortable with ...

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