Bhopal archbishop calls for action against cow vigilantes

Social media video shows three victims in Madhya Pradesh being tied to a tree and beaten.

 

Related imageArchbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal

A fresh attack by so-called cow vigilantes has brought a call by a Catholic archbishop for stringent action to ensure peace in India’s multifaith society.

Police in Seoni district of the central state of Madhya Pradesh detained five people on May 25 for assaulting three people including a woman who were suspected of transporting 140 kilograms of beef. The meat has been sent for laboratory verification.

The attack on the three — a Muslim man and woman and their Hindu driver — happened on May 22. The arrest came following public outrage after a video on social media showed a group of men tying them to a tree and beating them.

A victim was seen being untied and pushed to the ground before being thrashed with sticks. The attackers then forced him to hit the woman with a slipper and shout “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram).

A state law prohibits cow slaughter and consumption of beef, making them punishable crimes.

Both the attackers and the victims are in judicial custody, police told media. Police removed the violent video from social media to check its spread.

“This kind of brutality is not acceptable in a civilized society,” Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told ucanews.com. “It is high time that the government took stringent action against cow vigilantes who take the law into their hands.”

Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Congress party, which last December unseated the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had ruled the state for 15 years.

Hindu groups, who revere the cow as their mother-god, support cow vigilantism but it began to take a violent turn across the country after the BJP assumed power in New Delhi in 2014.

At least 28 people were lynched between 2010 and 2017, with 97 percent of cases happening since 2014, according to published reports.

The last five years have brought several incidents of cow vigilantes attacking people on suspicion of transporting cows for slaughter or carrying beef.

Laws exist in 24 out of the 29 Indian states significantly restricting or banning cattle slaughter, economically marginalizing Muslims and Dalits, many of whom work in the beef or leather industries.

The latest action by cow vigilantes “amounts to challenging the state,” said Archbishop Cornelio, urging the state government to bring lawbreakers to justice to ensure communal peace.

“This kind of open display of act of terror will lead to communal division and lawlessness, and no civilized society can afford it,” the prelate said, noting that cow vigilantism has virtually become an attack on Muslims.

Prominent Muslim leaders such as former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti were among politicians who condemned the incident.

Mufti said she was “horrified to see cow vigilantes thrash an innocent Muslim with such impunity.” She wanted Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath to take “swift action against these goons.”

Christian leader Prabhakar Tirkey said the BJP’s recent landslide victory in the national election has emboldened hard-line Hindu groups.

“Unless the top leaders of the Hindu party initiate action against such elements, it will continue,” he told ucanews.com.

Recognizing the challenge posed by cow vigilantes to peaceful coexistence of different communities, India’s Supreme Court in July last year recommended parliament draft a law to nip the menace in the bud.

Source: UCAN

Cardinal Gracias to be investigated over abuse cover-up claim

Archdiocesan spokesperson welcomes police probe, says there is nothing to hide.

 

Cardinal Oswald Gracias (UCAN file photo)

New Delhi: A court in western India has initiated an investigation into whether Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and two of his auxiliary bishops failed to take action over the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

There has been a claim that the trio did not implement disciplinary measures or report the crime to police.

A special court dealing with such cases May 21 asked police to probe the role of the cardinal and his auxiliaries, Bishop Dominic Savio and Bishop John Rodrigues.

“We welcome the police probe,” said archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett. “We have nothing to hide.”

He said church authorities had been intending to report the matter to police but the victim’s parents did so first.

Archdiocesan Father Lawrence Johnson, 55, was arrested Dec. 2, 2015, and charged with having engaged in “sexual activities against the order of nature” with a boy aged 13.

Police also charged him with violating several sections of country’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The priest remains in custody while the cases against him are heard.

Police arrested Father Johnson based on the complaint of the child’s parents.

Police say that after prayers on Nov. 27, 2015, the priest enticed the boy into a room then closed the door before sexually abusing him.

Medical examination of the boy four days later confirmed injuries to his private parts, court records show.

The child’s father alleged that church authorities, despite having knowledge of the crime, concealed it and did not act against the accused.

A section of the POCSO Act provides for a maximum jail term of one year for any person in charge of an institution who fails to report to police an alleged sexual offense by a subordinate against a minor.

The archdiocesan spokesperson, in a detailed note, said the cardinal removed the priest from office on Nov. 30, 2015, as soon as he came to know about the complaint and initiated a church investigation.

“The cardinal tried to console the parents,” Father Barrett said.

The cardinal was to leave for Rome that same night, so he asked auxiliary Bishop Rodrigues to deal with the matter.

The cardinal had called his auxiliary from Rome as soon as he landed to inquire about informing the police.

At that time, Bishop Rodrigues told the cardinal that the police had been informed by the family the previous night, Father Barrett stated.

A senior priest of the archdiocese along with an animator from the parish met the father of the boy at their home in a bid to ascertain how they could be of help to him or the child, but were purportedly told there was no need.

Church people also offered medical help and counseling, but the victim’s father was said to have thanked them and declined the offer.

“Many other attempts were made to reach out to the victim, but the family declined any help,” Father Barrett said.

He told ucanews.com that archdiocesan lawyers are studying how “suddenly a new angle is given to the already 4-year-old-case.”

According to the lawyers, there has been no direct court order against the cardinal or the other bishops, only a direction to the police to look into the father’s allegations.

Source: UCAN

Jharkhand priest to appeal conviction over rape

Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind and five others have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jharkhand High Court in state capital Ranchi. (Photo from jharkhandhighcourt.nic.in)

 

Bhopal: A Jesuit priest plans to appeal against his conviction and life prison sentence in connection with a gang rape case in India’s eastern Jharkhand state.

Judge Rajesh Kumar of the Khuti District Court on May 17 sentenced Father Alphonse Aind and five others to life imprisonment for raping five women social workers on June 19 last year.

“We fully trust the judiciary,” Father Anand David Xalxo, Ranchi Archdiocesan public relations officer, told ucanews.com when stressing the priest’s decision to decision to appeal in the state’s High Court against both the conviction and punishment.

Father Aind was convicted for conspiracy and not reporting the crime of which he allegedly had full knowledge.

But Father Xalxo said the Jesuit priest, who is now in jail, had been “framed” for political reasons.

“We are with Father Aind and hopeful that he will come out clean from all the charges foisted on him,” the spokesperson said.

Jesuit Father Xavier Soreng, a social worker based in the state capital, Ranchi, said that Christians, particularly priests and preachers, have been targeted ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the state in 2014.

The case against Father Aind was part of an effort to “tarnish” the image of the Church and drive people away it, Father Soreng said.

The priest, who was the principal of the Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village in Khunti Diocese, was taken into custody on June 22 last year after the rape allegation was reported.

Jharkhand High Court released him on bail on March 15.

He was re-arrested soon after his conviction on May 7 and subsequently moved to a jail in Ranchi, Father Soreng said.

Father Aind has consistently denied the charges against him, which included being part of a conspiracy, kidnapping, wrongful confinement and not reporting a crime.

Eight people were accused in the case, and six of them were arrested while one allegedly absconded.

Another accused is a minor and his case has been sent to a juvenile court

Six men were found to have abducted and raped five young women who were staging a play in the school auditorium to create awareness among local indigenous people about the trafficking of women and children.

One of the accused, Baji Samad, in his statement to the court, said he knew the priest personally.

He also told court that had the priest objected, they would not have abducted the women from the auditorium.

He told the police and the court that he had set free two nuns, who were working with the abducted women, under instructions from the priest.

Church groups have been supportive of tribal people in the state fighting various policies of the government, which tribal leaders say aim to take away their land and resources in the name of development projects.

Police say the play performed by the women angered the attackers because it expressed sentiments against the Pathalgadi movement that has been portrayed as a rebellion against some state policies.

The movement asserts tribal autonomy over villages as per provisions in the Indian constitution.

Christian leaders say the rape case is part of a pro-Hindu strategy to dissuade people from following Christian churches and groups.

More than one million of the 32 million population of Jharkhand state are Christian, almost all of them tribal people. In Khunti district, 25 percent of the 532,000 people are estimated to be Christians.

Source: UCAN

Court orders probe into Gwalior bishop’s death

This is what the lay Christian face, when they raise voice.

GREG

Father Xavier agreed Theresa’s parish priest has banned her from the Eucharist and Holy Communion as a disciplinary measure against her “filing a frivolous complaint that brought a bad name to the tiny Catholic community in the state.”

Church authorities reject parishioner’s suspicions that Bishop Thennat was murdered.

 

A file image of Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior who died Dec.14, 2018. (Photo supplied)

Bhopal: A court in central India has asked the police to probe the death of a bishop based on the petition of a Catholic woman who suspects “foul play” involving clergy.

Judge Nidhi Neelesh Shrivastava in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh on May 11 directed police to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior on Dec. 14 last year.

The 65-year-old bishop died after his car reportedly skidded off a road and overturned while his driver was negotiating a turn.

The bishop died in a hospital of head injuries. The three others — a priest, a deacon and the driver — escaped without injuries.

Dolly Theresa, a Catholic of Gwalior Diocese, complained to the court that police refused to investigate what she called “suspicious” circumstances under which only the bishop died and all the others in the car escaped unhurt.

The court asked the police to submit an investigation report within a month on whether or not it was an accident and whether others in the car were complicit in the bishop’s death.

But Father Joseph Munthalakuzhi, who said he was traveling with the bishop when the accident happened, told ucanews.com: “It is an unnecessary controversy.”

He said after the “unfortunate road accident” the bishop was rushed to a hospital, but his life was not able to be saved.

He agreed that himself, the deacon and the driver did not suffer any injuries, but he wondered on what basis suspicions were being expressed that they were murderers.

Theresa told ucanews.com that as a Catholic she had a right to know the truth about what happened because the car allegedly involved showed no sign of damage and the accident was not reported to the police.

Further, she complained that the bishop’s body was buried without the conducting of a legally mandatory post-mortem examination.

She approached the police after diocesan authorities failed to provide what she regarded as a satisfactory response to her queries.

Then she approached the court after the police refused to register a case based on her complaint.

Father N. John Xavier, the diocesan administrator, has ruled out foul play and said the allegations are “absolutely baseless and unfounded.”

He agreed the body was buried without a post-mortem but did not explain why. “We have nothing to hide,” he said. “We will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

Complaint a ‘grave sin’

Father Xavier agreed Theresa’s parish priest has banned her from the Eucharist and Holy Communion as a disciplinary measure against her “filing a frivolous complaint that brought a bad name to the tiny Catholic community in the state.”

The administrator agreed to “look into the ban compassionately if she approaches me.”

Father Xavier said canon law 195 allows that those obstinately continuing in “manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Theresa said if the church officials fail to admit her for Communion, she will take action in a civil court or file a complaint with police to restore her rights to practice her faith.

Bishop Thennatt was the first member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, popularly known as Pallotines, to become a bishop in India.

Pope Francis appointed him as the Gwalior bishop on Oct. 18, 2016.

He was ordained as a priest in 1978 and began his work in Guntur Diocese, Andhra Pradesh, before moving to Madhya Pradesh in 1991.

Source: UCAN

Supreme Court suspends tax on priests, nuns

Outcome of the Supreme Court’s order will have country-wide ramifications.

 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India has given temporary relief to priests and nuns who were asked to pay income tax for the salary they earn working in government-funded educational institutions.

The top court on May 9 asked authorities to maintain the status quo of not collecting such taxes and agreed to hear an appeal against an order of the Madras High Court in Tamil Nadu state.

The Supreme Court was hearing a challenge filed by the Institute of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to a March 20 order of the state court that said missionaries, Catholic priests and nuns should not be exempt from paying tax on government-assisted salaries.

The top court posted the case for a final hearing Aug.7.

“We are happy that we got temporary relief,” said Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council.

He said the Church in the state was determined to fight the case.

He told ucanews.com that Catholic priests and religious serving in government-aided educational institutions did not have any income because their salary is contributed to their convents or houses “so they cannot be asked pay income tax.”

The state court ordered an end to this exemption on the basis that they received their salaries in their individual capacity and that surrendering salaries could only be treated as “application” of their income.

Their choice of application did not merit tax exemption, the court order stated.

The case dates back to 2015 when Tamil Nadu’s income tax department instructed state-funded educational institutions to deduct tax from the salaries of priests, religious brothers and nuns, ending a long-standing convention making them exempt.

Church officials challenged the move in the High Court, which initially dismissed the income tax order. But the tax department appealed against the order, resulting in the March 20 decision.

Father Sahayaraj told ucanews.com that the state court initially accepted that since priests and nuns have taken a vow of poverty and surrender their personal income to the Church, no income is effectively accrued to them and they were therefore not liable to pay tax.

Father Sahayaraj said some 5,000 priests and nuns and religious brothers work in more than 2,800 church-managed, but state-aided, educational institutions in Tamil Nadu.

“The state should also consider their immense contribution helping the state educate millions, especially the poor,” the priest said.

Catholic religious teaching in state-funded institutions was exempted from tax even before India became independent from British rule in 1947.

In 2015, southern Kerala state ended the practice and began to deduct tax from salaries.

In northern India, few priests and nuns are employed in state-funded schools. While some states like Jharkhand allow them a tax exemption, others do not.

The outcome of the Supreme Court’s order will have country-wide ramifications, including for states such as Jharkhand, said one lawyer who did not want to be named.

Source: UCAN

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