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.


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

Pope draws lessons from Mother Teresa

History is written by people like Mother Teresa, those unafraid to offer their lives for love, pope says.

Pope draws lessons from Mother Teresa

Pope Francis shakes hands with a nun of the Missionaries of Charity, after visiting the memorial dedicated to Mother Teresa in the Macedonian capital Skopje on May 7. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)

International: Pope Francis went to the tiny Balkan nation of North Macedonia to pay tribute to a tiny saint who accomplished big things: St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Ganxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje Aug. 26, 1910, so after paying the obligatory formal visit to North Macedonia’s president, Pope Francis went May 7 to the memorial and museum built on the site of the church where she was baptized. The church was later destroyed in an earthquake.

“Moved by the love of God,” the pope told the president, Mother Teresa “made love of neighbor the supreme law of her life.”

At the memorial, Pope Francis did not speak about the saintly founder of the Missionaries of Charity, but after praying silently before her relics, he praised God for the gift of her life and prayed for her intercession for North Macedonia.

Pope Francis also prayed that God would give Christians the grace “to become signs of love and hope in our own day when so many are poor, abandoned, marginalized and migrants.”

Among the guests present at the memorial were dozens of Missionaries of Charity, about 100 of the people they serve in Skopje, and two of Mother Teresa’s cousins, the Vatican said.

Celebrating Mass in the nearby Macedonia Square on a brisk spring morning, Pope Francis drew people’s attention to human hungers — the hunger for bread, but also the hunger for truth, for God and for love.

“How well Mother Teresa knew all this and desired to build her life on the twin pillars of Jesus incarnate in the Eucharist and Jesus incarnate in the poor,” he said. “Love received and love given” marked her journey from Skopje to India and kept her going.

Too many people, he said, “have become accustomed to eating the stale bread of disinformation,” and so they end up being prisoners of a worldview that makes them either indifferent to others or downright hostile.

Christians must never be afraid to tell God that they are hungry “for an experience of fraternity in which indifference, disparagement and contempt will not fill our tables or take pride of place in our homes,” he said. “We are hungry, Lord, for encounters where your word can raise hope, awaken tenderness and sensitize the heart by opening paths of transformation and conversion.”

Hunger for connection, for peaceful relations and for a better world are the stuff of young people’s dreams, Pope Francis said at an afternoon meeting with Christian, Muslim and Jewish young people.

“What adventure requires more courage than the dream … of giving hope to a weary world?” the pope asked the young people gathered at the pastoral center of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“Our world is weary and divided, and we can be tempted to keep it divided and to become divided ourselves,” he said. But young people must keep dreaming to “keep alive our certainty that another world is indeed possible and that we are called to get involved, to help build that world through our work, our efforts and our actions.”

Think of Mother Teresa, the pope told the young people. She could not have imagined what her life would become, but “she kept dreaming and tried to see the face of Jesus, her great love, in all those people on the sides of the road” in Kolkata. “She dreamed in a big way, and this is why she also loved in a big way.”

Mother Teresa liked to call herself “a pencil in the hands of God,” he said, and when she gave God control of her life, he “began to write new and amazing pages of history with that pencil.”

“Each of you is called, like Mother Teresa, to work with your hands, to take life seriously and make something beautiful of it,” the pope told them.

Father Goce Kostov, an Eastern-rite priest, and his wife, Gabriela Kostova, addressed the pope at his last event in North Macedonia, an early evening meeting with priests and their families and with members of religious orders.

Kostova told him that as the wife of priest, “I share with him all his joys and concerns.” With four boys, ages 1-15, and with a daughter who died in infancy, the family has experienced how family prayer brings strength, she said.

“As a priest,” Father Kostov said, “God has given me the grace to be able to experience physical paternity in my family and, at the same time, spiritual paternity in my parish. The two are complementary and complete each other. When the tenderness, love, patience and compassion for my family, especially the children, is reflected in the parish, it bears fruit.”

Pope Francis thanked the priests, their families and the religious of both the Latin- and Eastern-rite Catholic communities for helping him experience the fullness of Catholic identity.

According to Vatican statistics, there are only about 15,000 Catholics in the country, which is less than 1 percent of the population, but the pope told the priests and religious if they become obsessed with numbers, they will start thinking everything is up to them.

Instead, he pointed again to Mother Teresa, a “concrete sign of how one small person, anointed by the Lord,” could spread the perfume of the Gospel far and wide.

“History is written by people like this, people unafraid to offer their lives for love,” the pope said.

Source: CNS

Syro-Malabar Catholics deserve to know the truth

As Bishop Manathodath takes a confidential report to the Vatican, murky dealings become clearer.

File photo (UCAN)

By Christopher Joseph

Kochi: A senior bishop of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church is visiting the Vatican with a “confidential report,” a month after its preparation entangled him in a criminal case.

The content of the report that Bishop Jacob Manathodath submitted to the Vatican early this month remains unknown to other bishops, including the Synod of Bishops, the Syro-Malabar Church’s supreme decision-making body.

That should be a worry for the 46 serving bishops of this self-governing church based in India’s southern state of Kerala, which entertains history with memoirs of factionalism.

The confidential report is not about factionalism, for a change. It explores allegations of controversial land deals and financial irregularities faced by the church’s head and major archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry.

The report follows a Vatican mandate. When the allegations hit, Pope Francis removed Cardinal Alencherry from the administrative roles of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese and appointed Bishop Manathodath as apostolic administrator last June. Bishop Manathodath was also asked to submit a confidential report directly to the Vatican after engaging independent auditors to study the financial deals.

Soon after taking charge, Bishop Manathodath engaged two teams for audit. One was the internationally known auditing firm KPMG, while the other was comprised of Catholic experts and churchmen. The content of these two reports, just as the bishops’ report, remains a mystery to the larger public.

The preparation of his report for the Vatican, away from the stalwarts of the church, has been tough for Bishop Manathodath, as developments in the past few months have shown.

On Feb. 25, Bishop Manathodath was named the second accused in a criminal forgery case filed on behalf of the church’s synod. The first accused was Father Paul Thelakat, a senior priest of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

But news of the complaint did not emerge until mid-March when media began reporting it. The secrecy was important, as we will see later.

The complaint said the priest had forged some bank documents and that Bishop Manathodath presented them to the synod in January aiming to defame the cardinal. The complainant was a junior priest, Father Joby Maprakavil, working in the church’s headquarters who had no access to synod proceedings.

But no one could understand why the synod, always convened in camera, should go to police about something that happened inside it. Equally baffling was how certain documents presented in private could have tarnished the public image of the cardinal.

When media began to discuss it, the church’s media commission head Bishop Joseph Pamplany said in a March 18 statement that the synod did not intend to complain about the clergyman. The synod decision was to get police to investigate the source of the forged documents, and it entrusted Father Maprakavil with its responsibilities, the statement said.

But the chronology of events would show the complaint was not inadvertent, nor was the naming of the two accused accidental.

Police records would prove that Father Maprakavil first filed a written complaint on Jan. 18, naming Father Thelakat and Bishop Manathodath. But police did not accept it because, lawyers say, there were not sufficient grounds to file a criminal complaint based on the petition of a third party who was neither present at the scene of the crime nor directly affected by it.

Later, on Jan. 25, the priest complained before the Judicial Magistrate. The complaint again named the two accused. He also named Father Thelakat as the person who created a bank account in the name of the cardinal and forged bank statements. Police documents show his oral complaint was read out to him, he heard and he signed a statement confirming they were his own words. Claims of mistakes would not hold water as the names were repeated several times in an hours-long process.

Then the complaint was forwarded to the local police station of the synod headquarters on March 8, but the complaint did not include Bishop Manathodath’s name.

Media began reporting the story on March 17 based on the complaint forwarded to the local police station without realizing that the original complaint also named Bishop Manathodath. But later police explained it as a clerical mistake and added the bishop’s name on March 20.

Cardinal Alencherry on March 22 wrote to major superiors and provincials of the church saying he did not know how Father Thelakat and Bishop Manathodath were named in the petition, which sought to arrest those who forged the documents. He also promised to petition police to exclude their names and assured he would file a new complaint against “unknown” people who forged the document.

If including Bishop’s Manathodath name was inadvertent, the bishops who were behind the complaint could have removed it any time between January and March 20. We haven’t seen any such effort.

Police would not normally accept such a complaint from an unaffected third party unless someone at the “top level” of state administration had exercised power, say lawyers connected with the case.

So, why all these struggles? Planning and scheming appear to be behind this case, however puerile these actions might be.

Bishop Manathodath was not aware of the case against him unit March 20, when a copy of the original complaint was presented to him, according to a lawyer acting for the bishop.

It was news to him. “He was shellshocked to see that a criminal case exists against him,” the lawyer said. This happened despite his being a member of the Permanent Synod and visiting church headquarters and attending officials’ meetings several times from January to March. No one told him about the complaint including his name.

The January synod knew Bishop Manathodath was scheduled to visit Rome in April. A criminal case could have protracted effects on his travel plans and presentation of his report.

First, he could have traveled without being aware of the case. If that had happened, the chances of being detained at the airport by the investigating officer were high. His trip to Rome would not happen. Another bishop could then have taken over the task of reporting to the Vatican.

Lawyers want us to consider another scenario of Bishop Manathodath traveling to Rome without police intervention. When he is in the Vatican, news about his forgery case could be released, sending a clear message. The person presenting the report is untrustworthy. He is accused in a forgery case.

Moreover, the investigation could then accuse him of absconding. The Vatican would then be compelled to move him from his current position.

But that would not be the case. Accidentally or otherwise, the cat was out of the bag. Bishop Manathodath came to know about the case two weeks before his trip to Rome. However weak, the message has been given to the Vatican: the person presenting the report dabbled in forged documents and his report cannot be believed.

How did Bishop Manathodath travel without hassles?

His lawyers filed another petition on March 29 pleading the innocence of Bishop Manathodath and Father Thelakat. It said synod officials were complaining against those who forged the documents. Father Thelakat handed over the documents to Bishop Manathodath, who in turn gave them to the cardinal. It was the cardinal who presented them to the synod, the petition said.

Their petition also pleaded for the cancellation of legal proceedings against them.

A lawyer associated with the case said it would have been “risky” for Bishop Manathodath to travel unaware of the case against him and without filing a counter-petition.

The five million Catholics of the Syro-Malabar Church, who continue to contribute to its growth, have a right to know the truth about these developments. The bishops should stop being a liability to Catholics who live in a multireligious milieu.

Christopher Joseph is the bureau chief for ucanews.com in India.

Source: UCAN



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