Catholics attack Indian bishop in land dispute

Police arrest two for 'brutal' assault on Bishop Varuvel and are looking for 56 others in Tamil Nadu
Catholics attack Indian bishop in land dispute

Salesian Bishop Jerome Dhas Varuvel of Kuzhithurai was attacked by parishioners in a land dispute in southern India. A security guard was seriously injured in the incident. (Photo courtesy of kuzhithuraidiocese.com)

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi
India
March 13, 2019
A Catholic bishop had to be hospitalized after a group of parishioners attacked him, a security guard and a priest in a five-decade-old land dispute in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Salesian Bishop Jerome Dhas Varuvel of Kuzhithurai left hospital on March 12, two days after he was attacked by a crowd of about 130 Catholic men and women. 

The guard remains in hospital after suffering serious injuries in his attempt to protect the bishop, diocesan chancellor Father Russel Raj told ucanews.com.

Father Augustine Ponnaian, the diocesan financial administrator, only suffered minor injuries and was not hospitalized.

Police have registered a case against 58 Catholics, including 16 women, accusing them of committing serious crimes such as rioting with weapons, criminal intimidation and using weapons in a manner of causing death.

Police have arrested two persons and are looking for the other 56, who are reportedly hiding to avoid arrest.

“It was a planned attack on the bishop,” Father Ponnaian told ucanews.com on March 13.

The parishioners were waiting outside the bishop’s house for him to return from a function to discuss the land issue. They surrounded him when he reached the entrance door and demanded immediate resolution of the issue, he said.

“As the bishop tried to move ahead, one of them pulled him from behind. And when I tried to save the bishop from falling, the man slapped my face,” said Father Ponnaian.

The guard intervened and tried to protect the bishop. “But the people attacked him so much so that he sustained injuries all over his body and even one of his legs sustained cracks,” the priest said.

The land dispute goes back to 1965 when Kuzhithurai Diocese, created only four years ago, was part of Kottar Diocese. Catholics in two parishes disputed ownership of a piece of land in Appattuvilai village

Bishop Varuvel, 67, issued a decree on May 5, 2018, settling the dispute between St. Antony Church and St. Joseph Church. Some St. Antony parishioners claimed the settlement favored St. Joseph’s and refused to accept it. They wanted the bishop to withdraw the decree.

Father Raj said the bishop’s decision followed recommendations of a committee including lawyers, eminent persons and seven representatives of each parish.

The protest has been going on since the decree was issued and the bishop asked them to produce documentary evidence to substantiate their claims. “They have produced none so far but they want to reverse the decision in their favor,” Father Ponnaian said.

Bishop Varuvel also allowed them to challenge his decision in a civil court but they rejected his offer, he added.

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Father Raj said the diocese does not want “everyone to be put behind the bars in this case.” However, it wants police to act against “two key persons who orchestrated the crime and instigated people to attack the bishop in a brutal manner.” 

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