Catholics in a southern Indian diocese let off firecrackers and exchanged sweets to express their joy over Pope Francis accepting the resignation of a bishop who has been facing allegations of stealing funds to maintain his "secret family." The pope on Dec. 10 accepted the resignation of Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh state
and appointed retired Bishop Gali Bali of Guntur as its apostolic administrator "sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis," said a communique from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. The Latin term "ad nutum Sanctae Sedis" (at the will of the Holy See) refers to the Vatican acknowledging a grave inability in administration of the diocese and taking over diocesan jurisdiction through a representative until the matter is finally settled, a church source said. "This is a moment of joy for all of us. God has heard the cries and tears of the faithful," said T.P. Radhika, a final-year engineering student in Cuddapah. "Victory … victory, victory of faithful," shouted about 250 people gathered in front of St. Mary's Cathedral in Cuddapah, now commonly known as Kadapa, as some burst firecrackers. They also shouted slogans against the bishop and cheered Pope Francis for his action. The gathering, mostly of young people, then moved to the bishop's house to celebrate the "victory" with firecrackers and slogans. The celebrations lasted until 2 a.m. on Dec. 11, said 23-year-old Radhika. She was among Catholics who had written to the Vatican seeking the removal of Bishop Gallela after allegations began to be made against him three years ago. "We are now relieved," said Radhika, who wanted the Vatican to defrock the bishop and remove his title of bishop over the allegations. Bishop Gallela, 56, has been facing court cases since May after two lay Catholics, Mesa Ravi Kumar, 40, and Byreddy Chinnappa Reddy, 65, filed criminal complaints against him. The allegations include money laundering, misappropriation of diocesan funds, corruption and cheating civil and religious authorities among other charges. Kumar told ucanews.com that there is documentary evidence in land deeds and identity cards to show that the bishop is the husband of a woman and the father of an 18-year-old boy. "We have written several letters to the Vatican detailing the illegal activities of the bishop taking away diocesan funds to buy land and houses for his family. We also provided documents to prove that he maintains a wife and 18-year-old son," Kumar said. A court asked the prelate and his alleged wife to appear before it on Aug. 18 to reply to the charges. "They are yet to face trial," Kumar said, adding that the Vatican move to accept the bishop's resignation might aim to pre-empt the situation of the bishop facing trial as the head of a Catholic diocese. "We will not withdraw the case until the last penny he has stolen from the diocese is returned," Kumar said.
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A senior priest in Andhra Pradesh, seeking anonymity, told ucanews.com that the Vatican and church leaders in India were aware of the bishop's "serious violation of principles of priesthood." "But they delayed action trying to push it under the carpet. Times have changed. Old games of ignoring priestly crimes do not work anymore," he said. In August, when allegations began to hit the headlines, Bishop Gallela told ucanews.com that the woman named as his wife is the wife of his brother who died in 2001. His brother's son was hardly a year old when his father died and the entire family accepted the boy and his mother and took care of them. "My family is more in touch with her," the bishop said, adding that presenting him as her husband is a "false interpretation" of his relationship with her. The bishop made headlines in April 2016 when a group of people kidnapped and attacked him
. Two priests and 14 others were arrested on charges of attacking the bishop. Media reports connected the incident with misappropriation of diocesan funds and rivalry among priests to manage those funds. However, the bishop linked the kidnapping to caste discrimination against him because of his Dalit origin
. Bishop Gallela was ordained a priest 1989 and became bishop of Cuddapah in 2008. He was a professor and spiritual director at St. John's Regional Seminary in Visakhapatnam at the time of his appointment as bishop.