Bishop Kannikadass Antony William has been accused of financial misappropriation by some priests. (Photo: starofmysore.com)
A retired Catholic high court judge has sent a legal notice to church authorities seeking the removal of a bishop, accusing him of crimes such as murder, corruption and moral turpitude, among others.
Former Justice Michael F. Saldanha alleged that Bishop Kannikadass Antony William of Mysore in Karnataka state was responsible for the deaths of four priests, two of them suspected to be murdered.
The legal notice, a copy of which has been released to media, was sent to Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) president Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore. Mysore is a suffragan diocese of Bangalore.
Bishop William has been facing charges of sexual misconduct and financial misappropriation from his own priests. He has denied the allegations as "absolutely baseless" and "an attempt to tarnish my image."
The 55-year-old bishop told UCA News on June 9 that the allegations are the handiwork of a group of priests who oppose his administrative reforms in the diocese. "The heinous charges leveled against me were baseless and an attempt to tarnish my image," he said.
Bishop William said he had not received the notice but heard about it from social media. "The former judge could have verified the facts with me before releasing it to the public through social media," the prelate said.
The notice asked him to resign or face legal action. It also erroneously appealed to Cardinal Gracias to remove Bishop William from his office. The power to appoint, transfer or remove a bishop of Latin rite is vested with the Vatican and cardinals or bishops' conferences have no authority to do that.
Saldanha's notice said Bishop Willian "let loose a virtual reign of terror in the diocese" with the result that "23 percent of the Catholic laity are leaving the Church."
The 78-year-old former judge, who served in the high courts of Karnataka and Maharashtra states, claimed that an investigation revealed that the bishop "has amassed personal wealth estimated at one million dollars by looting church properties and institutions."
Saldanha said 17 written complaints with substantiating pieces of evidence for 29 serious offenses were given to church authorities, but no action was taken against the bishop.
The notice also accused the bishop of "fathering at least six illegitimate children" and spending millions on mistresses, among other charges.
Bishop William said he has been facing such allegations for more than a year, but if Saldanha "wanted, I could have personally met him and clarified his doubts. But now he has targeted me based on hearsay."
"I feel sorry they are attacking the Church and the faith of the people," the bishop said.
A group of 37 of some 100 priests in the diocese wrote a letter to the Vatican last year seeking to remove Bishop William, accusing him of moral turpitude and corruption.
Bishop William said some disgruntled priests began the campaign after he transferred some of them. He became the bishop of Mysore in February 2017.
He said that he and diocesan consulters would chart a course aiming for unity and reconciliation. "As Christians, believe in reconciliation rather than retaliation," the bishop said.
Saldanha confirmed to UCA News that he had sent the legal notice and said: "The people affected will go ahead with the legal action against the bishop. I will also support them for the sake of justice."
Father Lesli Moras, the diocesan public relations officer, said that when a former high court judge makes such allegations, "it carries weight and therefore he should have checked the facts before going public."
Father Moras said the allegations were "absolutely absurd" and the diocese would respond legally if it has to.
Fight to continue
Father Gnana Prakash, one of the 37 priests who complained to the Vatican, said they would withstand the "threats and pressure" from the bishop to withdraw the complaint and "will fight until we get justice."
He said two of the 37 priests had died since they complained to the Vatican in July 2019.
Father Prakash said they have information that the bishop is the father of two children. But "now Saldanha claims the bishop has six children. Now let the bishop prove his innocence voluntarily by going for a DNA test," the priest said.
He said they have complained to the apostolic nuncio to India, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, and top church officials in India about the bishop's immoral life.
"I know it is a serious charge against a bishop. If I'm proved wrong through a DNA test of the bishop, I am ready to accept any punishment unconditionally," he said.
Father Prakash said that if church authorities "continue to remain silent, protests against the bishop will continue, not only from the priests but also from the faithful."