Indian bishop's body exhumed after murder claim

Suspicion surrounds why Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior died after a car accident when three other occupants escaped unhurt
Indian bishop's body exhumed after murder claim

Police takes notes after exhuming the body of Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior June 10. An investigation is underway after a Catholic woman claimed his death following a car accident last December could have been the result of foul play. (Photo supplied)

Police in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have exhumed the body of a Catholic bishop after suspicions were raised that his death in a car accident six months ago could have been the result of foul play.

Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior's corpse was exhumed on June 10 after a court ordered police to investigate the prelate’s death on Dec. 14 last year.

The court order was in response to a complaint lodged by Dolly Theresa, a local Catholic, who claimed police refused to investigate what she called were the "suspicious" circumstances surrounding the so-called accident in which the bishop died and three other occupants of the car escaped unhurt.

In her complaint she also said the 65-year-old bishop’s body was buried without a mandatory post-mortem being carried out after his car reportedly skidded off the road and overturned. 

She has demanded an investigation to establish why it was only the bishop who died in hospital of head injuries, while the three others — a priest, a deacon and the driver — walked away with none.

Father N. John Xavier, the diocesan administrator, told ucanews.com that diocesan officials were present at the exhumation and identified the body.

“It was then taken to the government medical college for autopsy,” he said. 

The body was returned to us after a medical examination in Gwalior and samples were collected and “was buried again in the same tomb.”

“A few priests and a couple of Catholic laypeople attended the reburial,” Father Xavier said.

A local government official told ucanews.com that three doctors conducted the autopsy and were to conduct tests to ascertain “if there was any foul play as alleged.” 

Teresa, who made the complaint, was also present at the exhumation.

“She was kept under police protection, as there were people angry about their bishop’s coffin being disinterred and opened,” a police spokesman said.

Some 100 Catholics along with some 20 priests and nuns witnessed the exhumation.

Father Joseph Munthalakuzhi, who was in the car with the bishop when the accident occurred, admitted to ucanews.com that he and two others were left unscathed. But that should not be the basis for suspecting them of murderer, he said. 

Bishop Thennatt was the first member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, popularly known as the Pallottines, to become a bishop in India. Pope Francis appointed him as bishop of Gwalior on Oct. 18, 2016.

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

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