A Catholic diocese in southern India has denied allegations of covering up the case of a priest who had a child with a nun, but a campaign is seeking its bishop's resignation and the priest's dismissal.
Officials of Thamarassery Diocese in Kerala state maintain some laypeople "with a vested interest" raked up the five-year-old case of Father Jomon Kandathinkara despite the diocese acting against him.
"It is true the priest had a child with a nun, and he was suspended for a year after the matter came to our notice," Father Benny Mundanattu, the diocesan chancellor, told UCA News on Dec. 1
"The diocese did not laicize him after he expressed deep remorse for his sin, and both of them were not ready to marry and settle down together."
Father Mundanattu also denied the allegation that the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar diocese paid money to settle the case.
The diocese retained the priest based on the "principle of compassion that the Catholic Church follows after he repented for his sins," Father Mundanattu said.
A group of laypeople under the Catholic Layman Association are continuing a social media campaign demanding the priest's dismissal and the resignation of Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil of Thamarassery for covering up the case.
They have written to the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, and the Vatican embassy in New Delhi seeking action against the bishop for his failure to dismiss Father Kandathinkara.
The lay group's executive secretary M.L. George told UCA News that the Franciscan Clarist nun delivered a baby girl in 2016. She was dismissed from the convent, while the child is growing up in an orphanage.
"The bishop knew everything connected with the case. But he did not dismiss the priest and instead allowed him to continue his priestly ministry in another diocese, making the believers fools," George said.
The priest was moved to Shamshabad, a Syro-Malabar diocese in Telangana state in southern India.
The layman said they have documentary evidence to show that the bishop colluded with the priest in paying the nun 2.5 million rupees (US$35,000) as settlement money.
The diocese also paid half of the settlement money. The nun later married another man and now lives outside Kerala, he said.
George said Catholics "cannot allow a person who fathered a child to administer sacraments" and "a bishop to continue after supporting such a morally untenable act of a priest."
He threatened legal actions against both if the priest is not removed from office.
Shaiju Antony, another Catholic leader, said the priest and the bishop have no moral right to continue in office.
"They should either quit on their own or the Church leadership should remove them to wash the stain of this scandal," Antony told UCA News on Nov. 30.
Officials of Shamshabad Diocese told UCA News that the priest was not incardinated in their diocese.
"He was assisting the retreat center. He had no specific appointment," said Father Francis Elavathunkal, vicar general of Shamshabad.
The priest reportedly left Shamshabad when the issue became controversial.
"He is no more working in our diocese," Father Elavathunkal said when asked if they plan any action against him. He alluded that penal action is the prerogative of the priest's parent diocese.