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Indian priest denies protests against bishop undermine church

Supporters say he was only seeking justice when backing a protest against a bishop accused of raping a nun

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Indian priest denies protests against bishop undermine church

Father Augustine Vattoly who was accused of working against the church after he led a group of nuns protesting against a Catholic bishop charged with raping a nun. (Photo by Saji Thomas)

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An Indian Catholic priest, who faces disciplinary action after backing protesting nuns in southern Kerala state, has denied working against church leaders.

Father Augustine Vattoly, a priest of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, was asked to refrain from leading any further protests against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, who has been charged with raping a nun.

"I have not done anything contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church in my words or in deeds," Father Vattoly told ucanews.com Nov. 29, four days after he submitted his sealed response to an official church letter.

The Nov. 11 letter, from archdiocesan administrator Bishop Jacob Manathodath, asked him to explain speeches considered to have incited hatred and sedition against the church and its authorities.

The letter also sought an explanation of claims that he had associated with extremist and atheist groups.

The priest said he has not worked against the teachings of the Catholic Church, but instead was upholding the values and teachings of Christ and the stand of the official church.

Father Vattoly continues to be the convener of the 'Save Our Sisters Forum', an umbrella body for various groups supporting the 48-year-old nun who alleged Bishop Mulakkal raped and abused her over a period of two years.

The forum organized a Nov. 14 protest demanding the revocation of the bail for Bishop Mulakkal on the ground that his freedom could endanger witnesses, including the alleged victim, and hamper justice.

The nun who maintains she was raped, and five nuns who subsequently protested, belong to Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under Bishop Mulakkal.

The letter to Father Augustine Vattoly warned him not to attend the Nov. 14 protest. Friends said that he had complied with this directive.

Father Vattoly said that protest was not against the church or government authorities.

All those who participated in it had only exercised their right to highlight grievances, including over the granting of bail, he said.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21 after the nuns protested.

The State High Court bailed him Oct. 15, but investigations and court proceeding are continuing against the bishop.

Father Vattoly said protests seeking justice could not be viewed as acts against any institution or an individual and were rather cries for justice.

He noted that the Catholic Church in India and elsewhere has a history of defending human rights and said he believed his written response to Bishop Manathodath would be accepted.

Lawyer Govind Yadav, who is based in New Delhi, told ucanews.com that Bishop Manathodath's letter referring to associations with "extremist groups" could backfire.

Father Vattoly, however, said Bishop Manathodath must have written that out of his "innocence" and ruled out instigating defamation proceedings.

The 'Forum for Justice and Peace', an advocacy group of Catholic religious priests and nuns in India, has backed Father Vattoly.

Members of the forum, in an open letter to the Bishop Manathodath, said they were shocked that a warning was issued to Father Vattoly for struggling against injustice and oppression.

"When members of the church come to know that something is rotten within the church, don't they have the right to protest?" asked the letter signed by the Forum president, Carmelite Father Jacob Peenikaparambil, and its secretary, Holy Cross Sister Manju Kulapuram.

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