ucanews.com reporters, New DelhiUpdated: October 23, 2018 03:44 AM GMT
People demonstrate on Sept. 21 in New Delhi seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping a nun. The bishop was arrested on Sept. 21 and bailed on Oct. 15. (Photo by IANS)
A senior Catholic priest considered a prime witness against an Indian bishop accused of rape has been found dead, with his family suspecting foul play.
Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 67, was found dead inside his room in Jalandhar on the morning of Oct. 22, a week after Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar was bailed by the state court in Kerala and went back to his diocese.
Diocesan spokesman Father Peter Kavumpuram told media that some nuns went looking for the priest when he had not woken by 10 a.m. at St. Mary's Church complex in Dasuya town.
"When he didn't open the door, they [the nuns] called for help. The door was then broken and Kuriakose was found unconscious and there was vomit in the room. We took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead," he said.
However, the priest's brother Joy Kattuthara said the family believe the priest was killed for his strong stand against the bishop. The priest was also a witness in the case as he gave testimony against the bishop, he said.
"He was under tremendous pressure" to retract his statements against the bishop, Joy told ucanews.com
Bishop Mulakkal was arrested on Sept. 21 after a nun of Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under him, accused him of repeatedly raping her multiple times in Kerala between 2014 and 2016. The Vatican has removed him from diocesan administrative duties but retained his title as its bishop.
Bishop Mulakkal returned to the diocese a day after his release from judicial custody on Oct. 15.
Medical staff at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Jalandhar said Father Kattuthara was a chronic patient receiving treatment for hypertension and diabetes.
"His blood pressure and sugar levels were dangerously high when he visited us a week ago," said doctor and Sacred Heart Sister Laila Jose.
She told ucanews.com that they had not seen the patient for one week and could not say anything about his medical condition at the time of his death.
The nuns who staged a a public protest seeking the arrest of Bishop Mulakkal also suspect foul play in the priest's death.
"Father Kattuthara had given a statement against the bishop to police and was one of the key witnesses in the case. His death will surely affect the trial of the rape case," said Sister Josephine, one of the five nuns who protested in Kerala.
The nun said they fear a threat to their lives as four other nuns from Jalandhar, who are seen as supporters of Bishop Mulakkal, have joined them in their convent in Kerala. "They can do anything to us any time, day or night," she said.
Father Augustine Vattoli, a priest of Ernakulum-Angamaly Archdiocese who coordinated the nuns' protest, said they had "anticipated such things" as the priest's death when the bishop was granted bail and returned to Jalandhar.
He demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the top federal investigation agency, into the mysterious death of Father Kattuthara.
Father Vattoli and five social activists met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Oct. 22 and requested him to enhance the security of the nuns in their convent.
Two policemen are on round-the-clock duty to provide security for the nuns. The delegation sought "special security arrangements" in view of the threat the nuns face from those who recently joined them, the priest said.
The delegation also urged the chief minister to take steps to withdraw the bail granted to Bishop Mulakkal for the safety of all those involved in the case, the priest said.