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Indian state reinvestigates Catholic priest's suicide case

Fresh probe comes after continued protests from local people who suspect foul play in the priest's death

Indian state reinvestigates Catholic priest's suicide case

Father Mahesh D'Souza was found hanging from a ceiling fan last October. (Photo supplied)

Published: August 28, 2020 08:46 AM GMT

Updated: August 28, 2020 09:03 AM GMT

Southern India's Karnataka state has ordered a probe into a Catholic priest's death, 10 months after he was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his room.

Police chief Kumarachandra told media that the state police's Criminal Investigation Department had been asked to probe the death of Father Mahesh D'Souza.

The body of 36-year Father D'Souza, assistant pastor of Our Lady of Health Parish in Udupi Diocese, was found hanging in his room on Oct. 12 last year. Police closed it as a case of suicide.

However, the latest move comes after a group of Catholics demanded a fresh probe after they suspected foul play in the death, reports said.

"Yes, we are aware of the probe ordered into the death of Father D'Souza," Bishop Gerald Isaac Lobo of Udupi told UCA News on Aug. 27.

The diocese considered it as a case of suicide "but we have no objections against fresh probes. The diocese will cooperate with it as we have done earlier, too," he said.

Church sources said police in their 1,500-page closure report of the case had statements from nearly 100 persons and forensic and post-mortem reports. It also identified a person for abetting suicide.

The accused "is a Catholic and close friend of the priest. Police arrested the man later, but he is out on bail now," the source said.

Some people suspected the local parish priest was behind the priest's death but the police report ruled out all such theories, affirming it as a suicide case.

The bishop said the diocese did not find "anything fishy" and "we are fully satisfied with the police finding."

"The diocese has nothing to hide and will cooperate with any investigation," he said.

Police said local people were not satisfied with the probe that concluded it as a case of suicide, and there have been protests demanding a higher-level police investigation.

Last November, more than 2,000 people, including Catholics and non-Christians, demanded a fresh probe into the priest's death.

Local political leaders and members of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also joined the protest.

They demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, a federal agency. However, the government ordered a probe by the Criminal Investigation Department, a state-level agency.

Father D'Souza was ordained a priest in 2013. He served as assistant parish priest at two parishes before being appointed as assistant parish priest at Our Lady of Health Church and principal of Don Bosco School in the parish.

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