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Jailed Indian priests seek new probe into rector's killing

Suspects plead innocence, appeal to bishops for help

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Jailed Indian priests seek new probe into rector's killing

An Indian woman prays inside a church in Bangalore in this 2008 file photo. Two Catholic priests are in jail accused of conspiring to murder Father K.J. Thomas who was found dead at St. Peter's Pontifical Seminary in Bangalore on April 1, 2013. (Photo by AFP)

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Two jailed Catholic priests, accused of conspiring to murder a seminary rector in southern India, have appealed to the national bishops' conference to help prove their innocence.

In a letter seen by ucanews.com and sent to the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, the two priests urged the bishops to hold an internal inquiry and pressure the government into assigning the case to the country's top investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.

"The bishops have not discussed the letter and a decision will be made after they meet next month," Stephen Alathara, deputy secretary general of the country's Latin-rite bishops' conference said Feb. 16.

Carmelite Father Elias Daniel, 46 and Father William Patrick, 47, were arrested along with Carmel Peter almost a year after the rector Father K.J. Thomas was found dead at St. Peter's Pontifical Seminary in Bangalore on April 1, 2013.

In November 2015, police charged another seven people, four of them Catholic priests — Fathers I. Anthappa, A. Thomas, Chowrappa Selvaraj and Anbu John — with conspiracy and aiding murder.

The seven have yet to be arrested.

"All that we are pleading for is an impartial investigation. We are not seeking any undue favors," the two jailed priests' letter said.

Neither police nor church officials have made any public statements regarding the motive behind the murder. Media reports link it to a simmering language-based ethnic rivalry in Bangalore Archdiocese.

The reports said local Kannada-speaking Catholics are fighting for a greater say in the affairs of the church.

In the letter, Fathers Elias and William said they live in "agony in anticipation that the truth would be revealed and we would be spared the ignominy of further wrongful imprisonment. Justice has definitely been delayed, and it is our prayer that justice should not be denied."

"The charges are based on a motivated and fabricated story, on hearsay, with no scientific evidence and based entirely on a foundation of blatant lies. The truth will set us free," said the letter.

A Central Bureau of Investigation probe "will reveal the truth and exonerate us," they said.

They told the bishops' conference that appeals for help from local church leaders were rejected because they did not want to anger government officials.

This amounts to "sacrificing the reputation" of the church "for the sake of maintaining good relations with politicians," the priests said.

"There is absolutely no one who is able to help us. Those who have intended to help, live in fear of being falsely implicated," they said.

While the murder and arrests have tarnished the image of the church, "no effort appears to have been made to get to the bottom of the truth," they added. 

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