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Police investigate Indian bishop for breach of trust

Bishop Thomasappa says he is being blamed for calling off a land deal that was not in the interests of his diocese
Police investigate Indian bishop for breach of trust

Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur is welcomed at an Indian parish in the traditional way. He says allegations against him have been fabricated by 'those who are hell-bent on tarnishing my image.' (Photo supplied)

Published: September 04, 2019 09:49 AM GMT
Updated: September 04, 2019 09:52 AM GMT

Police have begun investigating a Catholic bishop accused of conspiring to sell off prime church property, causing financial loss to his diocese in southern India.

A lower court in Karnataka state asked police to investigate a charge of criminal breach of trust against Bishop Anthony Swamy Thomasappa of Chikmagalur and his former vicar general, Father Shantha Raj.

Officials of St. Joseph Education Society, which functions under the diocese, have been complaining since April that the bishop and Father Raj conspired to take ownership of two plots of land worth 180 million rupees (US$2.4 million) and sold them off at a cheaper value.

Bishop Thomasappa told ucanews.com that the allegations were baseless and the case aimed to tarnish his image.

“The allegations are fabricated. Those who are hell-bent on tarnishing my image moved the court” and obtained the order for police investigation, the bishop told ucanews.com on Sept. 4.

He said police and church authorities including the papal nuncio to India, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, did not act on the complaint because it was baseless.

As police did not act, the complainant for the education society, Michael Sadanda Baptist, took the case to the district court, which asked the police on Aug. 19 to investigate the allegations.

Bishop Thomasappa said there was a proposal to sell the land and a real estate developer was identified as a prospective buyer. The developer deposited 400,000 rupees as an advance.

“The deal, however, was called off when we found that it was struck at a cheaper rate” by Father Raj, the bishop said, adding that he soon removed the priest from all official positions in the diocese.

“Earlier, they accused me of selling the land. Now they are after me for a deal which was not executed at all,” Bishop Thomasappa told ucanews.com.

“When they accused me of an illegal sale, I challenged them to prove it with a sale deed and they failed. Where is any crime here? It seems I am being blamed for calling off a deal that was not in the interests of the diocese.”

Baptist, however, maintains that the education society’s land was sold off without informing even its members and he has records to prove his allegations. “A crime was committed but no one is punished yet,” he told ucanews.com on Sept. 4.

He said he had tried to ensure justice from within the Church but no officials including the nuncio acted, forcing him to take the case to civil authorities.

The diocese’s legal adviser, V.T. Thomas, however, disagreed with Baptist.

“The land in question is in the possession of the diocese and not sold to anyone. This case will not stand in a court of law,” the lawyer said.

The charge of criminal breach of trust will not stand against the bishop as he has not committed an offense, Thomas said.

If proved, the charge could be punished with a three-year jail term.

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