Protesters demand full inquiry into Indian priest's death

Parishioners in Karnataka state shocked by alleged suicide of Father Mahesh D’Souza
Protesters demand full inquiry into Indian priest's death

Our Lady of Health Church in Shirva in India's Karnataka state. (Photo from the church's website)

About 2,000 people from different faiths joined members of a church in the southern Indian state of Karnataka to petition police to intensify their investigation into the alleged suicide of a Catholic priest.

The protesters submitted a memorandum to police during a protest march on Nov. 5 and warned they would hold more vigorous protests if no proper action was taken to find out the truth.

Immediately after the death of 36-year-old Father Mahesh D’Souza on Oct. 11, the bells of Our Lady of Health Church in Shirva were not rung and the community was not informed as is customary, the petition stated.

“When we heard the news of the incident, we were shocked and it was unbelievable that such a young and talented priest is no more, but at the same time we are also eagerly waiting for the report by the investigating team,” Father Valerian Mendonca, a member of the College of Consultors of Udupi Diocese that covers Shirva parish, told ucanews.

“The church is fully cooperating with the police investigating team. They have promised to complete the investigation by 60 days. It is already halfway, so we hope to know the truth.”

Father D’Souza, the parish’s assistant pastor and principal of Don Bosco School attached to it, was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his room on Oct. 12. He had died the previous night. Police and others, including his family members, consider it a suicide case.

Police said no note was found and a reason for suicide was not known.

Protesters claimed that parishioners came to know about the priest’s death through social media. When parishioners went to the church after hearing the news, they were told that the body had been taken to a hospital morgue.

Bharitaya Janata Party (BJP) district president Mattar Ranthankar Hegde joined the protest along with laity leaders Carlod Castelino, Dolphy Castelino and Sunil Cabral.

On Nov. 2, angry parishioners staged a flash protest and questioned the parish priest over his assistant’s alleged suicide. The protesters did not budge even after the intervention of Nisha James, Udupi’s superintendent of police, and religious leaders.

Lay leader Alwyn Quadros, president of Catholic Sabha (Association) of Udupi Diocese, told ucanews that Catholic officials were cooperating with police investigators.

“We have full faith in that and I presume the facts will come out very soon,” he said. “We have absolutely no clue whether it was suicide or foul play.”

Father D’Souza hailed from Moodubelle, a village in Udupi district. After being ordained as a priest in 2013, he served as assistant parish priest at Milagres Cathedral in Kallianpur and Mount Rosary Church in Santhekatte. He also served as headmaster of Milagres English Medium School. In 2016, he was appointed assistant parish priest at Our Lady of Health Church and principal of Don Bosco School.

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