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Police Team Closes Probe Into Asia´s Largest Catholic Retreat Center

Updated: April 10, 2008 05:00 PM GMT
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Police have formally closed their probe into the activities of a popular Catholic retreat center in Kerala state, southern India.

"We have wound up the investigation. Our job is over," Vinson M. Paul, a senior police official who headed a special investigation team, told UCA News on April 9. He had submitted his team´s report to the Kerala High Court two days earlier.

On March 11, the Indian Supreme Court directed the team to end its probe into activities of the Vincentian-run Divine Retreat Centre in Muringoor, a village near Trichur in Kerala, 2,565 kilometers south of New Delhi. The investigation team began the probe a year earlier under direction from the Kerala High Court, the state´s top judicial authority.

Paul, a Catholic, confirmed that his team ended the High Court-ordered investigation after the Supreme Court directed it to do so. He refused to divulge details of the probe report.

Allegations leveled against the retreat center in an anonymous letter were the basis for the police investigation the Kerala High Court ordered on March 10, 2006. The letter and two compact discs the court reportedly received, implicated the center in a series of crimes and irregularities including murder, rape, foreign-exchange violations and running an unlicensed hospital.

The Supreme Court, in its decision ordering an end to the investigation, also criticized the lower court for ordering the probe based on an anonymous letter.

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, the Kerala-based Oriental-rite Church that monitors the center, welcomed the end to the controversy. According to him, the High Court order to probe Asia´s largest Catholic spirituality center was an improper move that set a bad precedence.

Father Augustine Vallooran, who directs retreats in English at the center, expressed happiness that the case is closed. "We have a great reason to rejoice, for our God has intervened in our struggle against the forces of evil and won the battle for us," he told UCA News on April 9. God has answered the "fervent prayers from thousands of people" across the world, who know "us personally and appreciate the center´s works," he added.

According to the Vincentian priest, the center welcomed the probe and cooperated with it. "However, we had no inkling of what was to come. The police team began to harass us and disturb the smooth functioning of the daily services of our retreats," he recounted. Father Vallooran also pointed out that after 21 months of "rigorous investigation," the police team could find no evidence against the center. "It was at this juncture we moved the Supreme Court to stop the unending harassment and unbridled media slander," he explained. He said the Supreme Court verdict has set guidelines for courts to follow in handling public interest litigation.

Another person to welcome the latest development is Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum. The head of the Syro-Malankara Church, another Kerala-based Oriental-rite Church, said some vested interests had "severely maligned" the retreat center, which has won respect from people of all religions. The final outcome proved again that truth will triumph, he added. Trivandrum is the former name of Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.

K.M. Mani, a former Kerala minister and a Catholic, hailed the Supreme Court verdict as recognition of the Divine Retreat Centre´s services.

The center draws around 10,000 people for its weekly retreats, conducted in seven languages. It has served more than 10 million people from all over the world since 1990.


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