Media reports on murder investigation upsets Indian church officials

August 24, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Kochi, August 23, 2016: Indian media reports about an investigation related to the death of a young woman in Coimbatore Diocese are misleading and blown out of proportion to sensationalize the issue, say church officials

Media reported recently that Bishop Thomas Aquinas of Coimbatore and three priests, who are diocesan officials, were arrested on charges of hiding information on the death of a woman named Fathima Sofiya.

“Unfortunately, false news was published by some newspapers and periodicals. According to the Diocese of Coimbatore the news is false, malafide and defamatory,” said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

The case against the bishop and priests is linked to the complaint of Sofiya’s mother S. Shanthi Rosalyn’s claim that Bishop Aquinas and four priests suppressed information about how a diocesan priest had sexually abused and allegedly murdered her daughter, who was 18 years old at the time of her death in 2013.

A statement from the diocese categorically denied the arrest and bail. However, “three priests were called to the police station to explain the position in reference to the complaint of the woman,” it said.

The priests have explained to police that “there was no attempt to hide facts in the case and that the very action of suspending the priest and then having him dismissed from the clerical state are evidence to this effect.”

According to Bishop Mascarenhas, Bishop Aquinas has not even visited the police station. Bishop Aquinas was not available for a response.

Father Father John Joseph, vicar general of Coimbatore Diocese told that media reports “created an impression” that the bishop and priests were “handcuffed and put in jail and then bailed out. Nothing of that happened,” he said.

The media were trying to sensationalize the issue. The bishop and the priests have nothing to do with Sofiya’s death, he said. However, the reports were made out as if they were responsible for the woman’s death, he said.

Father Joseph said the bishop was out of India when the woman died and that the clergymen only heard of the priest H. Arokiaraj’s alleged abuse of the teenager after her death.

Arokiaraj was then suspended from his clerical duties on Aug. 23, 2013 and the Vatican dismissed him from his priestly responsibilities the following month.

The case of the woman’s death was initially closed as one of suicide. However, a court ordered its reopening last year following Rosalyn’s complaint that the bishop and priests hushed up the sex abuse and murder by the priest.

The diocese views its bishop and senior priests “are unnecessarily being dragged into the case with the aim of extracting compensation from the diocese,” Father Joseph had earlier told earlier.

According to him, the dead woman’s mother is seeking 20 million rupees (some US$300,000) in compensation.

– ucan

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