Vatican replaces Indian bishop accused of serious crimes

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

January 9, 2023

By Michael Gonsalves

An Indian Catholic bishop probed by a Vatican-appointed team of bishops for alleged involvement in serious crimes like murder, rape and misappropriation of church funds, has been ordered to “take a period of absence from the ministry.”

Bishop Kannikadass A William of Mysore (now Mysuru) has been replaced by retired Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore as apostolic administrator of southern India’s Karnataka state.

“I wish to inform that The Dicastery of Evangelization has appointed His Grace Most Rev Bernard Moras, Apostolic Administrator sede plena et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the Diocese of Mysore for the ordinary administration and pastoral care of that local Church,” Archbishop Felix Machado, secretary-general at the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said in a Jan.7 communication to cardinals, archbishops and bishops in India.

The appointment became effective from Jan. 7, he added.

Significantly, the Vatican order only mentions “a period of absence from the ministry” for Bishop William without specifying any details.

The prelate himself announced on Jan.1 after a Mass that he was going on “medical leave” and asked for prayers.

“The Vatican decision has proved the universal saying that truth triumphs and the Catholic Church stands for truth, justice and for the Gospel values, [and] thus never reconciles with the powers of Hades,” Father Gnana Prakash, a senior priest of Mysore diocese, who sought action against the bishop, told UCA News.

Father Prakash said the Vatican action followed meticulous scrutiny and proper investigation of the allegations by a three-member bishops’ inquiry committee comprising Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, Bishop J. Susai Manickam of Sivagangai and Bishop Alex Vadakumthala of Kannur.

The priest, in a July 5, 2022, letter to Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio to India, had accused Bishop William who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2017, of murder, rape, sodomy, kidnapping, and embezzlement of funds.

A chaotic situation had persisted in the diocese for more than four years as some 37 priests reported scandalous issues involving the prelate to the Holy See.

Soon after the allegations surfaced, Bishop William told UCA News that they were baseless and some priests were targeting him for his efforts to reform the Church.

“The hand of God has struck decisively, William has gone for good and the cleansing has begun but it will be a long process,” retired Justice Michael F. Saldanha, who campaigned for the prelate’s dismissal, told UCA News.

The former high court judge had urged the pope and the apostolic nuncio to remove Bishop William latest by Jan.1, failing which he would file a complaint with the police for his alleged role in the murders of four diocesan priests and massive defalcation of parish funds for 11 years.

“Even though this may be termed as a ‘soft dismissal’ it is nevertheless a welcome step in the purgation of the Catholic Church in India,” Chhotebhai, convener of the Indian Catholic Forum, a laity organization that sought action against the bishop, said in a statement.

He said that even before his appointment as bishop, William had been under a cloud of suspicion for alleged criminal acts, including fathering of children and gross financial misappropriation.

“As many as 37 priests of the diocese and over 100 prominent lay persons had submitted several petitions to Propaganda Fide, the Nunciature, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India,” Chhotebhai, who uses a mononym, added.

Welcoming the Vatican action, Dominic Lobo, a prominent human rights activist, though said “it is too little too late.”

“Defrocking the controversial prelate should prevent defaming the good image of the Catholic Church in this multi-faith country,” he added.