|Catholics Defy Bishop, Attend Banned Priest's Retreat
August 7, 2009
MANGALORE, India : About 1,000 Catholics defied the orders of their bishop as they attended a retreat conducted by a priest who had been banned from performing pastoral duties.
Catholics from various parts of Mangalore diocese in Karnataka state attended the Aug. 2 retreat that Divine Word Father Jacob Gerald Sequeira conducted, ignoring Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza's orders to people to stay away from his programs.
In a July 22 circular, Bishop D'Souza had also banned the popular preacher from performing priestly duties for his alleged "disobedience" of his superiors and "unholy relations with a woman." The circular also announced that the priest is barred from celebrating Mass or administering any pastoral duties in the diocese.
On July 20, police in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state arrested the priest and released him on bail two days later. He was charged with cheating and harassment of a woman, who claimed he fathered her child.
Father Sequeira had worked in Andhra Pradesh state's capital of Hyderabad prior to working in his native Mangalore diocese.
However, the priest wore a cassock at the Aug. 2 retreat in a village some 30 kilometers away from Mangalore, naming it a "new beginning." He titled it a "Christian devotional fest." During the program, he expressed his displeasure with his superiors and the bishop for "forsaking him".
Father Sequeira founded Divine Call Center in 2004 in Mulki, a village near Mangalore, and has been directing it when he was banned. Father Cyprian Lewis, who succeeded him as director of the center said Father Sequeira's new ministry has no "consent and approval" of Church authorities.
The new ministry "might confuse Catholics and probably lead to a division in the Church," Father Lewis told UCA News Aug. 5. Father Sequeira's congregation "had given him several chances to rectify his mistake, but he refused to oblige."
Father Lewis said Father Sequeira "is quite popular among people." Many of his followers are "devout Catholics who are ignorant of the consequences."
Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza
Father Sequeira however, had this to say when contacted by UCA News.
"I have been baptized as a Catholic and ordained as a priest by God, and no authority on earth can ban me from being a Catholic or a priest."
He added that he had been a retreat preacher for the past 15 years and will continue to do so. "I have publicly asked pardon for committing a mistake, and I believe God has forgiven me for that," said the priest who had initially refused to comment.
He denied charges that he fathered a child, but admitted that he had an affair with a woman while he was in Hyderabad in 2001. "It is my opponents who instigated her to file a complaint against me now," he alleged.
He said his plan is to start an independent ministry in Mangalore and continue with this as long as people need him.Another priest, diocesan Father Vincent Monteiro said Father Sequeira has become "a bad role model."
"Some people supported him in spite of diocesan directions. We hope the people will not break away from the Church, but rather understand and return."
Bethany Sister Alice D'Souza, who attended the Aug. 2 retreat, said she felt Father Sequeira has a "prophetic voice, divine charisma and clarity in vision and mission."
"He had committed a mistake, but he admitted it openly" during several retreats. "Why can't the Church forgive him when Jesus was prepared to forgive," asked the nun who is in her 70s.
Another Catholic woman, Carmine D'Souza, said people liked the priest "very much as a retreat preacher, but we don't like" his actions.
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