The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:
On 27 March 1992 the body of a Catholic nun, Sister Abhaya, was recovered from a well in the compound of the Pius Tenth convent where she lived. The convent is in Kottayam district in Kerala state of India. The local police concluded that the death was by suicide. The father of the deceased nun was of the opinion that his daughter had no reason to commit suicide and wanted his daughter's death to be investigated.
After a strenuous effort, he succeeded in convincing the crime branch of the state police to investigate the case. The crime branch also concluded that the death was from suicide. Sister Abhaya's father then approached the state high court. The court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the case. The CBI officer who started investigating the case in March 1993 subsequently resigned from his office stating the reason that he was unable to do his job independently due to the intervention of his superior officer who wanted the case to be closed as one of suicide. After having resigned, the officer declared in a press conference that Sister Abhaya did not commit suicide, but was murdered.
Sister Abhaya's father again approached the court and the court reopened the case. This time, however, the court took charge of the supervision of the investigation and directed the CBI to investigate the case according to the court's directives. The renewed investigation resulted in the arrest of two senior catholic priests and a nun, who according to the CBI, murdered Rev. Abhaya and threw her body into the well in the convent.
The CBI investigation also suggested the suspected motive for the murder. The CBI report claims that Rev. Abhaya had witnessed the nun and the priests in compromising circumstances the night on which she was allegedly murdered. There is also a suspicion that she was raped and then murdered.
The arrest of the two priests and a nun as well as the questioning of some other senior clergies like two bishops, Rev. Kuriakose Kunnassery and Rev. Mathew Moolekkat, were incidents the Christian clergy in the state could not accept without protest. Since the arrest, on a regular basis the Christian community in the state were coming out with statements accusing the CBI of working against Christian religious interests. Some senior Bishops even issued statements calling upon the Christian community to reject the investigation.
The latest of this unwarranted intervention tactic is a mass rally organised in Thrissur district in Kerala, yesterday by the Catholic clergy. Addressing the rally, the former Archbishop of Thrissur, Rev. Jacob Thomkuzhy, said that the arrest of the two priests and the nun resembled the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Archbishop of Thrissur, Rev. Andrews Thazhath, claimed that investigating Sister Abhaya's case and arresting the three clergy would not result in the destruction of the Christian community in the state.
The question is why is the Christian community so worried about the investigation of a murder. That Sister Abhaya and the persons accused in the case are members of the clergy or not is irrelevant, as far as the investigation of a crime is concerned. Had the Christian community and their so-called spiritual leaders been interested in bringing out the truth behind the entire incident, they would have favoured an uninterrupted and impartial investigation. In order for such an investigation to take place, it is imperative that they cooperate. So far not a single person of the clergy has been heard saying "let the law take its own course to unravel the truth".
Instead, day after day, bishops, senior priests and nuns come up with statements that directly or indirectly showcase their intolerance towards the law of the country in action. The unwarranted reaction of the clergy appears to be the reflections of the nervousness of the Christian leadership concerning the case, its background and the persons currently accused in the case and those who could potentially be exposed in this case. The statements issued by these holy men and women are intended to portray the three accused in a murder case as saints and as infallible individuals. The underlying assumption of such statements is that no priest or nun can be a criminal.
Such reaction by the Christian community and its leaders is neither a rare, nor a new, phenomenon. In the past the Christian leadership in the country has misused their 'minority community' status to allege religious persecution whenever there was an allegation of fraud or misappropriation committed by church-run establishments. One such incident was the investigation into the deaths of persons who attended retreats in a Christian retreat centre in Thrissur district.
When allegations surfaced that terminally ill persons brought to Potta Divine Retreat Centre, were offered 'spiritual treatment', and in the process died, an investigation was ordered by the state administration against the centre. The Christian leadership of the state took to the streets claiming that the state was persecuting Christian establishments. False allegations of discrimination against a minority religion were consciously used as a tactic to exert pressure upon the state administration to withdraw the criminal investigation. In fact the tactic worked as the investigation was soon withdrawn.
What the Christian clergy is wrong about this time over is that in Sister Abhaya's murder case, there are no political interests involved. It is just a matter of law and procedure, taking its own course. If there is a crime allegedly committed against a person, the case has to be investigated and the accused brought to trial. This is the law of the country. Making false allegations and trying to indirectly intervene with the investigation and the process of law warrants condemnation.
This conduct of the Christian clergy and its leadership is not unique to Kerala or India. When allegations regarding sodomy and child sexual abuse surfaced in Europe and the US, the Christian community, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, tried its best to cover it up. But truth ultimately came out, and some of the clergy were even convicted.
By organising unwarranted protests and issuing unqualified statements against the investigation in Sister Abhaya's case, the Christian clergy and their leadership has once again proven a fact, that they are no better than some of the corrupt politicians in the country. History has their counterparts, the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the time of Jesus Christ.
If for the politicians, people are the tool and guarantee of impunity for their corrupt life, for the Christian clergy it is religion and Jesus Christ himself and the shameful manipulation of minority status.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.