HC stand in Abhaya case puts Church in a spot

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on November 29, 2008



The
powerful Knanaya Catholic Church in Kerala is facing a crisis of
credibility with its high-placed clergy rendered unable to offer
explanations for the doubts being put forward by the faithful in the
order over the alleged role of three Church personalities arrested on
November 19 in the murder of Sr Abhaya at a convent in 1992.

With
the several public relations efforts undertaken by the Church to
justify the two senior priests and a senior nun failing to influence
the High Court, which is presently supervising the CBI probe into the
murder, the clergy is now left with the responsibility to explain the
development in the recent days to the faithful.

As Justice R
Basant of the Kerala High Court, who is handling the case, has said
that there is nothing wrong in the CBI keeping the three accused Church
personalities in custody, the plans of the Church to get them out to
prove that the investigating agency was acting with bias have failed,
legal experts say.

Believers also are questioning the panic
which has become obvious among the Church leadership after the arrest
of Fr Thomas M Kottoor, Fr Jose Puthrukayil and Sr Seffi as first,
second and third accused in the Sr Abhaya murder case. The High Court
had rejected the arguments of the church one by one, putting the church
for the first time in the 16-year history of the case in a very
difficult position.

Immediately after the arrest, the Church
launched a public relations offensive against the CBI, indicating that
the CBI was making three church personalities scapegoats. Then the
counsels for the accused tried to avoid the remand of the accused as
they were produced in the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court.

It
even read out pastoral letters in all the parish churches under to ask
the believers to pray for the three accused, who were innocent in the
church’s eyes. Some pro-Church media even brought in some retired
police officials to re-establish that Sr Abhaya had committed suicide
and that she was not murdered.

The Knanaya Church has not so far
explained its obligation to issue a Press statement last Tuesday when
VV Augustine, a former official who prepared the inquest on Sr Abhaya’s
case and part of the local police team that first probed the death of
the nun to conclude that it was a suicide case, was found dead at his
residential plot in Chingavanam.

The Press statement,
referring to a note received from the scene of death of Augustine which
said the CBI alone was responsible for his death, tried to find fault
with the CBI. Even the faithful of the church had asked why the high
priests were so worried about the death of an ex-cop while it had not
shown any such worries in the past 16 years about the death of Sr
Abhaya.

The High Court asked the CBI to look into the death of
Augustine also, indirectly ensuring any efforts on the part of the
local police to derail the probe into it as it had allegedly done in
the case of the Sr Abhaya case.

In the High Court, the counsels
for the accused tried their level best to argue that the CBI had not
produced enough evidences to prove the role of the two priests and one
nun. It also said that the CJM court had not considered the CBI
contentions against the accused in the true spirit of logic. The last
argument was that the CBI was persecuting the accused in custody.

Despite
all this, Justice Basant directly put forward a question which even the
Church’s own faithful had been asking, in the form of a suggestion: The
case could have been solved in 16 minutes despite all these 16 years if
the authorities of the convent where Sr Abhaya was murdered, which came
under the Church, had cooperated with the investigators, indicating
that such cooperation had never been offered.

As the Church
now stands lost in a labyrinth of failures in the Judciary and public
relations front, and inmate and 18 nuns of the St Joseph’s Generalate
at Kottyam have filed a petition in the High Court saying the CBI has
been trying to humiliate them by calling them to several places in the
name of questioning.

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