Pope suspends Bishop who adopted woman

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on October 23, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday ordered the suspension of Kochi Bishop John Thattunkal over the issue of his adoption of a mature woman. This is the first time a Bishop is being suspended in the history of the Indian Catholic Church. The charge of the Kochi diocese for the time being would be with Varappuzha Archbishop Daniel Acharuparampil. The Papal order was received here on Thursday itself.

A three-member bishops’ panel appointed by Archbishop Acharuparampil would examine the case in detail and would come to a conclusion, and the reinstatement of Bishop Thattunkal, if needed, would be carried out only after that. The Archbishop would act as Apostolic Administrator in the meantime. Bishop Thattunkal had reportedly been summoned to the Vatican for further examination.

The Bishop had offered to withdraw from the adoption if the Papal office so desired. In this situation, the suspension of Bishop Thattunkal is seen as a severe punishment for breaking the laws of the Catholic Church through the adoption. Kerala Catholic Bishop Council’s spokesman Rev Dr Stephen Alathara said further examinations were needed in the matter.

Dr Alathara said Bishop Thattunkal was still a bishop of the Catholic Church and that he had only been suspended from the position in the Kochi diocese. However, several members of the Latin Catholic laity said it was gross injustice that the examination committee did not have a common believer in it.

Bishop Thattunkal had sparked off a controversy, so far unheard of in the Indian Catholic Church, by announcing the ‘spiritual’ adoption of a mature woman from Pathanamthitta district in violation of the laws of the land as well as those of the Church. The woman, brought up from the age of three as an adopted daughter by Malankara Orthodox Church’s priest KC Joseph, was said to be 27 years of age but later reports said that she was well into her late 30s.

Though the Orthodox Church priest confirmed that the Bishop had adopted the woman out of spiritual considerations, the Orthodox Church’s Thumbamon diocesan office revealed that the priest himself had undergone disciplinary action twice following complaints about his relationship with the woman, whom he had adopted at the age of three. The Orthodox Church priest has two other kids.

The announcement had enraged the vicars and priests in almost all the parishes under the Kochi diocese who petitioned en masse to Archbishop Acharuparampil demanding action against the Bishop. The Archbishop decided to play it safe by forwarding the complaint to Apostlelic Nuncio (envoy of the Vatican) for India Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, recommending action against Bishop Thattunkal. Reports said that Archbishop Quintana too recommended action against the Bishop.

As indications came up that there would indeed be action against him, the Bishop said at a meeting at his palace in Kochi recently that he was ready to withdraw from the adoption, though he had done it only on spiritual level. He also apologised to the vicars and laity for creating the controversy.

Church scholars said that the Bishop would now have to be out of job as the detailed examination of the issue might take up to five years

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