A Catholic priest, who is currently facing grave allegations of sexual abuse, has physically attacked an elderly bishop in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
According to a report by the news website Matter, a Catholic priest identified as Father Varghese Palappallil was suspended from his priestly duties after he physically attacked Bishop Pius Thomas D’Souza over a complaint of sexual harassment against him.
As per Bishop D’Souza, Father Varghese, a native of Kottayam and a diocesan priest with the Catholic Diocese of Ajmer, confronted him on March 7 when he was having his lunch.
“Since he is a priest of the diocese, I waited, and he came and sat close to me,” narrated the bishop, adding, “Without losing time, the priest began to argue about his case on a sexual allegation from a married woman. I explained to him that I have nothing to do with the case as it is pending in Rome, being dealt with according to the procedure of Canon Law, and I am not against him”.
The Bishop further alleged that Father Varghese began physically attacking him. The priest allegedly punched the Bishop near the eyes, which caused his spectacles to fall. As he bent to pick them up, Father Varghese allegedly hit him with another “blow” on his neck.
“With unbearable pain, I kept sitting on my chair. Father Varghese was forcing me to give him an appointment immediately,” Bishop D’Souza recounted, adding that he tried to calm down the priest and advised him to wait until the sexual harassment case against him is over.
However, Father Varghese again attacked the Bishop in the chest and raised a chair in an attempt to harm him further when another priest intervened. “He attacked me as if he had pre-planned it,” the Bishop alleged.
Father Varghese suspended for attacking Bishop
Following the attack, Father Varghese has been suspended from his duties till the charges are cleared. In a letter to Father Varghese Palappallil, Bishop Pius Thomas D’Souza of Ajmer cited the second section of Canon law 1370 to state his priest assaulter that his action has incurred “Latae Sententiae Interdict and suspension” from all priestly duties and priestly ministry.
The Catholic Church enforces a “latae sententiae penalty” automatically on those attacking its authorities such as a bishop.
The letter has been sent to all bishops in India, major superiors of religious congregations working in the northern Indian diocese, deans in the diocese, bishops of the Agra region and Father Martin Anto, parish priest of the diocese’s Vallabhnagar church.
The suspension includes staying on all priestly duties and priestly ministry, the celebration of Eucharist, sacraments and sacramentals, along with receiving sacramentals in the Church, from the moment the assault happened. The instances of the Church invoking ‘Latae Sententiae’ against a priest are rare.
Interestingly, Father Varghese, who has charges of sexual harassment levelled against him by a woman who belonged to the Catholic diocese of Ajmer, faced no disciplinary action. However, he was immediately suspended after he was accused of assaulting a senior Bishop.
Father Cosmos Shekawath, the Vicar General of the Ajmer diocese, said that the diocese has so far not initiated any action against Father Varghese in the sexual harassment case, as “the internal inquiry into the allegations raised by a lady who is currently residing in the UK is ongoing.”