04/26/2017, 15.18
INDIA
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Madhya Pradesh: After eight years, bishop absolved from charge of forced conversion

by Nirmala Carvalho

Bishop Mathew Vaniakizhakkel is the emeritus bishop of Satna. Along with five Catholics, in 2009 he was denounced for conversion, conspiracy and disturbance of peace among religions. The accuser then repented and asked for forgiveness. Christian Leader: "Anti-conversion law is a tool to harassing Christians." 

Bhopal (AsiaNews) - After a trial lasting eight years, Msgr. Mathew Vaniakizhakkel, bishop emeritus of Satna, and five other Catholics were acquitted of the charge of forced conversion because the fact does not exist.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court has ruled that "there is no obvious evidence for the defendants" demonstrating a violation of the anti-conversion law in force in the Indian state. Speaking to AsiaNews Msgr. Vaniakizhakkel states, " Bishop Mathew Vaniakizhakkel told AsiaNews, “This case was case of revenge of a particular person, who later repented made his confession and received Holy Communion. Additionally, he even offered Mass for my good health”. Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (Gcic), reports: "The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act is a means of harassing the vulnerable Christian community that is tormented through unchallenged and invented accusations" .

The ruling was issued on 20 April. The judges fully absolved the bishop,  who retired from office in 2014, two priests, one nun and two lay people. Since 2009, they have been investigated for forced conversion, conspiracy among religions after Christopher Pavy, a local Christian, had denounced them for extorting the conversion of a Hindu woman Monica Ibrahim during her wedding.

After the denunciation, the police proceeded to trial  despite the fact that the woman and her brother Nand Kishore had testified in favor of the defendants. The bishop in fact reports that "the woman is the daughter of Catholic parents, therefore a Christian by birth, and her marriage took place regularly and was celebrated in the cathedral".

Fr. Jolly Kannukodan, one of the co-accused, points out that the investigations have immediately brought to light  "the falsity of the charge of forced conversion, but the case has continued for those of conspiracy and sectarian disorder". Finally, he continues, "the appeal court has accepted our requests and has absolved us of all charges."

Despite the tribulations of eight long years of trial, Msgr. Vaniakizhakk reports that he has "kept friendly relations with the Christian who has denounced me, do not lie to him or to him. We are in the truth, and truth is freedom. God gives us the grace to forgive man, to be a friend to him and to serve him in a concrete way. " The bishop adds that during the trial, "the Christian who accused us got sick, and came to me to ask for economic aid. I was delighted to provide it. It was a deep joy for me to know that he was sorry for what he had done. He confessed before his death. "

Sajan K George then says that in the past few days three more Christians were arrested in Khandwa district for alleged involvement in religious conversion. "These allegations are without foundation – he reports - Minorities are intimidated, locked up and arrested for the anti-conversion law. The Gcic has documented numerous cases in which this law is used to discriminate on religious lines. On the contrary, the campaigns of ghar wapsi ['homecoming',to Hinduism - ndr] are not regarded as conversion activities.

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