11/24/2008, 00.00
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Indian Church defend priests and nun arrested for nun’s murder in 1992

In 1992 a nun was found dead in a well. After years of fruitless investigations, police arrest two priests and a nun. The Church is raising doubts about their guilt, urges the faithful to “pray for the truth.”

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Mgr Matthew Moolekkat, archbishop of Kottayam, has defended in a pastoral letter two priests and a nun arrested for the murder of Sister Abhaya; he has called on the faithful to “pray to help investigators find the truth” and “arrest the real culprits.”

On 27 March 1992 the body of Sister Abhaya (pictured), from the Saint Pius X Convent, was found in a well in a convent in Kottayam (Kerala). After 16 years police arrested Frs Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrukayil on 18 November for the murder. A day later they arrested Sister Sephi on the same charges.

According to a report, most of the evidence about the case collected at the time was destroyed in the early phases of the investigation. Only in 1996 did police reach the conclusion that the nun’s death was in fact due to murder, and now it accuses the Church of covering up for the culprits through kickbacks and by other means.

For his part Archbishop Moolekkat wants to know “who tried to influence the investigation, how and why.” To this effect he has promised total cooperation to the authorities.

He remains convinced however that the arrested men and woman religious “are innocent”, pointing out that the Church believed from the start that Sister Abhaya’s death was homicide, and not suicide as initially claimed by police.

Fr Paul Thelakat, spokesman for the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church, told AsiaNews that the “Church is not against an investigation to unearth the cause of Sister Abhaya’s death, but the present arrests of two priests and a sister by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) team appears farfetched, especially since at least five teams of CBI officers from 1993 have found no incriminating evidence to make any such arrests. I wonder whether they are trying to ‘save face’ under outside pressure. Still we trust the justice system. ”

“I know the two priests and I cannot believe them guilty. In the beginning many experts said it was suicide and only later did police speak of murder. I am certain that the accused will prove their innocent. Still the whole thing is hurting the Church’s image.”  (NC)

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