MUMBAI – Police in India on Monday arrested 14 people for the kidnapping and beating of a Catholic bishop on April 25, including three of the bishop’s own priests, at least one of whom is believed to have been upset that he was recently denied a requested position in the diocese.
The main culprit charged in the arrest is Father Raja Reddy from Jammalamadugu, located in the diocese of Cuddapah in southern India, which is led by Bishop Prasad Gallela, 54, who is currently recovering from injuries sustained in the kidnapping.
Sources told Crux that Raja Reddy had requested the position of “procurator” in the diocese, which would have allowed him to exercise certain powers in the name of the bishop, but was turned down.
Gallela and his driver were kidnapped on April 25 at a village called Nagasanepalle by a group of persons who showered blows on him, blindfolded and tied him up, and took him to an undisclosed place and demanded a ransom of roughly $75,000.
According to the police investigation, the assailants took away a bag belonging to Gallela containing a small amount of cash, three ATM cards, a silver chain with the bishop’s holy cross, and his iPhone.
From 2000 to 2004, Gallela served as a priest in the diocese of San Angelo, Texas, before returning to India to teach in a local seminary and eventually to become a bishop.
The attackers also kidnapped his driver, Vijay Kumar, in another car, beat him up, and took his ATM cards and used them to withdraw roughly $700 in cash.
Police officials said it was a case of kidnapping for ransom, theft, attempted murder, causing hurt and mischief and criminal conspiracy.
The accused left the bishop and his driver on a highway at about 2 a.m. on April 26, after the bishop agreed to pay roughly $30,000 for their freedom.
Gallela lodged a complaint with the police on April 27, saying that the kidnappers were aged between 25 and 35 years and that the incident had to do with the fallout from recent transfers of pastors working in the diocese.
Raja Reddy, the arrested priest charged with being the central figure in the case, runs an institution called “My Daddy Home” which houses an international school and college. Prior to this incident he was considered a friend of the bishop, recently presenting Gallela with an expensive Innova car on the prelate’s birthday.
When Crux spoke to Gallela on April 30, he said he was “doing well” and was “thankful to God” that he and the driver survived, adding that “the police have informed me that they have found the culprit.”
Gallela also hinted to Crux that his abduction had to do with an “administrative issue.”
“Yes, it is so,” he replied to a query from Crux, but was unwilling to say anything more, stating that the “police will tell.”
Father Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of a local federation of churches, told Crux that the abduction and assault of the bishop was related to “transfers of priests.”
Police also charged that Raja Reddy’s relative, Jeereddy Govardhan Reddy, was the leader of the gang that abducted Gallela. According to The Hindu newspaper, the accused confessed to having made four unsuccessful attempts to kidnap the bishop between April 6 and 15.
Police said they seized five cars, four ATM cards, the $700 drawn from the driver’s ATM card, 14 cell phones, and a pen drive containing a video of an interview of the bishop and his driver while in captivity as part of the arrests.
Before the arrests were made, some observers had linked Gallela’s ordeal with a broader pattern of anti-Christian persecution in India, a situation many local activists say has worsened since the rise to power in 2014 of a national government backed by the country’s militant Hindu nationalist movements.
Four of the accused who initially evaded arrest will be captured soon, a police spokesman said.