MUMBAI, India — An Archbishop in India and two of his priests may soon appear in court, accused of attempting to poison another cleric.
The case dates back to February 2013, when Father Anand Muttungal, a priest of the Archdiocese of Bhopal, filed a complaint alleging that the Archbishop of Bhopal, Leo Cornelio, the vicar general Father Mathew VC, and diocesan spokesperson Father Johny PJ were retaliating after Muttungal questioned an alleged misappropriation of funds from the diocesan society. Muttungal had also approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court about the misappropriation case.
The allegations in the complaint were substantiated by Father Philip KP, another priest of the diocese, who submitted an affidavit in the court alleging the archbishop and vicar general had pressured him to administer some poisonous substances to Muttungal in order to make him go crazy, and they had even approached a psychiatrist for help in executing the plot.
Cornelio, however, claimed that the allegations against him were baseless.
“Whatever happened was done in good faith, to help the person,” the archbishop told Crux.
“Truth should prevail,” he continued, “we just celebrated Easter and Jesus Christ, too, was accused, Truth must come out and should prevail.”
In previous statements to the media, the archbishop said a psychiatrist was approached, but only because Muttungal was showing signs of mental instability. Cornelio tried to get the charges against him squashed, but on April 12 the high court agreed to withdraw the archbishop’s plea, clearing the way for the trial against him to begin.
In an open letter dated April 17, Muttungal, who had formerly served as the public relations officer and spokesperson for the archdiocese, said he “realized that no collective decision is taken in any activity of the Archdiocese of Bhopal and I tried to improve it through various interventions.”
Sources told Crux the case may pit canon law against civil law, since Muttungal alleges that the bylaws of the archdiocese state that neither the diocesan priests nor members of the laity have any role in deciding the development of the archdiocese, because when the Vatican appoints the head of a diocese, that person automatically becomes the president of the registered society which controls diocesan property and funds.
Muttungal also alleges that the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India does not allow for the Vatican to “appoint anybody as the president or in any post in the society registered under the Indian law.”
The priest said when he brought this fact to the attention of the civil authorities, it “annoyed” officials of the archdiocese, who retaliated by a “slow poison method.”
Muttungal claimed this is because the 1973 Firms and Society Act in the state of Madhya Pradesh says that anyone who is mentally unsound automatically loses membership in a registered society, and cannot raise objections regarding any matters related to the society.
“I believe this has motivated the accused persons to use this method of unbalancing me mentally by slow poisoning,” he said.
“I am ready for settlement [of the case] to avoid public scandal,” Muttungal said.
Muttungal also said he thinks the accused should step down, so an impartial investigation can be conducted, and said the fact the archbishop and other officials remain in office shows the administrative system of the Church needs to be more responsible to deal with the issues that are coming up in the modern age.