Kerala church retreat: Two more priests die, 5 others critical

Published on May 13, 2021 04:02 PM IST

Two priests died due to Covid-19 in May first week and several others tested positive, blowing the lid off what was described as a “super spreader” event, organised at Munnar, a hill station in Kerala’s Idukki district.

Church of South India (CSI) had organised an event in violation of Covid-19 containment guidelines in Kerala in April.
Church of South India (CSI) had organised an event in violation of Covid-19 containment guidelines in Kerala in April.

Two more priests who had attended the five-day annual retreat event, organised in April by the Church of South India (CSI) in violation of Covid containment guidelines, died on Wednesday. The condition of five other priests was said to be critical, said a group of reformist members of the church. They also claimed that the deaths were caused by Covid-19, but an official confirmation was not available.

Father C Binokumar (39) and Father Y Devaprasad (59) died at CSI Medical College Hospital in Karakonam, where five of their colleagues were currently on ventilator support.

Two priests died due to Covid-19 in May first week and several others tested positive, blowing the lid off what was described as a “super spreader” event, organised at Munnar, a hill station in Kerala’s Idukki district, between April 13 and 17.

The CSI retreat is the latest religious event to hit the headlines for recklessness during the pandemic. Last year, at the beginning of the first wave, a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi was blamed for causing a spike in cases. Similarly, last month’s congregation at Haridwar Kumbh Mela is also believed to have contributed to the rapid spread of the second wave.

On May 5, police booked a case against 400-odd priests including CSI’s South Kerala Diocese Bishop, Father Dharmaraj Rasalam, for allegedly flouting Covid-19 protocols by organising the religious retreat without permission.

More controversy followed with a group within the church alleging a section of priests was forced to attend the retreat. They also alleged that the priests, who got infected at the event, were discretely shifted to a medical college run by the church along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in an attempt to hush up the matter.

Later, a case was registered under Section 269 of the IPC (unlawfully or negligently aiding in spreading an infection dangerous to life) and Kerala Epidemic Diseases Control Act after a senior revenue official found that approximately 450 persons, majority of them priests, attended the event flouting pandemic norms. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the incident “unfortunate.”

However, the church maintains that all precautions were taken at the event and only 28 priests tested positive.

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