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Priest who testified in Kerala nun rape case against Bishop Franco found dead

Relatives say the priest was being threatened and allege foul play

india Updated: Oct 23, 2018 08:14 IST
Parampreet Singh Narula
Parampreet Singh Narula
Hindustan Times, Dasuya (Hoshiarpur)
Father Kuriakose Kattuthara,Priest found dead,Kerala nun rape case
Police sniffer dog tracking outside the residence of father Kuriakose Kattuthara, who was found dead in mysterious circumstances in Dasuya, Punjab, India on Monday, October 22, 2018.(Pardeep Pandit/ Hindustan Times)

A witness in the case of alleged rape of a nun by the former Jalandhar bishop was found dead in his room at a church in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur on Monday, prompting police to launch an investigation into the death.

Father Kuriakose Kattuthara had testified against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was arrested last month after allegations of raping the Kerala nun repeatedly over a period of two years.

Just before his arrest, the Vatican accepted a request from the bishop to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral duties. Mulakkal, who has denied the charges, is out on bail.

A senior police official said there were no injury marks on Kattuthara’s body and the cause of the 62-year-old’s death in Dasuya in Punjab was being investigated.

“Prima facie, it seems like a natural death. The viscera will be sent for examination which will throw light on the cause of the death,” said Hoshiarpur senior superintendent of police J Elanchezhian, adding that all angles in the case would be investigated.

“We are waiting for the family of the priest to come from Kerala. Autopsy will be conducted after they reach here,” he added.

The deceased’s family, however, said they suspected foul play in the death. “We suspect it to be a case of murder. My brother was getting threats after he deposed against the bishop in the nun rape case. Kuriakose recorded his statements when the Kerala police came to Punjab and questioned priests, nuns and other staff of several churches in the Doaba region,” said the priest’s brother, Josse Kattuthara.

“We want a detailed inquiry in the case and have lodged the complaint with the Kerala police,” said the priest’s brother, who will reach Punjab from Kerala on Tuesday.

The body of Kattuthara, a native of Allepy in Kerala, was found in his room on the premises of the St Mary’s Church by his cook around 9am. The cook, identified as Madan, knocked on the priest’s door for breakfast but he did not respond. Madan then informed Sister Lisabeth, the principal of the St Paul Convent School.

“When we broke open the door, we found father lying on his bed. We immediately took him to the civil hospital, where he was declared brought dead,” said Sister Lisabeth said. “There was vomit in the room and some tablets were found near the bed,” she added.

Lisabeth said that Kattuthara was suffering from multiple health ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problem, and on was medication.

Other officials at the church, however, said Kattuthara was fine and had conducted Sunday prayers in the absence of the head priest.

The police spoke to Sister Lisabeth, Madan and other staff of the school and church for about two hours. A forensic team was called to trace the fingerprints from the spot, an official said.

In Kerala’s Kottayam, five nuns who are staying with the rape survivor at a convent in Kuravilangad said they did not feel safe after Monday’s incident.

“We are scared now. There is a mystery behind the death of the priest who had testified against Bishop Mulakkal. We and those who stood with us during our protest seeking arrest of Bishop Mulakkal are also in danger,” Sister Anupama told reporters in Kottayam.

(With inputs from HTC Thiruvananthapuram)

First Published: Oct 22, 2018 23:36 IST