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INDIA: CATHOLIC RETREAT CENTRE ACCUSED OF MASS KILLINGS, RAPE etc

Added on May 23, 2008



After two years of controversy,  the Indian Supreme Court recently quashed a case by the police in Kerala (South India) against a Catholic Retreat  centre. The charges against the centre were based on a anonymous letter and included causing 974 "unnatural deaths", rape,  foreign exchange violations and running an unlicensed hospital! The reality behind the witch-hunt is a claim by Hindu radicals that the Vincentian priests who run the Retreat centre are engaged in the large scale conversion of Hindus. The (presumable) reality behind the false murder claims is that the care of AIDS patients is one of the many charitable activities carried out by the Vincentians.


QUOTE: "Our investigations have revealed that the Divine center is involved in large-scale religious conversions," Rajasekharan added. Other allegations against the center, he added, include murder and money laundering. He said his front would continue the campaign against the retreat center until it folds up.

As far as I know Hindu radicals are not known for running hospitals or caring for widows and AIDS patients. In that they resemble their anti-clerical counterparts in Ireland. The latter have also made numerous false murder allegations against the Catholic Church and especially against the Christian Brothers, whose particular vocation is to serve the poor.

Rory Connor
22 May 2008 

(A) Court Quashes Inquiry Into World's Largest Retreat Centre in Kerala [India]

"The Tablet", 12 April 2008 by Anto Akkara  

Supporters and associates of the Divine Retreat Centre in southern Kerala state, believed to be the largest retreat centre in the world, are jubilant after the quashing by the federal Supreme Court of a controversial case against the centre.

"This is a holy place and it is a shame that police have been conducting such an inquiry against it at the orders of the [Kerala] court," P. Aravindakshan, a Hindu who attended a week-long retreat at the Catholic centre in mid-March, told The Tablet.

Upholding the plea on behalf of the centre, run by Vincentian priests, the highest Indian court ruled that the inquiry ordered by Kerala High Court against the centre, on the basis of an anonymous letter by a former woman resident and allegations of 974 "unnatural" deaths, was illegal. The two-year high-level police inquiry led by a Special Investigation Team of 50 police officers was accordingly quashed.

"We are happy this headache is over," Fr Mathew Thadathil, administrator of the centre, said. Fr Thadathil was made to under-go a DNA test to disprove a rape charge against him.

(B) INDIA     Police Team Closes Probe Into Asia's Largest Catholic Retreat Center
UCAN News 11 April 2008

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) -- Police have formally closed their probe into the activities of a popular Catholic retreat center in Kerala state, southern India.

"We have wound up the investigation. Our job is over," Vinson M. Paul, a senior police official who headed a special investigation team, told UCA News on April 9. He had submitted his team's report to the Kerala High Court two days earlier.

On March 11, the Indian Supreme Court directed the team to end its probe into activities of the Vincentian-run Divine Retreat Centre in Muringoor, a village near Trichur in Kerala, 2,565 kilometers south of New Delhi. The investigation team began the probe a year earlier under direction from the Kerala High Court, the state's top judicial authority.

Paul, a Catholic, confirmed that his team ended the High Court-ordered investigation after the Supreme Court directed it to do so. He refused to divulge details of the probe report.

Allegations leveled against the retreat center in an anonymous letter were the basis for the police investigation the Kerala High Court ordered on March 10, 2006. The letter and two compact discs the court reportedly received, implicated the center in a series of crimes and irregularities including murder, rape, foreign-exchange violations and running an unlicensed hospital.

The Supreme Court, in its decision ordering an end to the investigation, also criticized the lower court for ordering the probe based on an anonymous letter.

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, the Kerala-based Oriental-rite Church that monitors the center, welcomed the end to the controversy. According to him, the High Court order to probe Asia's largest Catholic spirituality center was an improper move that set a bad precedence.

Father Augustine Vallooran, who directs retreats in English at the center, expressed happiness that the case is closed. "We have a great reason to rejoice, for our God has intervened in our struggle against the forces of evil and won the battle for us," he told UCA News on April 9. God has answered the "fervent prayers from thousands of people" across the world, who know "us personally and appreciate the center's works," he added.

According to the Vincentian priest, the center welcomed the probe and cooperated with it. "However, we had no inkling of what was to come. The police team began to harass us and disturb the smooth functioning of the daily services of our retreats," he recounted. Father Vallooran also pointed out that after 21 months of "rigorous investigation," the police team could find no evidence against the center. "It was at this juncture we moved the Supreme Court to stop the unending harassment and unbridled media slander," he explained. He said the Supreme Court verdict has set guidelines for courts to follow in handling public interest litigation.

Another person to welcome the latest development is Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum. The head of the Syro-Malankara Church, another Kerala-based Oriental-rite Church, said some vested interests had "severely maligned" the retreat center, which has won respect from people of all religions. The final outcome proved again that truth will triumph, he added. Trivandrum is the former name of Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.

K.M. Mani, a former Kerala minister and a Catholic, hailed the Supreme Court verdict as recognition of the Divine Retreat Centre's services.

The center draws around 10,000 people for its weekly retreats, conducted in seven languages. It has served more than 10 million people from all over the world since 1990.

(C) Supreme Court Halts Probe into Kerala Retreat Centre
Khaleej Times Online by our correspondent
12 March 2008

TRIVANDRUM -- The Supreme Court yesterday ordered an end to the investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment, mysterious deaths and foreign exchange violations levelled against Muringoor Divine Centre, Asia's largest Catholic retreat centre, in Trichur district of Kerala.

A division bench comprising Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Sudarshan Reddy directed the special investigation team constituted by the high court under Inspector General of Police Vincent M. Paul to stop all proceedings.

The direction came on an appeal filed by centre director Fr John Panakkal against the high court order initiating suo motu proceedings on an anonymous letter complaining about criminal and anti social activities taking place at the centre.

The apex court pointed out that as per section 482 of criminal procedure code, the Kerala High Court has no right to entrust a special team to order a probe against the Divine Centre based on an anonymous letter.

The division bench observed that the court could do so in special circumstances with the approval of the Chief Justice. The judges have directed the SIT to hand over the report about the investigations so far to the local circle inspector.

The police had filed criminal charges against 10 top officials of the centre, including Fr Panakkal, centre administrator, Father Mathew Thadathil, a nun and seven others.

The charges were criminal conspiracy, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing harm with dangerous weapons, poisoning and tampering with evidence.

The first information report (FIR) filed by the SIT cited 974 unnatural deaths in the centre between 1996 and 2006. It alleged that the centre had forged documents to make the deaths natural. The bodies were disposed off without informing local police. The dead included several young men and women.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) has hailed the Supreme Court judgment terming it a victory of truth and justice. A KCBC spokesman said that the charges levelled against the centre were the result of a well-planned move to malign the centre serving the poor.

(D) UCAN: Police file criminal charges against Asia's largest Catholic charismatic center, some see conspiracy
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org),
5 February 2007

MURINGOOR, India (UCAN) - Police have filed criminal charges against 10 top officials of a popular Catholic retreat center in southern India. The accused include two priests and a nun.

The charges against the Divine Retreat Center were filed on April 30 at the direction of Kerala state's High Court, which ordered a probe of the center more than a year ago.

Billed as Asia's largest Catholic charismatic renewal center, the complex managed by Vincentian priests is located in Muringoor, a village in Trissur (formerly Trichur) district, 2,565 kilometers south of New Delhi. It draws 10,000 people for its weekly retreats, conducted in seven languages.

On March 10, 2006, the High Court, reportedly acting on an anonymous letter and two compact discs it received, took up the case suo motu (on its own initiative) and appointed a senior police official, Vincent M. Paul, to head the probe. His team investigated allegations of sexual harassment, mysterious deaths, foreign exchange violations and management of a hospital without a license, said a police official who did not want to be identified.

Those now charged in the case are the center's director, Father George Panackal, and administrator, Father Mathew Thadathil, a nun and seven others.

The charges come under Indian Penal Code sections dealing with criminal conspiracy, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing harm with dangerous weapons, poisoning and tampering with evidence, the unnamed official said.

According to the probe report, 974 unnatural deaths occurred at the center between 1996 and 2006, and the bodies were disposed of without informing local police. The report further alleged that the center forged documents to make the deaths appear natural.

The center began operating three decades ago. It manages several subsidiary units on the site that house and serve poor, sick and destitute people. One such facility is Shantipuram (city of peace), which houses 450 mentally ill patients. The center also runs a de-addiction center for 150 substance abusers, and a home for 100 destitute women. Yet another facility caters to 150 widows and abandoned wives, and 300 children.

The report accused the center of running a mental hospital without a license and administering drugs without prescriptions from qualified medical professionals.

The charges are "grave and serious," says lawyer Jaya Shanker, who handles cases in the High Court. "The accused may get 10 years" hard labor, he told UCA News. Some offenses are non-bailable and the accused must appear before the investigation officer and the court, he added.

Father Panackal, in a public statement, alleged a police vendetta against the center after it challenged the High Court-ordered investigation and filed a review petition in the Supreme Court.

"Our move irritated the investigation team," which resulted in the charges, he said. "We will deal with it legally," the priest added in his statement. He asked supporters to pray for the center.

Thomas Devaprasad, a journalist-turned-charismatic leader, said he was "anguished" by the "most unfortunate" turn of events. The center is caught in "controversy and conspiracy," he added. Without elaborating, he said "time will reveal the conspiracy and expose the guilty."

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, one of two Oriental Catholic Churches based in Kerala, told UCA News the Church has "faith in the judicial system and will wait for the law to take its course."

The Vincentian congregation that manages the center belongs to the Syro-Malabar Church, one of two Oriental Catholic Churches based in Kerala. They and the Latin-rite Church make up the Indian Catholic Church.

The police have only leveled charges against the center's officials, Father Thelakat noted, and the legal process now requires they prove the charges. He added that no one can be judged guilty before the process is completed.

Nonetheless, the Church is "sad ... as one of our prime institutions is under attack," the priest-spokesperson said. "It was a center of hope for thousands of poor people who were shunted aside by society."

(E)  INDIA     People Rally Around Catholic Retreat Center As Hindu Radicals Press For Its Closure   
19 April 2006, by Jeemon Jacob
   
MURINGOOR, India (UCAN) -- Thousands of people including Hindus have backed a Catholic retreat center in southern India after a Hindu front demanded its closure.
   
Posters put up by right-wing Hindu organizations in various places of Kerala state accuse Divine Retreat Centre of several transgressions. The groups have also held street corner meetings to condemn the Catholic center's alleged large-scale conversion of Hindus.
   
The Vincentian Congregation manages the center at Muringoor, a village in central Kerala, about 2,900 kilometers south of New Delhi. According to its director, Father George Panackal, it is the largest retreat center in the world. It conducts weekly retreats in six Indian languages and English throughout the year, and has served more than 10 million people from all over the world since 1990.
   
Hindu radicals have opposed the Catholic center since its beginning, but they stepped up their opposition after March 10, when the Kerala High Court ordered an investigation into its activities. The Hindu groups have banded under Hindu Aikya Vedi (HAV, Hindu united front), which has the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party), the main federal opposition party.
   
"We have demanded (the center's) closure," HAV organizing secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan told UCA News April 11. He alleged the court ordered the probe after it found prima facie evidence against the center.
   
"Our investigations have revealed that the Divine center is involved in large-scale religious conversions," Rajasekharan added. Other allegations against the center, he added, include murder and money laundering. He said his front would continue the campaign against the retreat center until it folds up.
   
Father Panackal says the controversies have not affected the center's credibility. Soon after the news of the probe spread, thousands of people visited the center to offer prayers, he said. People from various religions have "pledged their support to us," the priest told UCA News. "I feel happy about it," he added.
   
However, the HAV campaign and the court order have hurt people at the center, many of them Hindus. Santosh Kumar, who now preaches at the center, views the developments as attempts to damage the center's reputation. "But we believe in God and his wisdom," the 32-year-old Hindu told UCA News.
   
Kumar, who moved to the center in January, said he has not "come across any illegal activity here." He said he first came to the center in 2003 after his business suffered losses. After a weeklong retreat he decided to dedicate his life to preaching the Gospel at the center.
   
"Though I'm a Hindu by birth, today I believe in Christ and pray everyday," said Kumar, who claims he has regained all that he had lost. He currently runs a hair salon at the center and preaches whenever he finds time.
   
Another Hindu "deeply pained by the allegations" against the Catholic center is Shyla, a woman living with HIV. She told UCA News she came to the center when she "lost all hope in life," as nobody was willing to help her family after news spread that her husband had tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which usually leads to AIDS. "But Divine Retreat Center offered us a comfortable stay and care," continued the woman, who now lives at St. Vincent Home, which is attached to the retreat center.
   
Her husband and daughter also are among the 100 people with HIV at the home. "The priests and nuns here are doing a great service. It's unfortunate that they have become the subject of wild allegations," Shyla said.
   
Sudheer Antony, a Hindu convert to Catholicism, sees the controversy as the "handiwork" of agents of darkness. He said he came to the center "voluntarily" and became a Catholic when he experienced God there. "I want to tell others what I have experienced," he added, explaining his reason for staying at the center. He dismissed the HAV protests as "ill-motivated campaigns" and said God will protect the center from forces that want to destroy it.
   
Margaret John, 48, who lives in a house for poor people located in the center complex, said the allegations have "shocked" the people who depend on the retreat center. She said the center offered her and two daughters shelter when her mentally ill husband disappeared a year ago. She also said she has no place to go if the center is closed.

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