Cover photo: Retired Justice Michael Francis Saldanha, popularly known as M. F. Saldanha, is an Indian judge and former Justice of the Bombay High Court.
Abp Giambattista Diquattro
Papal Nuncio to India
50C Niti Marg, Chanakyapuri
New Delhi – 110021
24th June 2020
AN OPEN LETTER
Peace of Christ! Permit me to introduce myself as the former National President of the All India Catholic Union, former Director of the International Council of Catholic Men (Unum Omnes) and presently the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum and advisor to Catholic Church Reform International. With both anguish and hope I write to you regarding the unfortunate developments in Mysuru diocese, headed by Bp K.A. William.
Dr Gerry Pais MD, a devout 80 year old doctor from Mysuru itself, had purportedly written to you on 16/5/2019, 16/6/2019, 27/9/2019 and 27/2/2020, regarding the alleged misdeeds of K.A. William, hereinafter referred to as William. Dr Pais had also written to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, President of the CBCI, on 16/5/2019, 9/6/2019 and 23/12/2019. He has further written to Abp Peter Machado of Bangalore, the Metropolitan of the Karnataka regional bishops, on 23/3/2020 and 28/5/2020, met him in person and had a telephonic conversation with him on 23/4/2020.
On the other hand Justice Michael Saldanha, retired High Court Judge, has inter alia entered into the following correspondence/ communications: 24/5/2020 letter to William and his advocate Gerald Castellino; 4/6/2020 letter to Rev Alfred John Mendonca, a priest of the diocese, and on the same day to William, Abp Machado and Cardinal Gracias; 8/6/2020 another letter to the above three; and on 9/6/2020, 12/6/2020, 15/6/2020 and 16/6/2020 to William and Abp Machado.
This sordid matter has also found extensive coverage in both the secular and Catholic media. In the light of the above I assume that you are adequately informed about the averments and allegations against William. Nevertheless, in order to put things in their correct perspective, a recap of major events is called for.
- William is allegedly involved in the brutal killings of two of his priests – Rev Rafael Colaco on 28/11/2019 and Rev William Albuquerque on 3/3/2020. It is alleged that William uses various methods to influence the local police, including entertaining them every Saturday at the Southern Star Hotel.
- The police have therefore allegedly been used to coerce or influence witnesses. The circumstances surrounding the death of Albuquerque are frightening. Two days prior to his death he was summoned for interrogation to the office of the Mysuru Police Commissioner. What transpired there is not immediately known. When he died two days later his body was taken to a church run hospital and his death was declared as being natural due to cardiac arrest. Subsequently the body was sent for post mortem and the priest’s relatives were coerced into taking his body for burial in his native place Perar in Mangaluru. The story doesn’t end there. Subsequently Rev Alfred John Mendonca, another diocesan priest, was purportedly despatched to Perar on 1/6/2020 with an alleged sum of Rupees Twenty Lakhs to purchase the silence of Albuquerque’s relatives. When they declined the money they were asked to sign a declaration, previously prepared in English, absolving William of all culpability for the death.
- In like manner it is alleged that another diocesan priest, Rev Arogya Swami was called on 7/6/2020 to make a confessional statement before the police about Albuquerque’s death.
- Another serious allegation against William is that he has two mistresses, and had two children by them. One of them is allegedly named Sunitha. I have in my possession her photograph, as also that of the two children. However, since they are minors it is not appropriate to reveal their identity. One may here draw your kind attention to the provisions of Canon 277 (1&2) “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy … Clerics are to behave with due prudence in relation to persons whose company can be a danger to their obligation of preserving continence or can lead to scandal of the faithful”. William’s alleged acts are nothing short of scandalous.
- Another allegation is that William and a priest of his diocese, Leslie Moraes, were involved in sexually molesting and kidnapping an employee, a married woman named Sahana. Last year this woman had released a video revealing all that had transpired. That video went viral. Dr Pais states that this woman’s life was in danger so he had taken her to a shelter home, Vimochana, in Bangaluru. She had recorded her kidnapping before a human rights lawyer in Mumbai. However, under pressure from William she retracted her earlier confessional statement at a press conference organized and purportedly funded by William. It is pertinent to here record that the Supreme Court guidelines, commonly known as the Vikasha guidelines, for sexual harassment in the work place, do not seem to have been followed in this case under reference. This retraction tied the hands of many concerned persons, including the undersigned. Justice Saldanha further alleges that Rupees Twelve Crores were paid to the woman to secure her retraction.
- There are also allegations of financial misappropriation of public funds. Justice Saldanha alleges that after the floods in the Coorg area of the diocese in 2018, William organized various fund raising programmes under the banner of “Coorg Disaster Relief Fund”. The campaign extended to Mangaluru and Bangaluru, where Sonu Nigam, a Bollywood star, performed before a crowd of one lakh people. The total collection was Rupees Forty Nine point Five Crores according to Saldanha; though the diocese issued a clarification that it was Eleven Crores. Saldanha was humble enough to admit that his presumptive figure may have been wrong, but it didn’t detract from the disappearance of the collection that did not benefit the flood victims in a manner commensurate with the collection.
- Dr Pais further alleges that another elderly priest, Rev Becket D’souza (71) is now being harassed by William because the latter believes that D’souza is the one who co-ordinated the complaint against him, signed by 37 priests of the diocese.
- Dr Pais further states that William is on record boasting that he has had people beaten up 25 times.
- Justice Saldanha alleges that William is always accompanied by two henchmen named Anthony Dias and Alexander, who wear a khaki uniform.
The Indian Catholic Forum (ICF) was formed for the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church in India according to the teachings of Vatican II. A few quotes will put this letter in perspective. “Every layman should openly reveal to them (hierarchy) his needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which befits a son of God and a brother in Christ. An individual layman, by reason of knowledge, competence, or outstanding ability which he may enjoy, is permitted and sometimes even obliged to express his opinions on things which concern the good of the church” (LG No 37). I believe that both Dr Pais and Justice Saldanha are therefore well within their ecclesiastical rights and duties to flag this issue. Since the matter “concerns the good of the church” the ICF also cannot remain a mute spectator.
The “Decree on the Bishops Pastoral office in the Church” makes some pertinent observations. A bishop “should be characterised by due prudence with that trustfulness which fosters friendship and thus is naturally disposed to bring about a union of minds” (CD No 13). “A bishop should stand in the midst of his people as one who serves. Let him be a good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him” (CD No 16). Pope Francis has gone a step further in affirming that pastors should have the smell of the sheep. Unfortunately, the sad tale of events in Mysuru seems to have the rotten stink of blood, gore, vengeance and subterfuge. No conscientious Catholic can remain a silent spectator to the same.
I may here point out that a similar story of kidnapping, diversion of funds, having a mistress and child, using police force etc had transpired with Bp Gallela Prasad of Kadapa diocese two years ago. The ICF was then in the forefront to highlight the case; and your predecessor in office removed the offending prelate.
Permit me to also draw your kind attention to the very explicit provisions of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” that came into effect on 1/6/2019, regarding matters of sexual abuse by clerics. It covers “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts” (No 1ai). It covers “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations” (1b). Vulnerable persons include those that are deprived of personal liberty or unable to resist the offence (1.2b). Such offences are to be immediately reported (3.1). Any person may submit a report (3.2). The report may be sent through the Pontifical Representative (3.3). The report shall include as many particulars as possible, such as indications of time and place (3.4). “Prejudice, retaliation or discrimination as a consequence of having submitted a report, is prohibited” (4.2).
The investigation is to be undertaken by the Metropolitan, in this case Abp Machado of Bangaluru, who is well acquainted with the facts of the case. However, if there is a conflict of interest (as seems to be in the instant case) then the Metropolitan is obliged to recuse himself from such investigations (12.6). Co-operation of the laity and qualified persons is recommended (13.1). The investigation is to be completed within ninety days (14.1). Pope Francis’ letter and its provisions seem to have been observed in the breach.
Bearing in mind the similarities in the cases you already have a precedent to go by. We therefore humbly request you to take immediate action in the matter and remove William from office and the territorial jurisdiction of Mysuru diocese. A canonical enquiry should be set up at the earliest and have competent lay persons, women’s activists, experts in criminal law and finance, as provided for in Pope Francis’ letter; before more irreparable damage is caused to the Catholic Church in India.
I may here mention that I am presently doing research in church history, including in India. The country’s decadal population growth rate is 25%. However, in the decade 2003 – 2013, 59 out of 166 dioceses (36%) have recorded negative growth. They have shrunk despite the church’s tall claims and huge institutions. The number of clergy, both diocesan and religious, has also shrunk from 22,974 in 1998 to 22,451 in 2013. In Europe we know that several convents and monasteries have been converted into “Bed & Breakfast” home stays under the website “Monastery Stays”. In India too, some convents meant for aspirants have now been converted into working girls hostels.
Our Lord Jesus asked us to read the signs of the times (Mat 16:30). Nebuchadnezzar was also warned to read the writing on the wall (cf Dan 5:5ff). The portents are ominous. Hence your firm and immediate action is solicited, before it is too late. Considering the gravity of the matter a copy of this Open Letter is being marked to Cardinal Gracias, CBCI President, and personal advisor to Pope Francis. Copies are also being marked to Dr Pais, Justice Saldanha, the National President of the All India Catholic Union, and the Catholic press, for information and appropriate action.
This letter is written without prejudice to anyone, and based on information provided from credible sources.
Respectfully and hopefully,
Indian Catholic Forum
Noronha Sadan, 2/11 Krishnanagar
Kanpur – 208007