Bishop hospitalised after parishoners attack

A Catholic bishop was hospitalised for two days after parishioners in southern India attacked him because of his role in a 50-year land dispute.

A security guard who tried to protect Bishop Jerome Dhas Varuvel was seriously injured in the 10 March violence, which involved about 130 men and women. The guard is still in hospital.

Fr Augustine Ponnaian, the diocesan financial administrator, was also injured but not hospitalised.

Police have registered a case against 58 Catholics including 16 women, accusing them of committing serious crimes.

They have arrested two people and are looking for the other 56.

Ponnaian believes the attack on the bishop was planned.

He says the bishop was out when the parishioners arrived at his house. When he returned, they surrounded him and demanded the land issue’s immediate resolution.

The land dispute goes back to 1965. Diocesan borders changed and two parishes have been arguing ever since about which of them owns a piece of land.

Varuvel issued a decree last May which aimed to settled the dispute.

A spokesman for the bishop says Varuvel’s decision followed recommendations of a committee that included lawyers, prominent people and seven representatives of each parish.

Not accepting the bishop’s decision, parishioners from one parish say the settlement favours the other parish. They have demanded the bishop withdraw the decree.

The bishop asked them to produce documentary evidence to substantiate their claims.

“They have produced none so far, but they want to reverse the decision in their favour,” Ponnaian says.

Varuvel has also invited the disgruntled parishioners to challenge his decision in a civil court. Ponnaian says they rejected this offer.

A spokesperson for the bishop says the diocese does not want “everyone to be put behind bars in this case.”

However, it wants police to act against “two key persons who orchestrated the crime and instigated people to attack the bishop in a brutal manner.”


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