October 15, 2008 9:34:50 am
A Catholic bishop in Kerala has sparked off a controversy and embarrassed the Church by adopting a 26-year-old woman.
Following complaints from priests, the Latin Catholic Church has initiated a multi-level probe into the adoption by John Thattunkal, 58, the Bishop of Cochin.
Sources say the bishop adopted the woman with the consent of her non-Catholic Christian family, hailing from Pathanamthitta in central kerala.
Thattunkal met the woman during a pilgrimage abroad and was impressed by her “spirituality and divine experience.” “I have only fatherly love towards the woman who has spiritual powers. This relation is giving me spiritual refreshment,” Thattunkal was quoted by Mathrubhoomi, a Malayalam newspaper, as saying.
When The Indian Express tried to reach him on Tuesday, the bishop was not available for comments. “He has been in meditation the whole day,” said Fr Thambi Antony, diocese public relations officer. Antony declined to comment on the controversy as the issue is being looked into by the Church authorities.
The bishop, who holds a doctorate in Canon law and civil law, cleared the adoption formalities at the sub-registrar office in Mattancheri. Sub-registrar Sudhakaran told this newspaper that the adoption deed was registered in the second week of September. “Two priests from the diocese had signed as witnesses and in the deed, the woman was stated to be adopted as a daughter of the bishop,” he said.
After the adoption, the woman stayed in a guest house within the Bishop House compound in Fort Kochi. After this became an issue among a section of priests in the Cochin diocese, she left the guest house.
A senior priest from Cochin diocese said the issue is likely to snowball into a major scandal. “The moot question is why the bishop adopted a young woman for so-called spiritual nourishment. The future course of the issue would depend on his explanation,” the priest said.
Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council Secretary Fr Alathara Stephen said that the Archdiocese of Verapoly and Apostolic Nuncio to India Arch Bishop Pedro Lopez Quintaine (Vatican’s representative in the country) have already initiated separate inquiries after complaints from the Cochin diocese. Action, if any, would be taken by Vatican, based on the Nuncio’s report.
“A bishop can adopt a person while a priest has to get the consent of his bishop for the same action. In the past, no bishop in Kerala has resorted to this kind of adoption,” Stephen said. Asked whether the bishop’s action amounted to a scandal, Stephen said the gravity of the offence would depend upon the position held by the offender.
Monsignor Sebastain Luis, the Vicar-General of Verapoly archdiocese, under which the diocese of Cochin falls, said the issue is being secretly looked into by the Bishops’ Council and other Church bodies. “At the same time, we cannot hide action against the bishop, if taken at a later stage,” he said.
Bishop Thattungal has maintained that he adopted the woman according to the Church laws. “In the past too, bishops and priests have adopted children… She did not stay in the Bishop’s House, she stayed in the nearby guest house along with her father. We had travelled by the same car for spiritual programmes. I have explained my stand to Verapoly Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pedro Lopez,” he told Mathrubhoomi. “A lobby, including certain priests, has been working against me in the diocese,” he said.