One of the prime witnesses in the Kerala nun rape case was found dead in a church in Punjab on Monday morning.
Jalandhar: Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 62, a priest at St Paul’s church in Hoshiarpur district, Punjab, was found dead in his room in the church on Monday morning. He had testified against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the Catholic priest accused of raping a Kerala nun and supported the protests by other nuns. He had made statements claiming that he feared for his life.
His family has filed a police complaint calling it a "mysterious, sudden death" and alleging he feared for his life and was attacked earlier.
The police said that no injury was found but there were signs he had vomited. Blood pressure medicine was also found near him.
A police complaint was filed by Father Kuriakose's brother in Alappuzha. "...my brother was repeatedly threatened by persons close to the bishop (who) damaged a car and threw stones at his house in Jalandhar...There was a deliberate attempt on the part of the bishop, his relatives and associates to persuade the witnesses in the case either through undue influence or threatening," said Jose Kurian in a report by NDTV, demanding that the body be brought to Alappuzha instead of being given to the Punjab police.
Franco Mulakkal, a senior priest accused of repeatedly raping a nun between 2013 and 2016, was released from a prison in Kerala on bail last week. He was welcomed by his supporters with rose petals and garlanded when he arrived in Jalandhar. Father Kuriakose was seen as the prime witness in the case.
The investigating officer of the case, DYSP Subhash told NDTV: "Father Kuriakose was a witness but did not have any pivotal role in the case. He was one of the priests we questioned and is among the five-six priests who mentioned that they were aware of the allegations against Bishop Franco."
“Father Kuriakose's brother said he was diabetic and a blood pressure patient but had no major health problem. "Three days ago, I talked with him and he told me he was facing threats and other hooliganism from the associates of the bishop and he even feared for his life,” he wrote in the report.
One of the five nuns who came out in solidarity with their colleague in her allegations against the bishop told NDTV, "We are very shaken by this news. We suspect something is wrong. We had found out he was under pressure not to talk in our support. He repeatedly did that".
“His body has been sent for an autopsy in Jalandhar, and the report is awaited. However, Father Kattuthara's family has demanded that his body be brought back to Kerala, and that the postmortem examination be conducted in the state and not in Punjab. Father Kuriakose's brother told ANI: (We) have no faith in the Punjab Police. We want to bring the body to Alappuzha and bury it. If they want to do postmortem without letting us know, is there any guarantee that it'll be done without foul play?” reported Firstpost.
Bishop Mulakkal’s spokesperson from Jalandhar diocese, Father Peter, said that his death was natural and Bishop Mulakkal had no personal enmity with him.
"We got to know about this at 10 am today (Monday). Bishop (Franco Mulakkal) has no connection with the death of Father Kattuthara, as there was no personal enmity between them," Father Peter was quoted as saying by CNN-News18.
“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,” reported Hindustan Times.
“Earlier, Father Kuriakose has alleged that he was under severe pressure by church officials for his support of the nun who has accused the bishop of rape. In an interview to Mathrubhumi, Fr Kuriakose had said, “The sisters had approached me complaining about Bishop Franco. They did not approach the Kerala police fearing the bishop. In fact, I fear what will happen to me for speaking out against him.” Father Kuriakose, who was a vocational teacher at the Jalandhar diocese, had also taught the survivor nun and the other nuns who protested for justice. SP Harishankar, who is investigating the rape case, confirmed to TNM that Father Kuriakose was a prosecution witness against Bishop Franco in the case,” reported The News Minute.
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