13 March 2019, The Tablet

Indian bishop hospitalised after parishioners attack him

Catholics in two parishes disputed ownership of a piece of land in Appattuvilai village

Indian bishop hospitalised after parishioners attack him

St Antony Church, Appattuvilai (pictured) parishioners have been in a land dispute with near-by St Joseph Church

A Catholic bishop was hospitalised after a group of parishioners attacked him, a security guard and a priest in a five-decade-old land dispute in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Bishop Jerome Dhas Varuvel of Kuzhithurai left the hospital on 121 March, two days after he was attacked by a crowd of about 130 Catholic men and women, reported ucanews.com.

The guard remains in the hospital after suffering serious injuries in his attempt to protect the bishop, Father Russel Raj, diocesan chancellor, told ucanews.com.

Father Augustine Ponnaian, the diocesan financial administrator, suffered only minor injuries and was not hospitalised.

Police have registered a case against 58 Catholics, including 16 women, accusing them of committing serious crimes such as rioting with weapons, criminal intimidation and using weapons in a manner of causing death.

Police have arrested two people and are looking for the other 56, who are reportedly hiding to avoid arrest.

"It was a planned attack on the bishop," Father Ponnaian told ucanews.com on 13 March.

The parishioners were waiting outside the bishop's house for him to return from a function to discuss the land issue. They surrounded him when he reached the entrance door and demanded immediate resolution of the issue, he said.

The land dispute goes back to 1965 when Kuzhithurai Diocese, created four years ago, was part of Kottar Diocese. Catholics in two parishes disputed ownership of a piece of land in Appattuvilai village.

Bishop Varuvel issued a decree on 5 May, 2018, settling the dispute between St. Antony Church and St. Joseph Church. Some St. Antony parishioners claimed the settlement favoured St. Joseph's and refused to accept it. They wanted the bishop to withdraw the decree.

Father Raj said the bishop's decision followed recommendations of a committee that included lawyers, prominent people and seven representatives of each parish.

The protest has been going on since the decree was issued, and 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," Father Ponnaian said.

Bishop Varuvel also allowed them to challenge his decision in a civil court but they rejected his offer, he added.

Father Raj said the diocese does not want "everyone to be put behind the 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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