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Catholic Center in India Faces False Allegations, Harassment from Police

ICC (January 11, 2007) – The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Catholic retreat center in Kerala state has been facing a venomous media campaign and harassment at the hands of police since March, when the state high court initiated a police investigation after receiving anonymous complaints about the center.

The Divine Retreat Centre, run by the Vincentian Congregation and situated in Muringoor, Kerala, runs homes for the destitute, drug addicts, AIDS patients and the mentally handicapped, and also hosts spiritual retreats.

“The local media are publishing outrageous false reports alleging that the Centre does not have qualified medical staff, that women inmates are sexually molested, and at least five bodies are taken out of the Centre every week,” Cyril John, chairman of the national service team of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in India, told ICC.

John said the Kerala High Court formed a special investigation team headed by Inspector General of Police Winson M. Paul on March 10 upon receiving an anonymous letter and two CDs containing false allegations against the Centre.

During a hearing, the government attorney said that there was no merit in the complaints and that the allegations were too vague and general and therefore no further action was necessary. Yet, the police, who seemed interested in somehow producing something against the Centre, carried out investigations on September 30 and October 1 in a humiliating manner. A large contingent of police raided the Centre and obstructed religious services, said John.

Fr. George Panackal, director of the Centre, said in a letter addressed to the Catholic Bishops of India, “The Centre accepts and cares for orphans picked up from the street gutters, AIDS patients ostracized by society and mental patients who are a burden to their own families. People of all castes and religions are cared for without any discrimination. The police should have provided protection for all these helpless people instead of frightening them.”

Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C., director of retreats at the Centre, said that fundamentalist Hindu religious groups have been making false allegations and spreading false news to the mass media to malign the name of the Centre.

John said, “I have personally visited the Centre several times and can vouch for the good work being carried on by it. I would like to state categorically that the allegations are baseless and biased.”

He added that the Centre authorities and beneficiaries were eagerly awaiting the final judgment by the court with confidence that the Centre would be freed of all the charges. On average, 8,000 people attend retreats at the Centre every week, and the number rises to about 30,000 during holiday seasons. In the last sixteen years, more than six million people have benefited by the services conducted by this Centre.