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Diocese mourns murdered priest, cancels scheduled events

08/04/09 India (UCAN) — The mysterious murder of a priest has forced a southern Indian diocese to cancel several planned events, including its mission congress.

The entire Belthangady diocese is “upset about losing one of its priests in such a mysterious way,” said Vicar General Father Jose Valiaparambil.

The diocese was scheduled to begin its mission congress on Aug. 3 but canceled it as Church people feared the investigation into Father James Mukalel’s death may interfere with the smooth management of the program, the priest added.

Father Valiaparambil said the diocese has also cancelled its celebration of the 10th anniversary of the diocese and the episcopal ordination of its bishop, Bishop Lawrence Mukkuzhy, which fall on Aug. 4.

The diocese is based at Belthangady, a town near Mangalore, a Christian stronghold in Karnataka state.

On July 30, the naked body of Father Mukalel, 39, was found on a roadside. The priest was returning to his parish after attending a funeral in another parish the previous day.

A diocesan press release says that bishops, priests, nuns and laity are in a state of shock over the priest’s death, adding that the diocese demands justice.

Archbishop George Valiamattom of Tellicherry led the priest’s burial services at Vellad, his native parish in Kerala’s Kannur district, on Aug 1.

Police sources dismissed sectarianism as a possible cause of the murder and said personal enmity might have been a motive. They are investigating a telephone call the priest had made to a Catholic residence before he died. His body was found not far from the house.

Preliminary autopsy reports have indicated no external or internal injuries. A second autopsy was conducted in Kerala after his family expressed dissatisfaction over the first one carried out in Mangalore.

“Both results are expected within two or three days,” said Valiaparambil. The Karnataka police have already registered a case of unnatural death and formed a team to investigate the murder as there were no witnesses to the incident, he added.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Diocesan Priests of India, representing over 10,000 priests from Latin-rite dioceses, has condemned the death as “inhuman.”

“We are shocked to hear of the gruesome murder of a young, good and kind-hearted missionary, tirelessly working for all people irrespective of caste or religion in the area of Mangalore,” said their statement.

The conference also noted that the “meaningless and cruel act” occurred in an area marked by attacks against Christians and other religious minorities 11 months ago. It has demanded proper protection for priests, minorities and those working among the poor.