By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Catholics in a south Indian diocese want their bishop removed for allegedly misappropriating diocesan funds to lead a luxurious life with his wife and son.
Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah, however, has denied the charges as baseless and aimed at tarnishing his image.
Aggrieved Catholics have filed a criminal complaint in a trial court in Andhra Pradesh state seeking action against the 56-year-old prelate after their efforts to get justice from the Vatican failed.
“We approached the court after our efforts to settle the issue within the Church failed,” Mesa Ravi Kumar, one of the two complaints in the case, told Matters India on August 3, a day after appearing before the court. He had filed the complaint in the court in June this year.
The case came up for hearing before the court of Second Additional District Judge, Kadapa (new name of Cuddapah) at Proddatur on August 2. The prelate’s lawyer has sought more time to file a detailed reply to the charges leveled against him.
The other complainant is Byreddy Chinnappa Reddy, a 65-year-old farmer.
Kumar, a 40-year-old college lecturer and the Kadapa district president of Christian Dalit Forum, said several people, including him, had sent registered letters to the Vatican narrating Bishop Gallela’s alleged illegal activities, including “his immoral life with his wife and son.”
“A female lawyer Chandravati had written to the Vatican in November 2016 demanding the ouster of Bishop Gallela for the charges but to no avail,” Kumar bemoaned.
He also said that he and one T P Radhika had sent similar letters in May this year to the Vatican urging Pope Francis to act against the prelate to save the diocese from disintegration as many Catholics have stopped attending Mass and going for confession.
Kumar says the bishop, whose son is now 20 years old, stays only less than a week in a month in the diocese. “The rest of the time is believed to be spending with his family, as no one knows about his whereabouts during this period,” he alleged.
When contacted, a few priests in the diocese have also confirmed the bishop has a family. However, none of them was willing to come on record. They too said the bishop stays only less than a week a month at the bishop’s house and that nobody knows how he spends the rest of the time.
Bishop Gallela disowned a letter purportedly written by him to priests in his diocese. The July 16 letter bearing the bishop’s signature not only acknowledges the family but makes allegations against some other bishops in Andhra Pradesh.
“This is not true. I have not written any such letter and I informed the 4 bishops about it. Someone has purposefully done it. It is all false. It is a cybercrime. Someone has done it. It is forged signature. Please understand that and punish the culprit,” Bishop Gallela said on July 28 in an email response.
The prelate later said he had filed a police complaint in Kadapa and informed the superintendent of Police about it. He has not responded to Matters India’s request to share content of the complaint.
Bishop Gallela has also remained silent about other allegations despite asking about them repeatedly.
He was ordained a priest in 1989 and a bishop nine years later.
Kumar has also alleged that the bishop had bought properties worth several millions of rupees for his wife in big towns such as Bangalore and Visakhapatnam, believed to be with funds from overseas donations and other sources meant for public welfare.
Kumar also attached 24 documents such as Aadhar card number (12-digit unique identification number), election voter identity card, thumb impression and signature of the prelate identifying him as the husband of the woman who he claim as his wife, photographs, documents of his son among others.
Kumar asserts that he has “reliable government documents” that identify the bishop as the husband of the woman and the father of the boy, who is now in a college.
Archbishop Thumma Bala of Hyderabad is also one of the accused in the complaint. The 74-year-old archbishop was made party, as he failed to act upon their earlier complaints against Bishop Gallela, Kumar said.
Archbishop Bala said he has appointed a lawyer to deal with the case. “I am not even aware why I am made party to it,” he told Matters India on August 3.
Meanwhile, a delegation of 15 Catholic lay leaders called on the archbishop on July 30 at his residence and handed over a complaint again urging him to remove Bishop Gallela.
“Yes I got their complaint,” he said. The prelate pleaded inability to act based on it as he does not have any power to deal with such issues. “I will forward it to nunciature for appropriate action,” he added.
K Papi Reddy, a member of the delegation, said they approached the archbishop as they cannot accept a married man with a kid as their bishop.
“Our forefathers and great missionaries built up the diocese from scratch and we cannot remain idle and see it is brought to shambles,” the retired headmaster of an aided school, told Matters India.
Reddy too said they have sufficient evidences “that proved unequivocally our bishop is a married man and cheating the believers since a decade and ruining our diocese.”
He said they want the bishop removed to help “protect the sanctity of the institution of Catholic Church and its holy sacraments.”
“We are ready to die for Christ but cannot tolerate such a bishop,” he added.
Reddy also alleged that Bishop Gallela put around 14 lay people under police custody for three hours on July 27 when they went to him to ask clarification about his married identity and diverting diocesan fund.
He also accused the top Church officials in India colluding with the accused bishop and protecting him.