As many as 480 priests belonging to the Church of South India (CSI) in Kerala, a prominent denomination, have been booked for allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols by organising and participating in a retreat at Munnar in this high-range district last month, police said on Thursday.
The police registered a case based on the statement of the Tahsildar (revenue official) following media reports that the annual retreat had turned into a superspreading event as over 100 priests had been infected and two vicars had succumbed to it.
A section of the priests and laymen under the church recently lodged a detailed complaint with the government also about the alleged pandemic protocol violations in the five-day event, held here from April 13. Some of them had criticised the church on social media platforms over this, following which the controversial event came to light in the media.
KR Manoj, inspector, Munnar, who is investigating the case, said they are swiftly collecting details about the event now and can comment only after that.
"We have registered a case against 480 priests and the church management based on the statement of the Tahsildar. The investigation is on now. We are trying to elicit details by collecting photographs and videos regarding the event," he told PTI.
They were booked under the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Act (KEDA) and IPC 269, he said, adding that the church authorities seemed to have sought no permission from anyone concerned to hold the event.
"As per media reports, several priests who participated in the event got infected with COVID-19 and two priests succumbed to it. At present, I cannot tell anything. We will investigate all aspects," the officer added.
As per the reports in media, the majority of priests who took part in the retreat belonged to the state capital. They were all taken together from Thiruvananthapuram to the CSI retreat centre at Munnar, a distance of over 270 km, in a bus, reports said.
CSI moderator and bishop of South Kerala Diocese A Dharmaraj Rasalam was also reportedly among those infected.
While some of the infected priests are reportedly under treatment at a church-run hospital near the state capital, others are under home quarantine.
CSI authorities were unavailable for comment. However, they had earlier claimed that there was no protocol violation at the retreat. They also maintained that the priests had been infected several days after the annual retreat.