While Father Varghese Palappallil faced no action in the sexual harassment case, he was immediately suspended after attacking the Ajmer Bishop.

Father Varghese Palappallil wearing a white shirt standing in front of green fields
news Sexual Harassment Saturday, March 13, 2021 - 20:46

Father Varghese Palappallil, a priest from Kerala, was suspended from his priestly duties after he was accused of physically attacking Ajmer Bishop Pius Thomas D’Souza on March 10. Though Father Varghese has charges of sexual harassment levelled against him by a woman who belonged to the Catholic diocese of Ajmer, for which no disciplinary action was taken by the diocese, his assault on the Bishop led to his immediate suspension. Father Cosmos Shekawath, the Vicar General of the Ajmer diocese confirmed to TNM that the diocese has so far not initiated any action against Father Varghese in the sexual harassment case, as “the internal inquiry into the allegations raised by a lady who is currently residing in the UK is ongoing”. 

In a testimony, the Bishop recounted his experience with Father Varghese, which led to the latter’s suspension. He explained how Father Varghese, a native of Kottayam and a diocesan priest with the Catholic diocese of Ajmer, confronted him when the Bishop was finishing his lunch on March 7. “Without losing time, he began to argue about his case on an allegation of sexual harassment from a lady. I explained to him that I have nothing to do with the case as it is pending in Rome, it is being dealt with according to the procedure of the Canon law and I am not against him”, the Bishop said in his testimony. The Bishop then said that Father Varghese began physically attacking him. The priest allegedly punched the Bishop near the eyes, which caused his spectacles to fall down; when he bent to pick them up, Father Varghese allegedly gave a “blow” to the Bishop’s neck.

“With unbearable pain, I kept sitting on my chair. Father Varghese was forcing me to give him an appointment immediately,” Bishop D’Souza recounted, adding that he tried to pacify the priest and told him to wait until the sexual harassment case against him is over. However, Father Varghese allegedly again hit the Bishop in the chest and raised a chair in an attempt to harm him further, when another priest intervened. “He attacked me as if he had pre-planned it,” the Bishop said.

On March 10, Father Varghese, who was working with the St Paul’s Senior Secondary School in Kota’s Vallabhanagar, received a letter from Bishop D’Souza. It said that he incurred a ‘Latae Sententiae Interdict and Suspension’, according to Canon 1370, 2. This includes suspension of all priestly duties and priestly ministry, celebration of eucharist, sacraments and sacramentals, along with receiving sacramentals in the Church, from the moment the assault happened. According to sources in the Church, instances of the Church invoking ‘Latae Sententiae’ against a priest are rare.

The letter suspending Father Varghese from his priestly responsibilities and from discharging other sacraments, was sent to the superiors of all religious congregations in the diocese, regional bishops of the Agra ecclesiastical province, as well as members of the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBCI).  The Ajmer diocese is spread across 12 districts in Rajasthan, of which 67-year-old Pius Thomas D’Souza was ordained Bishop in 2013.

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