Father Varghese Palappallil, a priest from Kerala, was suspended from his priestly duties after he was accused of physically attacking Ajmer Bishop Pius Thomas DâSouza 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 âthe internal inquiry into the allegations raised by a lady who is currently residing in the UK is ongoingâ.
In a testimony, the Bishop recounted his experience with Father Varghese, which led to the latterâs 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. âWithout 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 himâ, 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 âblowâ to the Bishopâs neck.
âWith unbearable pain, I kept sitting on my chair. Father Varghese was forcing me to give him an appointment immediately,â Bishop DâSouza 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. âHe attacked me as if he had pre-planned it,â the Bishop said.
On March 10, Father Varghese, who was working with the St Paulâs Senior Secondary School in Kotaâs Vallabhanagar, received a letter from Bishop DâSouza. It said that he incurred a âLatae Sententiae Interdict and Suspensionâ, 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 âLatae Sententiaeâ 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 DâSouza was ordained Bishop in 2013.