Father Kuriakose Kattuthara’s sudden death in the premises of a school run by the Jalandhar Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Punjab caught the police by surprise, as also the clergy and laity in village Kairwali.
The fact that a witness in an ongoing controversial investigation, involving the Bishop of the Jalandhar Diocese, was living hardly 3 kilometres from the Dasuya police station came to the attention of the local police at roughly 12 pm on Monday afternoon. This was when the principal of the school called the police to inform them of the death.
The Station House Officer at Dasuya station is on leave until Tuesday morning, and another officer is in charge until then. “The people who work in the St Paul’s school contacted us at 11.45 am or 12 pm This was after they had taken the priest to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead,” says the officiating SHO Sukhinder Singh. “None of us knew he was here — even the media didn’t know.”
The family members of the deceased priest are expected to arrive in Dasuya by the morning and will be taken by the police to the site where Father Kuriakose died — a small room in a three-room house built in a corner of the school’s playground. They will also be taken to the hospital to identify the body and thereafter, a post-mortem would be conducted. Its results could take from 24 to 72 hours to be released.
The police and hospital authorities are awaiting the permission from the brother of Father Kuriakose before proceeding with formalities and until then, the body is being preserved, they said. The brother has specifically requested that no steps should be taken until he arrives in Dasuya. No complaint or FIR has been registered in the matter until now in Dasuya—the family of the Father has registered an FIR in Kerala this morning. It is learnt that they would prefer to take the proceedings to Kerala.
However, in this high profile case, it is not just the local police but the SSP JN Cherian and DSP AR Sharma of Hoshiarpur district who are taking the lead in investigations. According to Sharma, the death of the priest, who was around 62 years old, is being seen as “non-natural”. “The police normally investigates all cases of unnatural death, but here since he was involved in a high profile case as a witness, we are investigating the matter from that angle also,” Sharma says. “When the family members of the deceased arrive, we will ask them questions regarding that matter as well.”
The fact is, this sudden death has caught the Punjab Police unawares. “The father has been living in different towns of Punjab and had never sought any kind of protection from us,” says Singh.
The 62 year old priest had led the Sunday Service on 21 October, which was attended as usual by a large crowd in the church located within St Paul’s school of Ferozepur district, roughly 40 kilometres from Jalandhar city.
The case in which Father Kuriakose was involved relates to accusations of rape against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal. The Bishop has been accused by a nun of the Roman Catholic denomination of sexual exploitation and rape, a charge he refutes. Other women in the clergy and laity both in Kerala and Punjab had supported Father Kuriakose.
Father Kuriakose had supported the women’s version and also promised to testify in the matter.
By around 4 pm on Sunday, the police had asked questions of several people at the school premises regarding the death of Father Kuriakose. This included the mother superior (who could not be contacted) and other sisters who live in the convent next to the school. “Whatever I wanted to say, I have told the police,” said Sister Elisabeth at the convent. “We are now in prayer and won’t issue any more statements.”
Father Kuriakose has moved to Dasuya only a month ago. Previously, he lived and worked in the neighboring district Jalandhar’s Bhojpur village. He had been living and preaching in Punjab towns and cities for well over 20 years, and kept poor health, according to those who worked with the school.
Those familiar with the sermons of Father Kuriakose said his sermons were well-attended, usually getting 300-350 visitors. He rarely went outside the school premises.
Usually, the priest would go to sleep after 11 pm and would wake up at 8 or 9 am. When he didn’t wake up on Monday, his cook said they knocked on the door and finally pushed it open to find him lying in bed, froth emerging from his mouth. After the police came to know how important the man who died is to an ongoing investigation involving both Punjab and Kerala police, they stationed several policemen at the site of the death. “Four policemen have been put on duty and they will stay at the residence of the priest,” says Sharma.
Father Kuriakose’s sermon on Sunday—which turned out to be his last—dwelled on his mother, attendees said. “He said that whenever he used to go home, he would like to be with his mother. He spoke very softly from the pulpit,” said Sohanpal Masih, who works with the Church at St Paul’s.
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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2018 00:00:52 IST