The decision comes Pope Francis. “For nearly ten years, he has targeted me (personally), the Church and the system,” Archbishop Cornelio said. “[T]his has left deep wounds in the diocese, and now the wounds of division can begin to heal.”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis has defrocked the former spokesman of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, central India, Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal (pictured) announced.
“For nearly ten years, he has targeted me (personally), the Church and the system,” Archbishop Cornelio told AsiaNews. “We prepared a 500-page report and sent it to Rome for scrutiny. Finally, on 22 October, he was ‘dismissed in poenam', which cannot be appealed.”
Muttungal “filed a criminal case against me and my vicar general; he was not in the main line of the Church. He had different opinions and a tendency to be divisive. He even tried to pit the people against the bishops, claiming that the bishops are appointed by the bishops.
“We are a holy and sinful Church, certainly, but this has left deep wounds in the diocese, and now the wounds of division can begin to heal.
It is “with regret and sorrow that I wish to formally communicate to everyone that by an official decree of our Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis, dated 22 October 2020, Anand Muttungal (Joseph M T) of the Archdiocese of Bhopal, was dismissed in poenam (penalty) from the clerical state and dispensed from all his clerical obligations, including that of celibacy.”
Anand Muttungal served as the archdiocesan public relations officer for seven years under Jesuit Archbishop Pascal Topno and Archbishop Cornelio.
The 48-year-old priest had also acted as a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh. However in 2013, he allegedly rebelled when he was removed from office.
He filed a complaint claiming that the archbishop, his vicar general Father VC Mathew, and the archdiocesan spokesman Father P. J Johny conspired to make him mentally unstable through slow poisoning. On 7 February 2013, a magistrate ordered the registration of the case against the three defendants.
For Archbishop Cornelio, the allegations are unsubstantiated. He suspected the priest suffered behavioural problems. After consulting some psychiatrists on the matter, they recommended he take medication. The treatment was later abandoned when the priest began to behave normally.
Archbishop Cornelio noted that Father Muttungal tried to challenge his authority and discredit the Church with malicious intent.
For his part, Muttungal said he went to court after he received no response from the police to the complaint he had filed right after becoming aware of the plot he alleged was directed at him.
In a letter, the archbishop says that over the past ten years he and others in the archdiocese tried to bring Muttungal back into the fold and reintegrate him to "our priestly communion, but in the end , “this proved to be an exercise in futility.”
The prelate "earnestly" prays that Muttungal “may gracefully accept the decision of our Supreme Pontiff and make a positive turn in order to begin a new chapter in life."
Early this year, Muttungal was released from prison in Bhopal after 50 days. He was arrested on 11 December 2019 at his residence by officials with the Economic Offence Wing (EOW), a special branch of the state police dealing with economic offences.
Allegations against Muttungal reportedly included fraud, forgery, conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and falsification of documents.
Brought before a special court, he was remanded to 15 days of judicial custody. The priest later tried to get bail from the same court, but without success.
Subsequently, he took his case to the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur, which granted him bail on 28 January. He was released two days later, after paying a 50,000 bond (US$ 675).