An Indian Catholic priest has been defrocked by Pope Francis for alleged gross abuse of ecclesiastical powers and office. According to a statement issued by the Archbishop of Bhopal, Leo Cornelio on Thursday, Fr Anand Muttungal, an Indian Catholic priest based in Bhopal, has been dismissed from the clerical state and dispensed from all his clerical obligations, including that of celibacy.
Announcing the Vatican decision, Archbishop Leo Cornelio said in the statement: “Now, with regret and pain I wish to formally communicate to everyone that by an official decree from our Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis, on October 22, 2020, Anand Muttungal (Joseph MT) of the Archdiocese of Bhopal, has been dismissed in poenam (penalty) from the clerical state and dispensed from all his clerical obligations including that of celibacy.”
No communication from Vatican: Muttungal
The Indian Catholic priest Muttungal, a former public relations officer of the Bhopal archdiocese and spokesperson of the Catholic Church, however, said he was unaware of his dismissal.
In a statement Fr Muttungal said: “I must say that till date I have no communication from Vatican.” He also maintained that he was not aware of the offense attributed to him that led to his dismissal.
Referring to a criminal case he had filed against archbishop Cornelio and two other priests from the archdiocese he said; “…authorities have been trying to get me to withdraw the criminal cases going on against them”.
Muttungal accused the Bhopal archbishop of “miss communicating to Vatican authorities and giving him no opportunity” to present his side.
Muttungal said: “Once I get the official communication from Vatican to this effect I will appeal against the order”. He asserted that he got to know about his dismissal only from media reports.
Muttungal’s claims ‘blatant lies’: Archbishop
However, the Bhopal Archbishop, Cornelio termed the claims of Anand Muttungal as “blatant lies”. He said that he had given enough opportunities to Muttungal to explain his stand on the charges. But he always tried to bypass them at his will.
“The Vatican conducts direct and indirect inquiries before taking such a drastic step like dismissal of a priest”, he said.
A team from Archdiocese went to his residence to communicate the Vatican order to him. The team urged him to receive the order copy, but he refused, the Archbishop said.
The Pope dismissed the former priest based on clinching evidences against him. Persistent disobedience and complete absence from Church activities for the past eight-years are among other charges, said the prelate.
However, he did not want to disclose all the details of the charges against him, as he has already been removed from the Indian Catholic priesthood.
“One thing is clear that he is no more a Catholic priest. He has now become a lay man and cannot exercise the power of a priest”, the Archbishop asserted.
‘No option to appeal’
The Archbishop said, Muttungal has no option to even appeal against the order, as it has come from the Pope.
“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,” he said.
Fr Muttungal in February 2013 had filed a criminal case against the Archbishop, his vicar general Father VC Mathew and archdiocese spokesman Father PJ Johny, accusing them of conspiring to make him mentally insane through slow poisoning.
However, the Archbishop and the priests had denied the allegation. Since then, the case is pending for trial in a Bhopal trail court.
In December last, a Bhopal court had remanded Fr Muttungal to 50 days judicial custody. He was arrested in connection with an alleged financial misappropriation offence. He is now out on bail.