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Priest who was witness in bishop rape case found dead

Indian Christian nuns and Muslim supporters protest as they demand the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal (Getty Images)

A Catholic priest considered a prime witness against an Indian bishop accused of rape has been found dead, with his family suspecting foul play. However, local medical staff said he had a series of health problems.

Fr Kuriakose Kattuthara, 67, was found dead inside his room in Jalandhar on October 22, a week after Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar was granted bail by the state court in Kerala and went back to his diocese. Ucanews.com reported Fr Kattuthara gave testimony against Bishop Mulakkal, who has been accused of raping a nun repeatedly between 2014 and 2016.

The priest’s brother said family members believe the priest was killed for his strong stand against the bishop, saying that “he was under tremendous pressure” to retract his statements against the bishop.

Medical staff at Sacred Heart Hospital in Jalandhar said Fr Kattuthara was a chronic patient receiving treatment for hypertension and diabetes.

“His blood pressure and sugar levels were dangerously high when he visited us a week ago,” said Sister Laila Jose, a doctor at the hospital.

Fr Peter Kavumpuram, diocesan spokesman, told media that some nuns went looking for the priest when he had not awakened by 10 a.m. at St Mary’s Church complex in Dasuya town.

“When he didn’t open the door, they (the nuns) called for help. The door was then broken and Kuriakose was found unconscious and there was vomit in the room. We took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead,” he said.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested on September 21 after a nun of Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under him, accused him of repeatedly raping her multiple times in Kerala between 2014 and 2016. The Vatican has removed him from diocesan administrative duties but retained his title as its bishop.

Bishop Mulakkal returned to the diocese after his release from judicial custody in mid-October.