The bishop who leads the apostolic vicariate that includes Yemen has said he has “strong indications” that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil “is still alive in the hands of his kidnappers”.
Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, said: “I have no confirmation that anything happened Good Friday.” Rumours that the priest had been crucified appeared to be untrue, he said.
Fr Uzhunnalil, an Indian, was kidnapped from the home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.
Speaking from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Bishop Hinder said it appeared that a rumour began in India that militants connected to Islamic State planned to crucify Fr Uzhunnalil on Good Friday. The rumour spread around the world on social media.
Leaders of the Salesian order in India said there was no evidence to support the reports and asked people to refrain from “spreading false rumours”.
Rumours that the murder was carried out began to circulate after Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna mentioned Fr Uzhunnalil in his homily at the Easter Vigil. The next day, the Vienna archdiocesan website posted a piece quoting Bishop Hinder and Indian Salesians as saying there was no evidence the priest was killed; Cardinal Schonborn had spoken to church leaders in the region and believed “there is still hope.”
Bishop Hinder told Catholic News Service: “Nobody knows exactly what is happening.” However, he said, “I have sufficient reason to doubt” the reports of Fr Uzhunnalil’s death.
The bishop refused to comment further, saying the situation was “too delicate.”