By Francis Maria Britto
A Catholic priest, missing for 14 months, has accused a group of priests of kidnapping him as revenge for disobeying his bishop.
But doubt has been cast on his story by Catholic laypeople who have reportedly said that they had seen the priest at liberty three months before he resurfaced.
Father Suman Xaxa of Ambikapur diocese, central India, told the police and media on Nov. 30 that unknown abductors had taken him blindfolded from his room in the bishop’s residence.
They left him in a far away cave where he has remained since Sept. 14, 2009.
Two days earlier, the priest appeared in a prayer center with “unruly beard, soiled clothes, apparently very sick and unable to speak.” The police admitted him to a government hospital.
Other reports, however has quoted laypeople as saying they had seen a healthy Father Xaxa in Ambikapur town months earlier.
The priest had managed the prayer center with another priest, Father Vijay Bara, since its inception in 2005.
Jesuit Bishop Patras Minj started the center at the initiative of a tribal schoolteacher. The prelate deputed the two priests to develop it. Some lay people joined them.
“It went on well for about a year,” Father Gyan Prakash Lakra, a diocesan official, told ucanews.com on Dec 1.
Trouble started after the schoolteacher wanted to build a house in a plot the bishop had donated to his driver.
The two priests objected to that and, to resolve the matter, the bishop closed the prayer center and transferred the priests. But they refused to leave.
The priests accused the bishop of acting on revenge. They also allegedly leaked diocesan secrets to anti-Christian groups and the local media.
The bishops suspended the priests, a move that divided the clergy.
In June 2009, some Catholic youths forcibly took Father Xaxa to his appointed mission. However, he soon returned to the prayer center with his followers and filed a case against Church people, including the bishop.
The local court ordered the prayer center residents to vacate it and a government official brought Father Xaxa to the bishop’s residence.
Father Xavier Ekka, vicar general and one of the alleged kidnappers, told ucanews.com, “The case is in the High Court. Everything will be clear after the verdict.” He claimed all priests now support the bishop.
The distressed bishop told ucanews.com on Dec 2, “I am very much disturbed. I don’t want to make any comments now. Keep me in your prayers.”