Bhopal: A Catholic priest who used to be the public relations officer for the Bhopal archdiocese has been dismissed from priesthood for disobedience, abuse of power and sullying the image of the church.
While priests’ dismissals on charges of sexual misconduct are not uncommon, punishment is rarely dealt out on disobedience and abuse of power charges, as in the case of 48-year-old Fr Anand Muttungal. This is the first such instance in Madhya Pradesh.
Muttungal had served as the archdiocese’s PRO for eight years before being removed in 2013.
Archbishop of Bhopal Leo Cornelio said in a statement on 26 November: “…By an official decree, Pope Francis has dismissed Anand Muttungal, the former spokesperson of the Catholic church, from priesthood.”
The archbishop accused Muttungal of repeatedly disobeying church authorities, accusing its leaders in public, engaging in trading and business, and bringing “public scandals to the church and its community”.
The punishment, called ‘defrocking’, means that Muttungal can no longer use the priestly dress, can’t administer sacraments, can’t teach in any Catholic institutions, and can’t preach or even read the Bible in churches.
The official communication from the papal office, accessed by ThePrint, dated 22 October, describes the “canonical sanction of dismissal from the clerical state” as “supreme and non-appealable and not liable to any recourse whatsoever”. It also says Muttungal has been “dispensed from priestly celibacy”.
‘Church running campaign against me’
Speaking to ThePrint, Muttungal claimed he has not received any communication from the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic church, and said he would challenge the decision as and when it’s formally communicated to him.
“I don’t know what offence I have committed to get dismissed. It’s true that church authorities have been trying to get me to withdraw the criminal case against Archbishop Leo Cornelio, Fr Johny P.J. and Fr Matthew V.C. I had promised a legal end to the case as and when the time came,” Muttungal said.
He had filed the complaint against the three, accusing them of slowly poisoning him in a bid to drive him to insanity. The case is still pending in court.
Muttungal said church authorities had orchestrated a campaign against him because he had raised uncomfortable questions. He said he was working for inter-religious harmony. A few years ago, Muttungal had constituted the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, of which he is the national coordinator.
In December 2019, he was arrested by the MP Economic Offences Wing in connection with an alleged fraud in the allotment of residential plots through a housing society. He was among eight office-bearers of the housing society charged with cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy. He was released on bail by the MP High Court after spending 50 days in jail in January this year.
‘He is lying’
A former church PRO, on the condition of anonymity, accused Muttungal of lying that he had not been given any opportunity to present his case. He said the order was pasted on his door. This PRO also said a team from the Guwahati archdiocese had come to investigate the case and spoken to Muttungal.
“The charges against him are serious — that’s why the Vatican took cognisance,” he said, describing the disciplinary action as “rarest of rare”.
“He (Muttungal) thinks he is always right and others are wrong. He pretends to be the only authority in the church,” said current church PRO Fr Maria Stephen, reiterating that Muttungal can’t appeal against the official decree which has come from the Pope.