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Indian Catholic bishops urge Government to stop targeting church institutions

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has urged the Madhya Pradesh government to stop “the age-old bogey of conversion” from repeatedly tarnishing “the dedicated services” of its people.

Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai, secretary-general of CBCI, said, " CBCI is deeply saddened by the recent happenings in Madhya Pradesh and particularly in the Catholic Diocese of Jabalpur."

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur and Sister Ligy Joseph, who runs an orphanage, filed for anticipatory bail on May 31 against their possible arrest under the state's strict anti-conversion laws.

According to the CBCI statement, three institutions have been targeted by state machinery in the diocese of Jabalpur, the first of which took place on March 2, 2023, when the state Commission of Child Rights and its district head visited Saint Joseph Boys and Girls Boarding in Ghoreghat along with some police officers.

A similar incident occurred on March 3, 2023, at JDES Boys and Girls Boarding in Junwani, and a third incident occurred on May 29 at Asha Kiran Child Care Institute, Jhinjhari, Katni.

The statement explained that what is expected in all three incidents is that the officials entered the premises without prior permission, searched the premises, took away some files, and questioned the children if they were forced to go to church and if they were forced to read the Bible.

CBCI noted that despite the boarding and hostels' compliance with all legal and government requirements, the teams that visited them harassed the management and students unnecessarily.

The press statement said, “They tried to make false allegations against management and show how the children are converted to Christianity.”

In a police complaint filed by Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, who led the team that raided the three institutions, the bishop and the nun, a member of the Congregation of Mother Carmel, were accused of violating the anti-conversion law.

Since October 2018, Kanoongo has led the commission, accusing Bishop Almeida, the orphanage chairman, and Sister Joseph of converting three Hindu children.

As of 2005, the orphanage was caring for destitute orphans found on railway platforms, according to diocesan officials.

Diocese regrets that such false allegations will harm poor children who have no other place to stay or study because Kanoongo, a native of Madhya Pradesh, has not proven his allegation with "one credible case."

Despite the investigation officer failing to submit the case records, the hearing against the bishop and nun was postponed until the last week of May.


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