Catholic Groups Condemn Priest's Arrest in India

Allegations Are False, Says Bishops’ Conference

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RADHANPUR, India, MARCH 9, 2005 ( The Christians of the state of Gujarat have demanded the immediate release of a priest who was arrested Tuesday on false charges, says the Indian bishops’ conference Web site.

Jesuit Father Prasad Gonsalves was arrested based on the trumped-up charges leveled against him by a middle-aged woman, Shantaben Gulabbhai, reported the episcopate Indian Catholic News Site.

The priest managed a project to build some 300 houses for homeless tribal people in Radhanpur, the heart of the arid areas of Banaskantha district in North Gujarat.

The arrest is connected with the housing project, according to a press release from Father Cedric Prakash, who runs a center for human rights in Ahmedebad.

Some time ago, Gulabbhai approached Father Gonsalves demanding that she too should have a new house in Anand, almost 300 kilometers (185 miles) away, where she also apparently lives.

The priest expressed his inability to grant her request and explained that the housing project was meant for the poor people of the area itself. The woman then approached police with a complaint against him. Under interrogation, she admitted she lied. But she later claimed to other officials that the priest made an improper request of her.

On Tuesday, following pressure by Hindu fundamentalists in the area, Father Gonsalves was summoned to the court in Radhanpur, the statement explained. The priest was interrogated and the magistrates then decided to send him to judicial custody.

The All India Catholic Union and the Bombay Catholic Sabha have condemned the arrest, calling it “illegal.”

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