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Indian bishop denied bail in alleged conversion case

A Catholic diocese in India is appealing against a court’s decision to deny bail to a bishop in an alleged conversion case.

Bishop Gerald Almeida celebrates Mass at Divine Mercy Church, SAIT Campus, Jabalpur, India, on Feb. 5, 2023. Screenshot from Atmadarshan Tv YouTube channel.

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Fr. Thankachan Jose, a priest of the Diocese of Jabalpur, said that an appeal would be filed at the high court of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, which promulgated an anti-conversion law in 2021.

Jose was speaking after a district and sessions court in Katni, a city in the diocese, rejected an anticipatory bail application June 2 by Bishop Gerald Almeida and Sister Liji Joseph, a member of the Syro-Malabar Congregation of Mother Carmel.

Almeida, a 77-year-old Latin Rite bishop, and Joseph are facing prosecution following a May 29 inspection of the Asha Kiran Child Care Institute, an orphanage housing 47 children run by the Congregation of Mother Carmel in Katni.

The inspection was the latest in a series of probes targeting Catholic institutions in Madhya Pradesh — a state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — that have been strongly criticized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

Christians account for just 2.3% of India’s overwhelmingly Hindu 1.4 billion population and only 0.29% of Madhya Pradesh’s roughly 72 million people.

The inspections began when members of the Madhya Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and police visited the St. Joseph boys and girls boarding facility in the village of Goreghat March 2.

The following day, commission officials and police inspected the Jabalpur Diocesan Education Society Higher Secondary School, an institution that has served Indigenous people since 1940 in the village of Junwani.

The school’s principal, Nam Singh Yadav, was taken into police custody March 4, accused of violating the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act at a hostel connected to the school. But Yadav was released a day later after protests from students and parents, who denounced the accusations as “fake and part of a conspiracy.”

Yadav was arrested again March 7 and jailed, but granted bail April 13.

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In March, Bishop Almeida criticized the inspections and defended Church institutions.

“We don’t exploit anyone,” he said. “We try to provide the poor children with education and train them to become self-reliant and thus, each student becomes an asset to the nation.”

Aman Singh Porthe, state president of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, which advocates for the tribal community, told UCA News that he believed officials were targeting Christian schools to limit education for Indigenous people, fearing that they might otherwise reject the caste system associated with Hinduism.

“This they believe will lead to the collapse of the upper caste Hindu hegemony they try to establish. So they file false cases often aiming to tarnish Christian missionaries and their schools,” Porthe argued.  

A map showing the location of Madhya Pradesh state in India. Filpro via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).


A case was registered March 22 against Bishop Almeida, who is chairman of the Jabalpur Diocesan Education Society, and Fr. Jagan Raj, the society’s treasurer, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021.

On March 31, a district and sessions court in the town of Dindori rejected an anticipatory bail application by the bishop and priest, forcing them to apply to the high court.

Almeida reportedly did not take part in public Holy Week and Easter celebrations due to the possibility of arrest. 

On April 12, the high court ordered police not to arrest the bishop, who has led the Jabalpur diocese since 2001.

At the end of May, Almeida faced a new complaint following an inspection of the Asha Kiran Child Care Institute by members of India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

After commission chairman Priyank Kanoongo lodged the complaint against the bishop and Sister Liji Joseph, accusing them of compelling three Hindu children at the orphanage to convert to Christianity, local police registered a criminal case.

The Jabalpur diocese priest Fr. Thankachan Jose described the accusation as “a blatant lie.” 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India said in a May 31 statement that it was “deeply saddened at the recent happenings in the state of Madhya Pradesh and particularly in the Catholic diocese of Jabalpur.” 

“What is common 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,” it said.

“While these boardings and hostels cooperate wholeheartedly in complying with all legal and government requirements, the members who visited these three places sought to unnecessarily harass the management and the children. They tried to make false allegations against the management and show how the children are getting converted to Christianity.” 

The statement added: “The Catholic Church in India strongly calls upon the state authorities of Madhya Pradesh and the central government authorities to stop this age-old ‘bogey of conversion’ which has no basis and has been brought up repeatedly to tarnish the selfless and dedicated service of thousands of priests, religious and lay people.”

Daniel John, a Catholic leader in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh’s capital city, said that the inspections could force the Church to reconsider its activities. 

“It seems the time has come for us to rethink our social and other charitable works,” he told UCA News, adding that “if the government and its machinery target us deliberately, we need to think: Do we need to continue with such work at all?” 

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