World News

Vatican suspends Indian bishop over "adoption" row

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (Reuters) - The Vatican has suspended a bishop in the south Indian state of Kerala after a furore over his adoption of a young woman as his “spiritual daughter,” the state’s Catholic bishops’ council said.

Bishop John Thattungal, 58, of the diocese in Kochi city, met the 26-year old unmarried woman on a pilgrimage, and adopted her, saying she had extraordinary spiritual powers and that the relationship had given him a “spiritual renewal.”

Thattungal’s move created an uproar in the regional media in Kerala, which recently celebrated India’s first woman saint Alphonsa, who also hailed from the state.

“The bishop has been stripped of the administrative and religious responsibilities of the diocese, pending a probe into the charges as per a Papal decree,” said Father Stephen Althara, a spokesman for the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council.

The Vatican conducted an inquiry after a section of the Kochi clergy complained against Thattungal, saying his action was “morally and ecclesiastically wrong.”

Priests were permitted to marry in the first millennium of the Church’s history before the celibacy rule was adopted at the start of the second millennium.

Thattungal offered to withdraw the adoption if the Vatican held it improper, but the Kochi clergy maintained its demand for his removal.

Although Thattungal loses the title of bishop and many responsibilities, he will continue to celebrate Mass and perform other functions for the time being, Althara said.

He will also go to Rome to explain his stand to the Congregation of Bishops.

A three-member committee of bishops will also be set up to inquire into the charges, which could take years.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s billion-plus population, with Roman Catholics making up 70 percent of the minority.

Reporting by D. Jose; Editing by Rina Chandran and Alex Richardson