An Indian bishop who’s faced accusations of sexual misconduct, corruption, kidnapping and even collusion in murder has been placed on administrative leave by the Vatican effective Jan. 7.
Bishop Kannikadass A. William, 57, has led the Diocese of Mysore since 2017.
In his place, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization has appointed retired Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore as apostolic administrator.
In announcing the Vatican’s decree, Archbishop Felix Machado, Secretary General of the Indian bishops’ conference, did not provide any other details, such as how long William would be gone or whether it’s possible he may return.
William himself had announced following a Mass on Jan. 1 that he would be going away on “medical leave” and asked for prayers.
Located in in southeastern India, Mysore is near the city of Bangalore. It numbers about 113,000 Catholics, divided into roughly 80 parishes.
In 2019, a group of 37 priests in the Mysore diocese wrote to the Vatican demanding William’s resignation on the grounds that he had fathered children from various affairs with at least four different mistresses, that he had strong connections with corrupt police officials and local bureaucrats as well as politicians, and that he had ties to organized crime.
That letter, coupled with other charges against William, led to a Vatican-sponsored investigation carried out by three Indian prelates that began in February 2021. Later that year, a group of 113 people, including 22 priests, calling themselves the “Save Mysore Diocese Action Committee” wrote to Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization demanding that William be removed.
In April 2022, 11 priests and one layperson from the Mysore diocese traveled to the Indian capital of New Delhi for a three-hour meeting with Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the papal ambassador in India, pleading for William’s ouster.
This past July, another Mysore priest, Father Gnana Prakash, wrote to the pope’s ambassador in India to lodge additional charges against William, including complicity in the death of four priests who had signed the 2019 letter and who later died under mysterious circumstances. Praksah also asserted that William was guilty of rape, sodomy and embezzlement.
According to media reports, a local woman has also charged that William solicited sexual favors from her in exchange for the offer of a job.
In August, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai was forced to deny charges that he had attempted to help William cover up his misdeeds, after a recording of a conversation between the two men surfaced in which a paternity test was discussed. Gracias insisted the recording had been selectively edited, and that he had encouraged William to take the test but never offered to influence its results.
From the beginning, William has denied all charges, insisting that some priests were attempting to smear him to derail his attempted reforms.
Prakash hailed the move to place William on leave.
“The Vatican decision has proved the universal saying that truth triumphs and the Catholic Church stands for truth, justice and for the Gospel values, [and] thus never reconciles with the powers of Hades,” he said.
The Indian Catholic Forum, a lay-led reform group, referred to the administrative leave as a “soft dismissal,” but nevertheless praised it as a “welcome step in the purgation of the Catholic Church in India.”
Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson for the bishops’ conference of Karnataka state, expressed satisfaction but also criticized William for “remaining in his position for such a long time,” saying he “should have left voluntarily a long time ago to demonstrate his innocence.”
Prominent human rights activist Dominic Lobo termed the action “too little, too late” and insisted that William should be laicized.