BENGALURU, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bangalore's archbishop, Peter Machado, accused of swindling millions from a disaster relief fund, offered to hide Mysore's bishop, K. A. William, from the police, Church Militant has learned.
According to email correspondence obtained by Church Militant, Machado, who is the metropolitan archbishop overseeing the diocese of Mysore, wrote to Bp. William assuring him of sanctuary if he is "apprehensive of any harm" or "would like a safe place to stay."
"I can arrange for the same," Abp. Machado emphasized in his email. "I understand they [police] can arrest you if you do not get anticipatory bail. I know that you have switched off your phone too and you are not in the Bishop's House."
The archbishop said he had received William's email of Nov. 29, 2019, "wherein you have explained to me your latest status, including the police complaint that is filed against you."
A police complaint (FIR No: 94/2019, F.R. No: Crl.Misc. /2337/2019) was lodged on Nov. 28, 2019, accusing the bishop of kidnapping a 25-year-old married woman named Mrs. Sahana S.N., a diocesan employee who said she was being sexually molested by Fr. Leslie Moraes (who is a confidant of the bishop).
William applied for anticipatory bail on Dec. 12, 2019, after local Catholics protested outside Bishop's House in Mysore accusing him of criminal acts, including kidnapping, rape, physical assault and embezzlement.
The victim Sahana and the bishop settled out of court for a sum of 120 million rupees, according to Justice Michael F. Saldanha, a practicing Catholic and a veteran judge of the Bombay and Karnataka high courts.
Multiple sources from the Bangalore, Bombay and Mysore dioceses told Church Militant that Abp. Machado was covering for Bp. William because they had colluded in a 500-million-rupee disaster relief scam.
A nine-page report published by Justice Saldanha accuses both prelates of the "criminal misappropriation" of approximately 500 million rupees, which was collected under the banner of the Coorg Disaster Relief Fund.
Funds were raised to provide relief to 2,400 families who lost their houses, plantations, cattle and possessions in the Madikeri district, Mysore diocese, due to torrential flooding during the monsoon of August 2018, the judge notes.
Saldanha lists the fundraising activities organized by both prelates in Mysore, Mangalore and Bangalore, explaining how Bp. William was "virtually cheating and looting because even after four months, not one rupee reached the victims."
On his fundraising drive, William raised 15 million rupees from coffee planters in Madikeri and 30 million rupees from churches and public performances from the Catholic stronghold of Mangalore. "These were all cash collections," Saldanha writes.
In Mysore, the bishop ordered all diocesan educational institutions to ask each student to contribute 100 rupees to the relief fund. Church collections from the Mysore diocese and funds raised from charity public performances totaled over 35 million rupees.
The laity in the Mysore diocese donated another 25 million rupees, "according to William's own announcements," Saldanha notes.
"William's next victim was the Bangalore archdiocese" where "Abp. Peter Machado joined him in these appeals and a massive fundraising campaign through the churches, institutions and particularly the schools and colleges resulted in a hefty collection of 60 million rupees, the judge reveals.
"Not being satisfied with this money, these two honorable gentlemen embarked on an excellent idea" and persuaded celebrity singer, music director and actor Sonu Nigam to perform at a concert held at St. Joseph High School grounds.
The central and state government granted a tax exemption for the concert and the business community responded generously to Machado's appeal for donations based on the tax-free status of the concert. Nigam performed pro bono, and his crew covered the expenses for the lighting, stage effects, and sound. The concert netted a total of 130 million rupees.
In church dispatches, Bp. William said that over 18,000 people were affected by the flood, and the money would be used to build houses for the families at a cost of 1.8 million rupees per house, as well as to purchase cows, bulls, pigs and livestock for the farmers.
Nearly 24 months after the fundraisers, only one "cheap shabby house" had been built, and "one person was given an auto rickshaw," Saldanha's Coorg Research Team discovered.
Sources in Madikeri told Church Militant that around 10 houses were built at Hattihole following the judge's devastating report — nearly three years after the fundraisers — but only five of the flood-victim families were currently occupying the houses.
"The other five houses are incomplete. Five years after the catastrophe, work is still pending," a local leader said, noting that the bishop did not consult the local parish priest when picking the beneficiaries for the relief project.
"There is no electricity, no tap-water supply, no proper roads connecting the houses and no steps or staircase reaching the terrace of the houses. The occupants use an iron ladder to reach the terrace, which is unsafe," he added.
Church Militant asked Machado if there were audited accounts made available in the light of the scandal regarding the misappropriation of funds or if the matter was independently investigated but received no response from the archbishop.
Bishop William also did not respond to Church Militant's request for comment.
Update: The archdiocese of Bangalore issued a clarification on Aug. 12 stating that the Sonu Nigam concert was cancelled. Church Militant's investigations reveal that while Nigam did not perform, the fundraising concert was held at a mall in the Thambu Chetty Palaya area of Bengaluru.