: A Note from the Editor :
Since I had written an opinion piece in Kittall about the ‘death of a priest’ five months ago, I had decided not to write further about the issue. But, when I saw that some people used this priest’s death to inflict disgrace upon themselves, it makes one suspect if some persons harboured hatred rather than pride about the priest. In the past few months, some writings on social media have been trying to make a saint out of the deceased priest. The irony is that, fearing disgrace to their deceased son’s reputation, his very mother, who had written to the bishop requesting “here we close the natter”, herself published statements that instigated people to react. However, if such reactions were restricted to focus on and inform the community about the deceased priest’s good qualities, the good works that he may have performed, and his god given talents, or if the discussion was used to establish some social programmes in the deceased’s name, the deceased priest would have received community’s sympathy. It would also have increased the number of his fans. For example, because he was a good musician a diocesan level music competition could have been arranged; because he was a teacher a fund could have been set up to honour annually a teacher in his memory. Instead of doing such positive works, through false stories, an effort was made to malign and crucify an innocent parish priest, the leadership of the diocese and a teacher. To crucify these persons, they used Fr Mahesh’s popularity as the main tool.
In order to achieve maximum contrast they hyped the image of Fr Mahesh as an honest priest, a good person, a person who was humble and cared for the poor, a simple person who upheld human values and more than anything he was hailed as a true representative of Christ who was a fine and a true priest, nothing short of a dictionary full words of praise. To build up the hype they claimed that Fr Mahesh brought money from his parents’ house to help the school. They also said that the money for the school that Fr Mahesh brought from an industrialist was usurped by the parish priest and the bishop; and because they could not tolerate Fr Mahesh’s progress they murdered him, they falsely claimed.
It appears that those from his family and those who claimed to be the fans of Fr Mahesh had assumed that by hyping the personality of Fr Mahesh and by publishing lies they could manage to influence the investigating officer who, while conducting his investigation, would be impacted in such a way that he would avoid paying attention to the flaws in Fr Mahesh’s behaviour. However, now the investigation report is out. All balloons of hype are punctured. The instrument employed to damage the parish priest, the bishop, and the teacher has withered. Now the clean-up job has fallen on those media that stand with the truth. Today it has become inevitable to use the same instrument (the media) which was used to destroy the innocent but now stands destroyed by the investigation report, needs be used to rebuild the destroyed reputations.
Hence, as a responsible media we apologise for this inevitability. Even a dead person has his dignity. He was also human. He also had human limitations and weaknesses. He also had god given gifts. Here, our intention is not to disrespect him. However, to clean up the dirt created by some using lies, we cannot but reveal the truths uncovered by the investigation report. This needs to be done because, due to the lies, several innocent persons have suffered. Even though the truths revealed by the investigation report cannot repair the indignity suffered by the innocents, as a lesson, at least now, the community can learn and stop crucifying the innocent.
Whatever is written in this report, except the names of the priests and some individuals, is selected literally from the legally obtained investigation report. We have neither mentioned names nor the mobile numbers of persons referred to in the report. We have made an honest attempt to protect their privacy. The analysis done here on this report should neither be taken as a judgement on the character of the priest involved nor as a criticism about how his relatives handled their responsibility about the issue. If only some from among the community had shown enough patience things would not have come to this pass. Hence, we request all to consider this writing as a community concern to find the truth.
► The Editor
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Icannot imagine another shameful instance about people who set out to demand justice on behalf of a priest who, due to the constrictions of his religious vows, had committed suicide. Today society is spitting on the Christian community like those who get spit on one’s face with betelnut. Those who had ventured out seeking justice, today when the truth is out, have begun to pity the person saying, “no one should impute wrong on a deceased person.” This they do because they are unable to clarify their behaviour. But one should also ask, where was your concern about the deceased person when you were playing politics in his name? Where was your current reasoning when you were venting your anger against the diocesan leaders?
Some time ago, when we had written in Kittall, we had stated and asked the question that “there would be enough reasons for a priest to die. But when ninety of the hundred reasons are imagined by the people, how could the entire priests’ community, including the Seminary that trains them, be made responsible?” As a response to this question columnist Philip Mudartha had said: “I do not think it is right to pin the responsibility for the suicide of this priest, Fr Mahesh, on the entire community. He himself is responsible for his suicide. He also knew how to love himself and others. He also had his rationality and hope in the God he believed in. Hence, when all three pillars, faith, hope, and reason are weakened, and hence the priest commits suicide it is improper to make the community responsible.”
I had written these comments within a week after the priest’s suicide and Philip Mudartha had reacted at the same time. At the time, the final investigation report about the unnatural death of the priest was not out. But now that the final report is out everything is black and white.
What Philip Mudartha had mentioned five months ago, namely, the priest’s suicide is due to the weakening of all three pillars, is now proved right. If an anointed priest does not stick to these three pillars: the limits one should define while loving oneself and others, the hope in the power of the God whom he believed in and reason, what kind of accident can happen and how the entire community has to suffer disgrace is now imprinted already in history.
So far, both in Mangalore and Belthangady dioceses, there are already incidents of unnatural deaths of priests. There was also an incident when people had protested before the District Collector’s (DC) office. When the protesters had realised that there could be unwanted outcomes if they had pressed further, they had quietly withdrawn their protest. Perhaps, because there were not many that had benefited from the deceased priest or not many who wanted to benefit by using the unnatural death of the priest that these protests had died a natural death. But in the case of Fr Mahesh’s death there were far too many who had benefited from him and many more who had some axe to grind against the parish priest, the bishop, and others. That appears to be the reason why this disgrace could not have been avoided.
The deceased priest’s fans claim that after the publication of the investigation report it is unfair to crucify the dead person by digging for the reasons of his suicide. However, one should accept that a young priest finds liberation to his life in his own way for making the mistake of choosing a way of life with poor knowledge or due to some compulsion. But what shall I say about those who re-crucified the priest by not allowing him lay peacefully in his grave in the cemetery, but instead visiting his grave in droves on All Souls’ Day and ringing Church bells? By so doing did not the very people who claim to be his fans exhume him from his grave, made him naked and re-crucify him? What kind of respect and love is it?
Probably, suicide is the only crime where if a person survives the attempt, he must face criminal justice. But if the person succumbs to suicide then the crime and the criminal both are forced to be buried. For example, D.K. Ravi, Padmapriya incident. If such incidents are reopened for investigation, then, when it is foreseen that instead of truth only muck will surface, these investigations are allowed to die a natural death. Perhaps, there was similar fear about the priest’s death. That could have been the reason why his family insisted the Church leaders and the police authorities to see that their son’s name would not be sullied. Diocesan leaders and the police had tried their best to save the reputation of the priest, his family, the diocese, and the entire community. But what could be expected of adamant people? Now they have dirtied everything beyond repair.
Today 200-page report has become a public document and according to the Right to Information Act (RTI) anybody can access it. We too possess this report. On 27th February 2020, this report has been filed in Assistant Commissioner’s court. This final report contains 13 chapters. In the 13th chapter after verifying much evidence such as the inquiring officer’s report, post-mortem report, forensic report and other evidence, the investigating officer has answered the question if Father Mahesh D’Souza’s death was murder, a suicide, or an accident. An experienced and professional officer, Mahesh Prasad, has concluded clearly that Fr Mahesh D’Souza, being a victim of intimidation and guilt feelings about the wrongs done, has committed suicide by hanging.
Those who had been claiming vehemently that Fr Mahesh had not committed suicide had already accepted before the Circle Inspector of Kapu that Mahesh Prasad is a capable, experienced, and professional police officer. Having done that already, now how could they also claim that this officer’s report is false? Now their situation is very dire indeed.
All that was done was to disorient innocent people and try to fish in muddled water. But now it looks that those who were clamouring for justice using all ends of their body have closed them all and meditating in silence. Just think of it! Despite serialising their claim over the last four-five months, they could not even gain courage to name the one person that the investigating report had named as responsible for the incident. This shows clearly that heir only objective was to mislead innocent people and benefit from it rather than having anything to do with their love for the priest or to get justice for him.
The final investigation report has 13 detailed chapters. It contains from page 1 to page 198.
If the first section of the report contains the summary of the issue, the second section contains information about the 95 witnesses. The third section contains the evidence given by the witnesses. Among these are the Assistant Parish Priest of Shirva, Vicar General of Udupi diocese, the Bishop of Udupi, former Vicar of Kallianpur, former Vicar of Mount Rosary, former Vicar of Shirva, the secretary of Catholic Board of Education, former Bishop of Mangalore diocese, the priest who was closest to Fr Mahesh and classmate priests of Fr Mahesh. The section also contains statements from the Superior of SVD when Mahesh was a seminarian there, from the NRI businessman who had given Rs 2 crore donation to the school and the teacher who is retired from Don Bosco School as well as many others.
If the fourth section contains information about things confiscated for investigation, the fifth section contains details about the documents submitted to Assistant Commissioner’s court. Section six contains information about the items submitted to the forensic labs at Mangalore and Bangalore. This information involves the deceased’s body parts such as lever, kidney etc., mobiles and other electronic equipment. Seventh section contains details of items taken during investigation such as pen-drive, CDs, photos, audio material, other documents, post-mortem report, forensic report. Altogether it contains 107 pieces of evidence. The eighth section contains a summary of each item gathered for investigation.
Among the details contains information from the WhatsApp conversation between the parish youth and the deceased priest where they used mean language about the parish priest; and WhatsApp conversation during the period 2015-2019 between the deceased priest and five separate women, mainly containing conversations with other married women. The conversation contains exchange of indecent images and videos between the priest and the women. The indecency involved in the conversation between the priest and a woman of a different religion makes the reader feel disgusted. Here is an example:
Deceased Priest (DP): Aapka husband kidar hai?
Married Woman (MW): Wo Kundapur gaye hain.
DP: Kuch romance kiya nahin kya?
MW: Unke romance se main pareshaan.
DP: Kyun kya hua. Torture karthe hain kya?
MW: Muje pasand nahin, sach bolun tho torture hee hai.
DP: Muje yek chance dena plz….
Seventy pages contain conversations such as these that are forbidden to a priest.
Nineth section contains summaries of evidence given by witnesses and the investigator’s opinion about the personality of the deceased priest based on the evidence. The sad part of this story is that from the evidence of the witnesses the priest’s decadent character is glaringly revealed and thus erasing any good that he may have done.
In section ten the investigating officer has recorded in detail the outcome of investigations done as a response to the complaints from some individuals. As a response to these complaints the investigating officer has categorically stated that neither the parish priest of Shirva, nor the teacher who was transferred, nor the secretary of the Catholic Board of Education, nor the alleged transfer, nor the issues related to the donation given by the NRI businessman have been responsible for the priest’s suicide.
In this critical section of the report the investigating officer has quoted the statement from a priest who had reviewed Fr Mahesh’s performance during his seminary days where he had written that Fr Mahesh was suffering insomnia, was finding it difficult to study, and was failing to perform his duties as a student. Using this information, the investigating officer has concluded the following: “Concluding that Fr Mahesh lacked qualities required to become a priest the superiors at Damaskatte SVD and at St Joseph’s Seminary Mangalore had recommended him to be sent home.”
The investigating officer has also opined that when the new parish priest arrived at Shirva he had announced openly at a Mass the details of the financial burden on Don Bosco English Medium School and this fact had made the deceased priest and the vice president of the parish to conclude that things would not be the same hence forth. To prove the unbecoming behaviour of Fr Mahesh the investigating officer refers to the reactions and the derogatory WhatsApp conversation between Fr Mahesh and the youth of the parish that took place when an “Open to All” football match that was scheduled at the Church grounds had been cancelled. The conversion showed how Fr Mahesh was instigating the youth against the parish priest. The investigating officer has opined that such backstabbing behaviour is unbecoming of priestly profession. Referring to a WhatsApp group, in which Fr Mahesh was the admin, where the group members (youth) were exchanging derogatory comments about the parish priest and yet Fr Mahesh’s silent approval of this behaviour of the youth where he had hoped that the youth would revolt against the parish priest had made the investigating officer opine that Fr Mahesh had failed in his role as an exemplar to society and to the youth. This fact is confirmed by two youngsters who had given evidence saying that Fr Mahesh had urged them already not to give any written apology to the parish priest even when he had asked the youth to do so. However, the vicar of Mudarangady, had stated in his evidence quoting Fr Mahesh who purportedly told him that even though he (Fr Mahesh) made the children apologise Fr Denis D’Sa has thought that I (Fr Mahesh) had coaxed them to confront Fr Denis.
The investing officer has also noted that even though the businessman who had donated 2.0 crore to the School was introduced to Fr Mahesh at an honouring programme in June 2019 Fr Mahesh had assumed credit claiming that it was he who was responsible to get this donation. In his statement to the police the concerned businessman has clearly stated that prior to June 2019 he was not acquainted with Fr Mahesh and he had donated the amount because of his respect for the parish priest and the bishop’s hard work.
The investigating officer has also opined that because the former vicar of Shirva was elderly Fr Mahesh was functioning like an acting parish priest; but when the new Vicar arrived he did not have to depend on Fr Mahesh, a fact that may have possibly made him dissatisfied. Investing officer has also opined that when in the matters of the school he had been given complete independence but having been restricted from taking up any role in the parish work may have made him feel side-lined.
Investigating officer had referred to Fr Mahesh’s past behaviour where while at Mount Rosary when he had gotten into trouble having been entangled with a woman he (Fr Mahesh) had mentioned to the parish priest his intention to commit suicide, and also at Shirva while, one night, rolling on the floor he had mentioned to the parish priest that he wanted to commit suicide. However, no such incident has happened after the new vicar had arrived to Shirva. The Vicar of Mount Rosary, who was present during the incident mentioned above, has, in his statement, mentioned that “This suicide should have happened long ago but has happened now.”
Referring to Fr Mahesh’s financial mismanagement the investigating officer is scathing and imputes him with criminal behaviour. This refers to the public donation of Rs 16, 10, 761.50 which was collected for the school but channelled to his personal account of which some amount was transferred to the school account claiming that it was a donation from his family. Worse still, he had lied about taking money (Rs 4 lakhs) from one of the teachers who was working under him. Besides the above, the investigator found that he (Fr Mahesh) had also contacted ………. (name of the female withheld) via video call and had solicited donation from her for the school. She had contributed a sum of Rs 8,91,195/- which had been deposited into Fr Mahesh’s personal account at a Syndicate Bank branch but neither utilised for the school nor for the Church.
In the 11th section of the report the events of October 11 beginning from 9.00 am in the morning till 8:29:04 pm in the evening are minutely detailed and is concluded that the priest had shown no inclination to commit suicide. During this period, he had made a 23 seconds long phone call to the companion of the parish vice president informing him that he would meet them at the gate, and accordingly they even had come and waited for him there.
The Officer concludes that up to this point Fr Mahesh had shown no intention to commit suicide.
The investigating officer has written this line in bold fonts. This indicates that the anxiety suffered due to the events taken place after 8:29:04 the priest had committed suicide between 8:50 and 9:05. In the end part of this section 13 the officer has clearly concluded that Fr Mahesh has committed suicide by hanging due to intimidation and criminal guilt, and therefore his death is not an accident.
After having read the 200 page report in detail and having grasped the evidence from witnesses, WhatsApp conversations and the forensic reports from the lab one can conclude that all the allegations such as purported transfer of the priest, the donation from the businessman that was alleged to have been eaten up by the bishop, parish priest’s treatment and the allegations heaped on the retired teacher have all been proved nothing but allegations. Other allegations and negations such as that no complaints have been made, church bells were not rung, priest’s hands had wounds from violent hit, his death note and diary have disappeared etc. have turned out to be totally false claims. All the above and the request by Fr Mahesh’s parents to the bishop and the police to close the matter without further investigation and protect the name of their son, and the riot enacted on All Soul’s Day (November 2) make one ask ‘did these people really love the priest or they hated him even more?’ This also makes one doubt if the family of the priest somehow wanted to hide the ignominy of their son’s character by demanding no further enquiry. The suspicion becomes even stronger if one were to analyse the effort that went behind claiming that the deceased priest was no less than a saint.
Still, I cannot get my head round one issue. People hailed the priest as a saint! Even the family claimed him to be a great priest. If that is so why did his mother insist the bishop and the police officer to make sure that there is no stain on their son’s name? My question is if you guys (his fans) are one hundred per cent certain that the deceased priest was a good person, he had a good reputation, his image was great, then why would you have problem with the police enquiry? If the priest was a decent man, why should you be afraid? Why beg the police officer? This only shows that those who were shouting for justice were already aware of all the muck that would come up and that is why they were afraid of the police investigation. Even after knowing this why did they mislead the people under the pretext of demanding justice? On social media, why did they use the people to promote the deceased priest as a saint? Why did they publish articles like a serialised novel? Who was behind this propaganda? Now is the time to find answers to these questions.
I feel that the question that I had asked in my article “the death of a priest” is still relevant. “There would be reasons enough for priests to die. If out of the hundred reasons ninety are concocted by people, is it justified to make the entire priests’ community and the even the seminary that trained them responsible for a priest’s death?”
For a Mangalorean Catholics having a priest in the family is a matter of prestige. But for the candidate once they go to the seminary even if they find themselves unsuitable there is no easy way out. Especially after the ordination, that is even more difficult. However, in such complicated situations, if the family stands by them, coming out of the web is not impossible. Instead of living in such a prison it is possible to renounce priesthood and live a normal and decent life. But the society rejects them. If the son renounces the seminary and comes back home, there are enough people who think that the family has lost its dignity and use this opportunity denigrate such families.
The final investigation report indicates that during his priestly training the deceased priest’s trainers had found him unsuitable for priesthood. The superior at SVD where Fr Mahesh began his priestly education had mentioned in his statement that Fr Mahesh lacked the qualities required to live and practice priestly responsibilities. He was sent back from the SVD seminary in the year 2000 because his behaviour, character and interest in education were found wanting. The former bishop of Mangalore diocese had also stated that Fr Mahesh was a spendthrift, having little interest in religious life and education, and lacked seriousness to follow the rules of the seminary. Hence, the bishop stated that he was sent back from the seminary on 24th May 2007. Besides the above, the priest in-charge of him at SVD seminary has stated that Fr Mahesh had health issues. He was claiming that at night, while asleep, he would see “Bhoot” and would feel constricted by someone.
Fr Mahesh’s health issues did not go away even after his ordination to priesthood. This fact becomes clear from the following statement from an advisor priest: “He was paranoiac; easily showed signs of stress; his personality was not mature. He suffered from inferiority complex. He hesitated to meet senior priests. He had entangled himself with a woman and he was warned about such behaviour.” This instructional event had taken place four years ago, that is, in 2015. Similar observations are revealed from one of his colleague priests. He stated the following: “I am not a friend of Fr Mahesh. But I had heard his classmates say that he was a depressive. He always craved for approval and if ever he was criticised, he would go into depression.”
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When the situation was so grave and more than once, he was found unsuitable for priestly work why did the parents insist about his continuation? If only they had understood him and desisted from forcing him to become a priest; and if only the parents had helped him leave priesthood knowing well that while being a priest he had tried to commit suicide; and if only they had used the money, purportedly given as donation to his school, to treat him, I think, he would have been alive today. If things were taken care of in time the investigating officer need not have written the following comments about the character and unsuitability of Fr Mahesh for priesthood. He has written: “While noting Fr Mahesh’s mobile phone conversations with the girl/woman with mobile numbers …………. and ………. while he was serving at Rosario Church in 2015, and if taken into consideration the exchanged indecent images and porn movie between the two of them, it becomes clear that Fr Mahesh did not observe the decency required of a priest. This shows that he was overtly interested with women. Besides the above, if his relationship with a married woman in 2015 while in Mount Rosary and then presently at Shirva his relationship with a woman named ………. are considered it becomes very clear that he was a womaniser and hence his behaviour is unbecoming of a religious priest.” The officer writes further about Fr Mahesh’s extravagant lifestyle and the misuse of money meant for the School for his extravagance: “Fr Mahesh wanted expensive clothes and very expensive electronic gadgets. Most nights he would eat out. All these show an extravagant lifestyle. To lead such a life Fr Mahesh had to use not only his salary but also the donation money meant for the School. This is proved when checking the withdrawals from his Syndicate Bank savings bank account. It is possible that some of the money is used to help pay poor students’ fee and the construction of a building to provide mid-day meal. However, by claiming with his colleagues and others that the money spent on these purposes is personal he was trying to create a good impression about himself. The inquiry also indicates that his attempt at creating better impression about himself is also evident when he had claimed that the Rs 2 core donation received from Michael D’Souza is entirely due to his personal effort.” I feel that if only his family had showed some care for his flaws and addressed them in time none of the above would have had to be recorded by the Officer.
While giving evidence before the investigating officer Fr Mahesh’s mother has mentioned that, time to time, she had given donation to the school as well as personal money to him. If one paid attention to her statement it also becomes clear that her son had not only requested her money, but he also had shared with her other issues. Fr Mahesh’s mother has also mentioned in her statement that when, in 2017, Fr Mahesh was admitted to a hospital at Udupi the wife of the alleged offender in Fr Mahesh’s death had visited Fr Mahesh in the hospital. Hence the question remains as to, despite knowing all this and despite giving him money and things often despite he being a diocesan priest, why didn’t the family warn him about the dangers of his bad behaviour?
The answer to this question once again lies in my question that I had asked in my article “the death of a priest.” “There would be reasons enough for priests to die. If out of the hundred reasons ninety are concocted by people, is it justified to make the entire priests’ community and even the seminary that trained them responsible for a priest’s death?”
There are two issues here: Firstly, once a priest is offered to the service of the diocese he should be left alone with the diocese. He should not be spoilt by giving money, things, car etc from the family. The diocese takes total responsibility for the priest. The priest also learns to live by respecting his superiors. Secondly, all the while claiming to have offered their son to the Church if the family spoils their priest son with money, car, expensive objects etc one could say that the family becomes responsible about his disobedience towards his superiors. In my view, such a family and parents lose the moral right to say, “Today our son is not with us only because of the dirty politics of senior priests.”
After reading the investigation report in depth and as presented by Kittall columnist Philip Mudartha the conclusion is that Fr Mahesh himself and the weaknesses of his character are responsible for his death. However, one should not forget the fact that if the people close to him, those who were aware of his health issues, his habits and character, had taken some care about these issues and censured him well in time, a valuable life would not have been lost. In my view, the family had the chance to do it because most of the issues about him predated 1999 and, it appears, further exacerbated after 2015.
One cannot hold the seminary or the diocesan leaders responsible for whatever has already happened. Both SVD and Jeppu Seminary had done their job well in time and had taken appropriate action. In 2009 when he was readmitted to the seminary it was ensured that his behaviour had improved, and assurances had been taken against any further lapses. Even after the ordination when he got involved with problems the relevant Vicars and the diocesan leaders had helped him. He had been sent for counselling; given advice and opportunity to improve. They had not abandoned him even when he was a young priest. Despite everything due to ill health and flaws of his character this accident has happened. Even at such a moment the diocesan authorities have tried to protect the family’s and the community’s good name. The parish priest, the bishop and even the senior police officer had requested the people to maintain the good name. They had tried to convince the people that the death has happened due to personal causes. It is because the family of the priest did not stick to what they themselves had requested the diocesan leaders and the police to do, and because some people had tried using this tragedy to grind their axe against the diocesan leaders, that today the entire community is made to face this indignity. In some sense, one could say, that Fr Mahesh not only is responsible for his own death but also responsible for the indignity suffered by the community today.
Now one should ask the question: was it necessary to bring this shame upon themselves by clamouring maliciously for the so called ‘justice’?
At least now is the time for the Christian community to learn a valuable lesson. Otherwise, it will be the repetition of the same “FOOT IN THE MOUTH” story again.
► H M Pernal
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