Indian court denies bail to Missionary of Charity accused of child trafficking

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Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

A religious sister with the Missionaries of Charity accused of cooperating in the sale of a child from a home for unwed mothers has been denied bail by India’s Supreme Court, according to UCANews.

Sister Concelia (Konsalia) was arrested July 4, 2018 in connection with the reported sale of a child from the Nirmal Hriday home in Ranchi.

Her plea for bail was rejected this week by the India Supreme Court, due to a lack of formally filed charges from the police on the case. While the court urged police to file charges soon, Sr. Concelia remains in custody in the eastern state of Jharkhand.

It is the third time the sister has been denied bail, but the Supreme Court will allow her to apply again, UCANews reported Jan. 31.

Anima Indwar, an employee of the Nirmal Hriday home since 2012, was arrested the day before Sr. Concelia, in connection to the reported sale of the child. Indwar had been entrusted with escorting unwed mothers, their babies, and their guardians to the hospital and to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) office when the religious sisters were engaged with other duties.

Police were tipped off to the possible sale when a couple complained to the CWC in Ranchi that they had paid for a baby boy who was then taken away from them. The couple reportedly paid Indwar 120,000 Indian rupees ($1,760) for the child. They complained that Indwar took their money in exchange for the child, and that she later took the child back from them, without returning the money.

In a video, Sister Concelia said she found out about the reported sale after being questioned about it by the CWC. She asked Indwar, who then allegedly admitted to having tried to sell the child. Sr. Concelia said she then alerted the authorities about the matter and said the baby should be brought back.

A police source said at the time that Indwar provided to police a handwritten note from Sister Concelia asking Indwar to take the blame on herself, Matters India reported at the time.

Some Catholic bishops of the country have questioned whether Sister Concelia is actually guilty of collaborating with Indwar in the sale, or whether she is the victim of a coerced confession.

“Nobody was allowed to meet Sister Konsalia in custody,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, said at the time. “Her advocate could meet her on Wednesday, eight days after her arrest, only after we approached the court,” he said July 12, according to the Hindustan Times. “During the 10 minutes interaction that the advocate could have with her, she said she was forced by the police to give her statement.”

The Albanian-born Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata in 1950. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and canonized in 2016. There are now 5,167 Missionaries of Charity sisters, both active and contemplative, around the world. The order has 244 houses in India.

After the incident, the Missionaries of Charity released a statement expressing regret, sorrow and condemnation for the action, and their willingness to cooperate with authorities in the investigation. They also announced that they were conducting their own internal investigation of the case.

According to UCANews, local media reports have said that the Jharkhand government has revoked the sisters’ licence to run the Nirmal Hriday, but the sisters told UCA that they have received no official notification.

UCANews also reported that some Christian leaders believe that the incident is being used by pro-Hindu groups to cast Christians and missionaries in a bad light.

Bishop Mascarenhas told UCA news that he is concerned for the health of Sr. Concelia, a diabetic, while she is held in custody.

"We feel very sad that an innocent and physically unwell nun is behind bars," he said. "We are pained that an aged innocent nun remains in jail when murderers and other hardcore criminals get bail.”

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