South Sudanese Catholic Priest Sentenced for Shooting Bishop-elect “released”, Defence Team Set to Address Journalists

Fr. John Mathiang Machol. Credit: Elisabeth Hartl/Caritas/Diocese of Graz-Seckau, Austria

The defence team of Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the South Sudanese Catholic Priest, who was convicted and sentenced for the 26 April 2021 shooting of the then Bishop-elect for the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek in South Sudan is set to address journalists on the Priest’s release.

In a note to journalists in South Sudan seen by ACI Africa, the defence team announces the release of Fr. Mathiang from prison and invites journalists to a press conference in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, on Friday, March 22.

“Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the Rumbek Catholic priest who was convicted and handed seven years jail term last year alongside three others for the shooting of Rumbek Bishop has finally been released from prison by the Supreme Court of South Sudan,” the note to journalists in the East-Central African nation reads in part.

The note that provides a phone contact of Advocate Malith Jokthiang Wundit as the leader of the defence team further indicates that the March 22 press conference is to take place at the Supreme Court building in Juba at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT).

Fr. Mathiang was convicted and sentenced for seven years in a 25 April 2022 High Court ruling in which the judge said that the member of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese had been found guilty alongside Moris Sebit Ater, Laat Makur Agok, and Samuel Makir for “participating directly or indirectly” in the attempted assassination of Bishop Christian Carlassare


Bishop Carlassare was shot in both legs in the early hours of 26 April 2021, days after arriving in Rumbek Diocese. He had been serving in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since he arrived in the country in 2005. He was consecrated on 25 March 2022, after waiting for more than 12 months since he was appointed Bishop.

In the case that was first mentioned on 26 January 2022, Justice Alexander Sebur Subek stated that Fr. Mathiang, Mr. Ater, and Mr. Makur were to serve their seven-year jail term “without bail under Penal Code 334, 4,335, 2008.” 

Mr. Ater and Mr. Makur were sentenced, Justice Sebur Subek said, based on the evidence before the court that the duo “went with ammunition to shoot the bishop in his house” in Rumbek.

Mr. Makir was handed a five-year jail term having been found guilty of “keeping two guns that were used for the attempted assassination and providing the assassins with Itel phone for communication,” the South Sudanese judge said during the 25 April 2022 ruling.

The jail term started on the day each of the suspects was arrested and Fr. Mathiang, the first suspect, was to serve his seven-year jail period from 7 May 2021, Justice Sebur Subek said. 

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In his testimony during a February 2022 hearing, Mr. Makur was quoted as saying that the shooting of the Bishop-elect was part of a plot to “scare him away” from the Episcopal See to which he had been appointed, and to have him abandon his mission in the Diocese.

“Fr. John Mathiang convened multiple meetings with the assailants on how they could attack the Bishop-elect in order to scare him away and he (Fr. Mathiang) could take over the helm of the Diocese of Rumbek,” Juba Monitor, a Juba-based media entity, quoted Mr. Makur as saying.

During the hearing, Mr. Makur recalled the events following the news of the Episcopal appointment of the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) that culminated in his being shot in both legs.

“I came to him (Fr. Mathiang) in the Church Compound at 5:30 PM and we had a chat. He told me the breaking news that, it is the white man who is brought as a Bishop-elect,” Mr. Makur told judge Subek Sebur during the 23 February 2022 hearing. 

He added, “We held several meetings with him (Fr. Mathiang) but the last meeting he told me that we don't need this white man and we need to scare him away by gun.”


Fr. Mathiang had shared about a “successful cold-blooded plot planned against a certain Priest working for Good News Radio by then and (who remains) in Nairobi,” Mr. Makur said referring to the September 2012 attack on the Founder and first Director of Good News Radio of Rumbek Diocese.

A witness testified that three suspects in the case were closely related to Fr. Mathiang.

In an interview with ACI Africa hours after the Bishop-elect had been shot, a source in Rumbek security officials handling the case in South Sudan’s Lakes State followed leads from “a cell phone” found at the scene of crime.

“When the two men shot the Bishop-elect, one of them dropped down his phone and the Bishop fell on it. It is this phone that the security used to find the people connected,” the source said, explaining how Fr. Mathiang was among the suspects arrested in connection with the shooting of Mons. Carlassare.

On his part, Fr. Mathiang denied claims that he was part of the plot to shoot the Bishop-elect for Rumbek Diocese when he testified in court on 21 February 2022.

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Ordained a Priest for Rumbek Diocese in July 2010 by the late Bishop Caesar Mazzolari, 47-year-old Fr. Mathiang served as Diocesan Coordinator of Rumbek Diocese from 2013 till March 2021, when Bishop Carlassare was appointed.

The South Sudanese Catholic Diocese became vacant in July 2011 following the sudden death of Bishop Mazzolari; the Italian-born MCCJ member collapsed during the celebration of Holy Eucharist on the morning of 16 July 2011 and was pronounced dead some minutes later.

Fr. Fernando Colombo, a confrere and compatriot of the late Bishop, governed Rumbek Diocese as Diocesan Administrator until 27 December 2013, when Fernando Cardinal Filoni, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, appointed Fr. Mathiang to serve as Diocesan Coordinator.

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