Rome-based Comboni Leadership Expresses “support” for Bishop of Rumbek, Apostolic Nuncio to Visit South Sudanese Diocese

Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan; Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese; Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen

The General Council of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) is in support of Bishop Christian Carlassare of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek in South Sudan following what the Rome-based leadership of  the 157-year-old Institute describes as “recent developments”.

“Dear confreres, in light of the recent developments in the matter concerning the church in Rumbek and our confrere Bishop Christian Carlassare, we wish to express once again our sympathy to him, as a bishop and as a confrere, and our support in his service to the people of God and to the Catholic Church in South Sudan,” the communiqué from the MCCJ General Council emailed to members on Monday, April 22 reads in part.

The “recent developments”: Some Timelines

March 15: In a South Sudan’s Supreme Court order dated March 15, the Justice Dr. John Gatwech Lul-led panel of judges “quashed” all charges against Fr. John Mathiang Machol, a member of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese, who had been previously convicted and sentenced for masterminding the 26 April 2021 shooting of Bishop Carlassare, then Bishop-elect for the South Sudanese Catholic Diocese.

Some of the suspects arranged in court from one to six based on their role in the attempted murder of Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek Diocese. Credit: Deniel Michael/Eye Radio


The 25 March 2022 Episcopal Consecration of Bishop Carlassare was delayed for more than 12 months after he was shot in both legs days after arriving in Rumbek Diocese. He had been serving in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since he arrived in the country in 2005. 

Fr. Mathiang had been sentenced for seven years in a 25 April 2022 High Court ruling in which the judge said he had been found guilty alongside four other suspects for “participating directly or indirectly” in the attempted assassination of the Bishop-elect of Rumbek Diocese. Later, South Sudan’s Court of Appeal reconfirmed the High Court ruling and doubled Fr. Mathiang’s jail term to 14 years.

March 22: Following his acquittal, Fr. Mathiang told journalists in Juba that he was set to resume his Priestly ministry.

Fr. John Mathiang. Credit: Ginaba Lino/Juba/South Sudan

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“For sure I'm already going back to the Diocese of Rumbek; I've been here (Juba) and I'm going back to continue with my service,” Fr. Mathiang said during the March 22 press conference in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba.

Addressing himself to Bishop Carlassare, Fr. Mathiang said, “You know how much I received you in Rumbek and how I handled your announcement as Bishop; you are my Bishop. I have nothing against you, and I'm not opposing in any way your appointment.”

Fr. Mathiang’s acquittal of all charges and his press conference raised questions among a section of Catholic Church leaders in South Sudan, who spoke to ACI Africa requesting anonymity for fear of a possible backlash against their sentiments, one of them remarking, “Only truth sets people free”.

April 5: Members of the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SSS-CBC) convened a meeting in Juba. Details of the deliberations of the Catholic Bishops shepherding the people of God in the two Dioceses in Sudan and the seven Dioceses in South Sudan were made public on April 16.

In a two-page statement that the SSS-CBC President, Stephen Ameyu Martin Cardinal Mulla, signed, the Catholic Church leaders described their April 5 convention in Juba as “an emergency meeting”.


Stephen Ameyu Martin Cardinal Mulla. Credit: Radio Bakhita

April 9: The Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization issued an interdict and suspension against Fr. Mathiang. 

In the declaration dated 9 April 2024, officials of the Vatican Dicastery refer to the 25 April 2022 South Sudan’s High Court ruling, saying the investigation “concluded that Fr. John Mathiang Machol was the one who planned the cruel attack on the Ecclesiastic (Bishop-elect Carlassare).”

“On the basis of the proofs which have been gathered, the Dicastery for Evangelization, on the 9th of May 2023, issued a formal declaration of the latae sententiae Interdict and Suspension incurred by Fr. John Mathiang Machol in accord with the norms of Canon 1370 § 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (cf. Prot. N. 1811/23, of 9 May 2023),” the Vatican officials say, referring to Book IV of the Code of Canon Law.

In the declaration that the Secretary of the Dicastery for Evangelization, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu and the Dicastery’s Under Secretary, Mons. Samuel Sangalli co-signed, the interdict and suspension against Fr. Mathiang is reconfirmed despite his acquittal by South Sudan’s Supreme Court.

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Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, appointed Secretary of the Dicastery for Evangelization. Credit: CNA Deutsch/EWTN

“The Holy See, holding the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church and a sovereign subject of international law, notwithstanding the foregoing, upholds, until further notice, the formal declaration of the late sententiae Interdict and Suspension Prot. N. 1811/23, of 9 May 2023, of Fr. John Mathiang Machol,” the Vatican officials state in the declaration seen by ACI Africa.

“Consequently, the abovementioned priest remains prohibited from receiving sacraments and exercising any and every priestly faculty (cf. Canons 1332 and 1333, CIC'83),” they further say, adding, “Everything to the contrary notwithstanding.”

April 16: In the statement issued April 16 following their April 5 meeting, SSS-CBC members expressed their “full” support of the April 9 Dicastery for Evangelization declaration and “deep solidarity” with Bishop Carlassare.

Bishop Christian Carlassare of South Sudan's Rumbek Diocese. Credit: ACI Africa

“We the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference, firmly declare our support for the Dicastery's decision and the resulting interdict and suspension of Fr. John Mathiang Machol,” SSS-CBC members said. 

The Catholic Bishops added, “We call on all the faithful to respect and abide by this canonical censure, as it is a necessary measure to uphold the dignity of the episcopal office and the unity of the Church.”

“We pray for Fr. John's spiritual healing and restoration, and the church will provide the means for him,” they further said.

SSS-CBC members went on to express their support for their brother Bishop, saying, “We stand united with Bishop Carlassare and will continue to be a prophetic voice for justice, reconciliation and the dignity of all people.”

“We ask all people of goodwill to join us in prayer for the Church in Rumbek and south Sudan at large, for peace and justice to prevail in our land,” they implored, and added, “May the Lord grant us the wisdom and courage to be instruments of His love and mercy.”

April 21: In the note to MCCJ members across the globe dated April 21, the Rome-based MCCJ General Council assures the people of God under the pastoral care of Bishop Carlassare of spiritual solidarity.

“We continue to pray that they may all be witnesses of humble joy and fortitude in adversity and of hope in a triumph of truth imbued with evangelical charity; these are the conditions that make possible the resumption of a fruitful ecclesial witness and the healing of the wounds inflicted by violence,” the Ethiopian-born Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse Gebresilasie-led MCCJ General Council says in the note emailed in four languages: Italian, English, Spanish, and French.

Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan to Visit Rumbek Diocese

Bishop Carlassare is to play host to the representative of the Holy Father in South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, in a four-day visit that will see the Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat preside over Holy Mass on two occasions and have a meeting with the Clergy and women and men Religious serving in the South Sudanese Diocese. 

According to the itinerary shared with ACI Africa, the Apostolic Nuncio is scheduled to arrive in Rumbek on Saturday, April 27 morning, and later in the day “visit Catholic Church institutions”.

He is to preside over the 9 a.m. Eucharistic celebration at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese on Sunday, April 28, ahead of the meeting with the Clergy and Religious from late morning. 

On Monday, April 29, the Dutch-born Vatican diplomat is scheduled to preside over Holy Mass on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the presence of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Holy Ghost Fathers/Spiritans) in Rumbek Diocese.

From left: Provincial Superior of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, Fr. Frederick Elima Wafula; Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek Diocese; and the Parish Priest of Good Shepherd Thon-Aduel Parish of Rumbek Diocese, Fr. Boniface Muema at the Bishop's Residence in Rumbek on 23 April 2024. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The anniversary of the Spiritans is take place at Good Shepherd Thon-Aduel Parish of Rumbek Diocese, where Holy Mass has been scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

Archbishop van Megen, who represents the Holy Father in Kenya, his base, is set to leave Rumbek on April 30 morning, after a farewell ceremony at Rumbek airport.

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