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South Sudanese Clergy Arrested after Bishop-elect’s Shooting to Answer Instigation Charges

Msgr. Christian Carlassare currently in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi for specialized treatment/ Credit: ACI Africa

The three South Sudanese Catholic Clerics arrested following the shooting of the Bishop-elect for Rumbek Diocese in South Sudan are expected to be among those charged for “instigating” the two gunmen who shot Msgr. Christian Carlassare, a government official involved in the investigation has told ACI Africa.

In the Friday, April 30 interview, South Sudan’s Lakes State Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Head of Investigative and Security Committee, Hon. Mathiang Deng Monydit, said that the April 26 shooting of the Bishop-elect was not “an accident.”

The three members of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese arrested alongside nine others, Hon. Monydit said, “are accused of instigating the group that shot the Bishop-elect to take action. They are accused to be behind the shooting incident because it seems there is an instigation somewhere, and shooting did not happen as just an accident.”

A mobile phone belonging to one of the assailants that was found at the scene of crime alongside the phone of one of the Catholic Clerics, which the security offers confiscated, have aided the security officers in identifying those linked to the shooting of the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries.

“In the detention now are some (Catholic) Priests and their staff and others who are associated with this group that shot the Bishop-elect for Rumbek Diocese,” Hon. Monydit told ACI Africa.

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He added, “We have the investigators from the police who are doing the questioning of the suspects and they will update us on the statements of the arrested people.”

The information gathered so far, the head of Lakes State Investigative and Security Committee told ACI Africa, reveals that the shooting of Msgr. Carlassare was “purely an administrative issue in the Church politics” related to the appointment of the Bishop for the South Sudanese Diocese.

Fr. John Mathiang who has been at the helm of Rumbek Diocese as Coordinator since December 2013, Fr. Luka Dor who has been serving as Parish Priest of Holy Family Cathedral, and Deacon Stephen Mangar are among 12 suspects being held by security officials in South Sudan’s Lakes State that is covered by the South Sudanese Catholic Diocese.

Reacting to the arrest of the members of the Clergy, a Kenya-based specialist in the Code of the Canon Law that obliges Roman Catholics told ACI Africa that the three Clerics could be considered “accomplices” without whom “the crime would not have been committed.”

“The picking up of the Clerics by civil authorities could be indicative that there is good reason to believe that they are linked to the crime of inflicting grievous bodily harm to the Bishop-elect,” the canonist lawyer said, and added, “The matter having been remitted to the civil authorities will follow due process and be determined by the civil courts.”

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That the matter is in the civil courts “does not hinder the church from initiating her own due process over the Clerics in question,” he further said.

He explained, “If there is good reason to believe that the Clerics, though they didn't actually execute the crime, were linked to the principal offender in such a way that without their assistance, the crime would not have been committed, then they are accomplices.”

“If it is established that they are accomplices, they will be subject to the same penalties as the principal offender or to other penalties of the same or lesser gravity,” the canonist continued, making reference to Canon 1329 paragraph 1 and 2.

At any stage of the Clerics’ trial, he said, “for reasons of preventing scandal, protecting the freedom of witnesses and safeguarding the course of justice, the competent ecclesiastical authority can prohibit the accused from the exercise of sacred ministry or of some ecclesiastical office or position,” he told ACI Africa, making reference to Canon 1722.

“By the very fact that they are clerics, if found culpable, the penalty is aggravated in accordance with Canon 1326 paragraph 1 number 2,” the Kenyan canonist lawyer said.

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The referenced Canon 1326 states, “A judge may inflict a more serious punishment than that prescribed in the law or precept when: a person, after being condemned, or after the penalty has been declared, continued so to offend that obstinate ill-will may prudently be concluded from the circumstances; a person who is established in some position of dignity, or who has abused a position of authority or an office in order to commit a crime.”

In the interview with ACI Africa, Hon. Monydit clarified, “We have not yet reached the stage of the lawyers to get involved. As the investigators have started, it will be now up to the judiciary when lawyers would come into the case; so far only the persecutor is following closely.”

Msgr. Carlassare who was appointed Bishop for Rumbek Diocese March 8 after nearly a decade without a Bishop is nursing gunshot injuries at The Nairobi Hospital in Kenya.

He was reportedly the main target of two gunmen who gained access to his room in the early hours of April 26 by shooting multiple bullets on his door at the Fathers’ residence at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese. He was shot in both legs.

In the April 30 interview with ACI Africa, Hon. Monydit said that the two gunmen “are still on the run but the investigative committee has gathered information on the identity of the armed men and the reason behind the attack of Monsignor Carlassare.”

He reiterated, “The suspects who took the action of shooting the Bishop-elect are not arrested; the security forces are still pursuing them, but the other suspects who are in connection to what had happened are arrested.” 

“Day and night, we are after those still not arrested; they move to point A and when we go there, they move to point B; we are closer to arresting them; I am assuring you we must arrest them,” the government official further said, adding, “We know the two people on the run by name and by identity; we have all the details but for security reasons we will not share the details in the media.”

According to Hon. Monydit, “There are two groups of suspects: the planners who include members of the Clergy and the implementers of gunfire said to be working for the Catholic Mission of Rumbek.”

What happened in the early hours of April 26 “seems to be something planned and effected,” he emphasized, adding, “One group is the implementing group who carried out the shooting of the Bishop-elect and the other group is accused of being behind the plan.”

“It will be up to the top leadership of South Sudan to decide whether the accused remain here (Rumbek) or they take them somewhere else,” Hon. Monydit said, and added, “After I am done with the investigation, the direct supervisor for this committee is the state governor and the deputy governor and then would report to the next level, maybe to the national level.”

He further said, “We wish the Bishop-elect to recover and comeback to resume his work; people are happy to work with him, it is only that group.”

“I am assuring you that this case would be the last of its kind against a Church leader here because it is condemned by all the communities,” the government official also said, adding, “The Catholic Church has done a lot to the people of South Sudan during the war (liberation war) until now and cannot be rewarded that way.”

In an ACI Africa video recording from his hospital bed at The Nairobi hospital Tuesday, April 27, Bishop-elect Msgr. Carlassare reassured the people of God in Rumbek that he is out of danger and that he plans to return  to the South Sudanese Diocese.

“I take the chance to greet all of you, my brothers and sisters, in Rumbek. I want you to be at peace to know that I’m well here in the hospital in Nairobi,” Msgr. Carlassare whose episcopal ordination had been scheduled to take place on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, said, adding that he is receiving good medical care, and he is improving.

The episcopal ordination event has since been “postponed until a later date.”

Speaking on behalf of the members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC) that brings together Catholic Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan, Archbishop Stephen Ameyu of Juba Archdiocese said that the postponement was informed by the state of health of the Bishop-elect and followed consultations with the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan, Bert van Megen, and the chargé d’Affaires, Msgr. Mark Kadima.

A new date for episcopal ordination of Msgr. Carlassare “will be fixed as soon as he recovers from the physical and traumatic wounds,” Archbishop Ameyu said Saturday, May 1.

“We Call upon all people of Good will to pray for the Bishop Elect and the Christian of the Diocese of Rumbek,” the Archbishop of South Sudan’s only Metropolitan see said.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement dated Sunday, May 2 and addressed to Priests, men and women Religious and the Laity in Rumbek Diocese, Archbishop Ameyu asks for continued prayers for the Bishop-elect who “has told us that he looks forward to returning to you in Rumbek and that he is holding you all in his prayers.”

"In the meantime, Fr. Andrea Osman, along with some Priests, Religious Sisters, and Laity will ensure the important work of the Diocese continues," the South Sudanese Archbishop who has been at the helm of Juba Archdiocese since March 2020 says in the May 2 statement shared with ACI Africa.

Peter Mapuor Makur contributed to the writing of this story