By John Jalsevac

KERALA, India, April 8, 2008 ( – For several years the world’s largest Catholic retreat centre has had a cloud hanging over its head. In 2006 an anonymous letter sent to the High Court of Kerala accusing the Divine Retreat Centre of sexual abuse, the violation of foreign exchange regulations, and suggesting that “unnatural deaths” had occurred at the centre, set in motion an extensive police investigation into the centre.

The director of the Divine Retreat Centre, Fr. Augustine Vallooran, has said that the several-years-long police investigation amounted to nothing more than ongoing “harassment” that interfered with the centre’s spiritual and charitable work.

“We, at Divine Retreat Centre, the world’s largest Catholic Retreat Centre located in Kerala, India, had welcomed the investigation and have been giving it our full cooperation,” he said in a recent statement. “However, we had no inkling of what was to come. The police team began to harass us and disturb the smooth functioning of the daily services of our retreats.

“We were especially shocked by the humiliating manner in which the police raids were carried out in the Centre on 30 September and 01 October 2006. What pained us the most was the way the sick were subjected to torturous harassment. Even the AIDS patients and the mentally challenged were not spared! We were deeply grieved at this cruelty.”

Just before Easter, however, Fr. Vallooran, released a statement announcing that the Supreme Court had ruled that all of the charges agains the Centre should be dropped. The court also ruled that anonymous tips should not be used to initiate “suo motu” (“on its own motion”) investigations of the sort that the retreat centre was subjected to by the High Court.

In 2006 and 2007 managing director, Steve Jalsevac, and editor-in-chief, John-Henry Westen, each visited the Divine Retreat Centre. What they both found was an astonishingly vibrant faith community that was not only promoting the authentic Catholic Christian faith with unapologetic vigor, but that was also taking care of thousands of the sick, including innumerable AIDS patients. Every week, year round, anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 people attend a retreat and with all participants housed and fed by the centre.

However, what they also discovered is that, despite the internal strength and fervor of India’s Christian community, it is still a minority, and is subject to disapproval and persecution from the larger majority of Muslims and Hindus in the country. In many parts of India anti-conversion laws have been put in place that prevent Christians from even attempting to engage their non-Christian neighbors in discussions about the faith.

There have been a number of cases in recent years where Christian missionaries have been detained or arrested simply for attempting to share their faith with non-Christians. Such a case occurred in 2006, when police detained four Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns on charges of attempting to convert people when the nuns visited a government-run hospital in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

In the recent ruling, Justice S. H. Kapadia and Justice B. Sudershan Reddy quashed all of the charges leveled against the Divine Retreat Centre. But they also went further, criticizing the circumstances that began such an extensive and fruitless investigation based upon nothing more than an anonymous and unsubstantiated letter. “Setting the criminal law in motion is fraught with serious consequences,” wrote the justices. “The High Court cannot direct investigation by constituting a special investigation team (SIT) on the strength of anonymous petitions.”

Justice Reddy criticized the High Court for becoming ‘embroiled in the passions of the day.’ “History teaches us that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardized when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day and assume prime responsibility to resolve the issues which are otherwise not entrusted to it by adopting procedures which are otherwise not known.”

“There is heavy duty cast upon the constitutional courts to protect themselves from the onslaught unleashed by unscrupulous litigants masquerading as public interest litigants. The individual judges ought not to entertain communications and letters personally addressed to them and initiate action on the judicial side.”

Fr. Vallooran, however, observed that there has been a positive outcome to the several-years-long investigation. “The verdict has helped to bring to light the true facts about the great humanitarian service carried out by the Retreat Centre,” he said, “bringing great peace of mind and spiritual consolation to millions especially the sick and the suffering. The verdict is welcomed as recognition of the charitable works of the Catholic Church as a whole.”

See related coverage:

Cardinal Varkey Says “Forced Conversion” Laws Really About Stopping All Conversions

Mission India:’s Journey to India
  Part 1: The call and the journey’s Mission India Part II: A New Openness to Life

Indian Cardinal Warns Catholics it is Sinful to Refuse God’s Gift of Children Without Grave Reasons 

Indian Catholic Prelate Sees Faith in India Drying Up Within 20 Years  

India Pro-Life Leader Explains How West Hurts India with Imposed Population Control