Wednesday 17 April 2024

Vatican Issued Interdict, Suspension against Fr. Mathiang Last May: Bishops on Acquitted South Sudanese Catholic Priest


Last May, the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization issued an interdict and suspension against Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the Catholic Priest acquitted on all counts in the case of the April 2021 shooting of the then Bishop-elect of South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, Catholic Bishops in the country have revealed.

In a statement made public on Tuesday, April 16, members of the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SSS-CBC) express their “full” support of the Vatican decision and “deep solidarity” with the victim of the shooting, Bishop Christian Carlassare

Citing Book IV of the Code of Canon Law on offences against Church authorities and the exercise of duties, SSS-CBC members say they stand “in full solidarity with the formal declaration of the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples given on May 9, 2023 (No. 1811/23).”

The Vatican declaration “was given on 9th April, 2024 regarding the Latae Sententiae interdict and suspension incurred by Fr. John Mathiang Machol under canon 1370 §2 of the Code of Canon Law,” they further say in their two-page statement following their “emergency meeting held on April 5.”

While Canon 1370 §1 declares “a latae sententiae excommunication” for an individual “who uses physical force against” the Holy Father, Canon 1370 §2 states that a person, who physically assaults “a Bishop incurs a latae sententiae interdict and, if a cleric, he incurs also a latae sententiae suspension.”

In their statement, Catholic Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan explain the implication of Canon 1370 §2 on Fr. Mathiang.

According to the Code of Canon Law 1370 §2, SSS-CBC members say, “this means that Fr. Machol, by his actions against a bishop, has automatically incurred an interdict and suspension from the exercise of his priestly ministry.”

Fr. Mathiang, they say in the statement that SSS-CBC President, Stephen Ameyu Martin Cardinal Mulla, signed, “shall not receive sacraments nor administer them until further notice.”

The 9 May 2023 “latae sententiae interdict” and “latae sententiae suspension” against Fr. Mathiang by the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization, which SSS-CBC members cite followed the conviction and sentencing of the South Sudanese Catholic Priest in the case that was first mentioned on 26 January 2022.

Fr. Mathiang was initially convicted and sentenced for seven years in a 25 April 2022 High Court ruling in which the judge said that he 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 Carlassare.

The conviction and sentencing of Fr. Mathiang alongside three other suspects came a month after Bishop Carlassare’s Episcopal Consecration. Having been shot multiple times, injuring both of his legs, the then Bishop-elect had to wait, from the time he was appointed Bishop, for over 12 months to be Consecrated.

The defence team of Fr. Mathiang appealed the High Court ruling. However, South Sudan’s Court of Appeal reconfirmed the High Court ruling, and having considered the gravity of the offence, doubled the jail term to 14 years.

In an order dated March 15, the country’s Supreme Court “quashed” all charges against Fr. Mathiang.

“All convictions under Sections 48, 208, 334, 335, or any other Section of the South Sudan Penal Code Act, 2008, against John Mathiang Machol are quashed,” Justice Dr. John Gatwech Lul-led panel of judges stated in their final order, and added, “All sentences against John Mathiang Machol under the above Sections are quashed, and therefore we declare him acquitted and criminally innocent,”

The Supreme Court judges further stated, “John Mathiang Machol is to be set free with immediate effect from this date.”

Addressing journalists in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, on March 22, Fr. Mathiang, who had denied claims that he was part of the plot to shoot the Bishop-elect said he was set to return to Rumbek Diocese “to continue with my service.”

In their two-page statement made public on April 16, SSS-CBC members describe an interdict as “a manifestation of sorrow and a kind of reparation for a grievous wrong done to a holy place or person".

They emphasize the enforcement of the Vatican 9 May 2023 “latae sententiae interdict” and “latae sententiae suspension” against Fr. Mathiang, adding that it “is imposed by the Universal ordinary when and under the conditions that he judges suitable."

“In this case, the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, acting on behalf of the Holy See, has formally declared the interdict and suspension against Fr. (Mathiang),” they say.

Citing Canon 1335 §2 on the possibility of suspended Clergy administering “sacraments or sacramentals or the performing of acts of the power of governance” to persons “in danger of death”, SSS-CBC members say that “this exception does not apply in the case of Fr. Machol, as the interdict and suspension have been formally declared.”

“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,” they reiterate.

The Catholic Bishops add, “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 add.

Ordained a Priest of 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.

Rumbek 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.

In their statement, SSS-CBC members express their “deep solidarity with our brother, Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek, following the recent release of Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the main suspect in the attempted murder of the bishop three years ago.”

“We condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of violence against a shepherd of the Church. Attacks on religious leaders have no place in a just and peaceful society,” they say.

The Catholic Church leaders appeal to South Sudanese “authorities to ensure a thorough investigation into this incident and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

“The Church in South Sudan will not be silenced or intimidated by such acts. We stand united with Bishop Carlassare and will continue to be a prophetic voice for justice, reconciliation and the dignity of all people,” SSS-CBC members emphasize.

“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 implore, and add, “May the Lord grant us the wisdom and courage to be instruments of His love and mercy.”

The Catholic Bishops reconfirm their “commitment to the Gospel of peace and its mission to serve the people of this nation”, and pledge to continue working “tirelessly to foster dialogue, promote reconciliation, and build a society where all people can live in dignity and security.”