SOUTH SUDAN: Vatican Interdicts and Suspends Acquitted Fr Mathiang from Ministry, Bishops Declare Solidarity with Bishop Carlassare of Rumbek

By Paschal Norbert

JUBA, APRIL 19, 2024 (CISA) – In a show of solidarity with Bishop Christian Carlassare of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek after the acquittal of Fr John Mathiang Machol in March, a priest who was sentenced to 14 years in jail for masterminding the failed murder of the prelate, the Catholic bishops of South Sudan declared that Fr Mathiang was interdicted and suspended from the clerical state by the Holy See on May 9, 2023.

In a statement issued on April 16 by the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference (SSCBC), the bishops while expressing full support of the Vatican’s decision and solidarity with Bishop Carlassare, divulged that the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples issued an interdict and suspension against Fr Machol in conformity with Canon 1370 §2 of the Code of Canon Law in May 2023 that was only made public on April 9, 2024.

“We, the South Sudan Catholic Bishops Secretariat, have gathered today in an emergency meeting to address two important matters: First and foremost, we express our deep solidarity with our brother, Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek, following the recent release of Fr. John Matiang Machol, the main suspect in the attempted murder of the bishop three years ago,” said the bishops in the statement read by Cardinal Stephen Ameyu, the archbishop of Juba and president of SSCBC.

In the statement, the bishops also urged the faithful to abide by the declaration as it is a canonical censure necessary to uphold the dignity of the episcopal office and unity of the Church.

Canon 1370 article 1 states that a person who uses physical force against the pope incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if the offender is a cleric, another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, may be added according to the gravity of the crime, while article 2 states that one who does this against a Bishop incurs a latae sententiae interdict and, if a cleric, he incurs also a latae sententiae suspension.

A latae sententiae means “automatic” and thus, Fr Machol was automatically interdicted and suspended from the clerical state.

According to Cardinal Ameyu, the Vatican declaration means “Fr Machol, by his actions against a bishop, has automatically incurred an interdict and suspension from the exercise of his priestly ministry.”

The cardinal further declared that under the provisions of the censure the disgraced clergy “shall not receive sacraments nor administer them until further notice.” However, he said the Church in South Sudan shall offer ‘means’ for Fr Machol and pray for his spiritual healing and restoration.

Ameyu also condemned the act of violence against Bishop Carlassare, saying attacks on religious leaders have no place in a just and peaceful society. He further stated that the Church in South Sudan will not be silenced or intimidated by such acts and will continue to be a prophetic voice for justice, reconciliation and the dignity of all people.

On April 26, 2021, Bishop-elect of the Catholic Diocese Rumbek, Fr Christian Carlassare, now bishop of the same diocese, was attacked by armed men at his residence in Rumbek, Lakes State, and shot five times and wounded in both legs. He was later airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya, for specialized treatment and convalesce while awaiting new dates for his episcopal ordination.

The news of his attack was received with shock in both the local and universal Church as observers linked the ordeal to fights over the control of the diocese that had been dogged by insecurity since its erection in 1974. The accused Fr Mathiang, had been the Diocesan Coordinator of the diocese (sede vacante) for eight years.