The chief Catholic bishop in Arabia denied Monday reports that the Islamic State had crucified a Catholic priest on Good Friday, and the cardinal responsible for the initial reports walked back his words also.
The Rev. Thomas Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest, was kidnapped in Yemen in early March during a raid on a nursing home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. His Islamic State kidnappers, who also killed 16 Christian nuns, nurses and patients, had issued threats to execute him using the same method used by the Romans on Jesus and marked on Good Friday every year.
According to a report in the Salzburg News, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said at his Easter Vigil Mass that the Islamist group had followed through on those threats. There had been no official confirmation from the priest’s order, the responsible diocese or the Vatican.
However, after numerous news outlets, including The Washington Times, picked up Cardinal Schonborn’s words, Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia said the cardinal had been misinformed.
Bishop Hinder told Catholic News Agency on Monday that he has “strong indications that Fr. Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers.”
The bishop also told CNA that Cardinal Schonborn’s statement at the Easter Mass was made in error — hearsay based on rumors from India, the native land of Father Uzhunnalil.
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In a statement Monday on its website, the Archdiocese of Vienna also walked back Cardinal Schonborn’s reported words and repeated Bishop Hinder’s words that “there is still uncertainty” about the Indian priest’s fate.
According to the archdiocese, Cardinal Schonborn spoke with bishops from Arabia on Sunday and said “there is still hope.”
Father Uzhunnalil had been the object of both prayers and diplomatic efforts since the March 4 raid in which Islamic State attackers killed four nuns. Pope Francis consequently praised the nuns as martyrs.
Bishop Hinder said the Missionaries’ home had been the object of numerous threats but they refused to leave.