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975 die at Catholic healing centre


Naveen Nair,CNN-IBN
Jun 20, 2007 at 10:53am IST

Thiruvanthapuram (Kerala): The Divine Retreat Centre in Kerala's Muringoor's claim to fame is that it is the largest Catholic healing centre in the world. It's catch line: come away by yourself to a lonely place and rest a while.

However, there is a catch. More than 975 mysterious deaths have happened in the centre - that Kerala Police is now investigating - and there have been allegations of rape and murder.

Says Superintendent of Koratty Police, K J Martin, "Based on the investigations, we have registered a case against the main people from the Divine Retreat Centre. The case has been haded over to a special investigation team now."

Police say that the 975 mysterious deaths took place between 1996 and 2006 - that makes it as many as eight deaths every month for the last 10 years.

Officials say several bodies were disposed of, without informing the police and documents forged to make them look like natural deaths. However, predictably, the centre says all such allegations are baseless.

The centre's director and eight others in the organisation have been booked under various charges including forceful confinement and sexual exploitation.

Says Director of the Divine Retreat Centre, Father George Panackal, "There is no such activity going on inside the centre as has been alleged by the police or by the people who want to malign us. We are here only to serve the poor."

It took an anonymous letter to the Kerala High Court alleging criminal activities to start the police probe at the centre, with the court itself forming the investigating team.

With lakhs of Christian devotees visiting the centre every year, clearly there's more at stake here than just reputations.

(With inputs from R Reghuraj in Cochin)

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