Kochi: Cardinal Mar George Alencherry issued a press statement on Wednesday after an alleged remark by him on the fishermen deaths sparked a controversy. The Cardinal said, "The report of the Italian press agency is wrong. The agency removed the report and expressed their apology for the mistake. I have not tried to intervene in this matter, nor have I contacted any ministers regarding this."
He added, "Two precious lives have been lost. Strong legal action should be taken against the guilty."
In a report published by an Italian news agency on Wednesday, Alencherry was quoted as saying that the Kerala government must not "precipitate action" on the issue, and that the Opposition in Kerala might look to "exploit" the situation.
Alencherry, an archbishop from Kerala, was recently ordained as a Cardinal in Rome.
Father Babu Joseph, Spokesperson, Catholic Bishops Conference of India too said that Alencherry had been misquoted.
"The Cardinal has in no way intervened. We should let it rest at that and let the two governments deal with the situation. The Indian government and other sources are saying that he was misquoted.I think we should move on from this. Misquotation is not exclusive to the Indian media, it can happen anywhere in the world," the reverend said.
Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, meanwhile, refused to be drawn into the controversy. He merely said that the Syro Malabar Church had refuted the reports and therefore, he was not going to say anything on the matter.
He, however, added, "The police is seriously questioning the culprits. We will continue to take all action under the IPC. There is a lot of concern about the security of fishermen. We are calling a high level meeting with the Coast Guard and the Navy. We will not let the guilty escape from here."
Opposition leader in Kerala Assembly VS Achuthanandan, meanwhile, said that the statement of the Cardinal was condemnable, if he had made such a remark. "If the statement was true, it showed that the Cardinal was with the persons who killed and not with the victims. The Cardinal tried to justify the incident more than the Italian authorities," he said.
Referring to the Cardinal's alleged remark that the Opposition would try to "exploit" the situation, he said it was unexpected that such an "irresponsible statement came from a person like the Cardinal".
The Syro Malabar Church of Kerala, however, said that the Cardinal was keen that both India and Italy resolve the matter in a "peaceful and amicable" manner. A spokesman of the church, Father Paul Thelekat, told PTI in Kochi that he had spoken to the Cardinal following the controversy over his reported statement.
With additional information from PTI