Cameroon’s bishops have filed a lawsuit challenging the results of a government-ordered autopsy for a fellow bishop they claim was “brutally murdered.”
Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala was laid to rest Thursday in the Bafia Cathedral in the diocese where he served for 14 years. The ceremony was officiated by a large number of bishops and by Abp. Jean Mbarga, the metropolitan archbishop of Yaounde, who described Bp. Bala as a man of God whose death has traumatized the Catholic community in Cameroon.
Two weeks earlier, the Bishops’ Conference of Cameroon filed a private lawsuit against government officials for “mishandling the case.” They are working with lawyers and proving evidence to act on their behalf to “ensure truth is established.” This comes after the government’s autopsy claimed Bala died from drowning, contradicting a previous report showing evidence of torture and murder.
Bishop Bala went missing on May 31, and his car was found parked on a bridge over a river with his personal identification and a note that read “I am in the water.” If he’d died from drowning, there would have been water in his body, but there was nothing. Tweet
Initial speculation was that he committed suicide, but when his body was found floating in the river a few days later, an autopsy was ordered. A copy of the report was obtained by a Cameroon media outfit L’Anecdote, revealing that there was evidence of broken bones, bruises and even electrocution but no water in his lungs. These findings indicate he had been brutally beaten, tortured and died before being thrown into the river.
The latest autopsy ordered by Interpol and conducted by a forensics team from Germany directly contradict this and another autopsy conducted on June 22. Cameroon’s attorney general said on July 4 after the Interpol autopsy was completed, that no traces of violence were found and that drowning was the most likely cause of death.
But Abp. Samuel Kleda of Douala, president of the conference, said, “If he’d died from drowning, there would have been water in his body, but there was nothing. Instead, it was clear there were many marks of violence.”
A number of suspicious deaths of Catholic clergy have occurred in Cameroon dating as far back as the 1980s. According to media, at the time of his death, Bp. Bala was about to expose the government’s alleged involvement in the death of Abbé Armel Djama, rector of the Minor Seminary in Bala’s diocese of Bafia, who was found dead in his room at the end of May.
This was the second Mass for the bishop, the first held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Victories in Yaounde. Since the bishop’s untimely death, continuous Masses and special prayer sessions for the repose of his soul have been offered.