After 15 months, Missionary of Charity accused of child trafficking granted bail

Missionaries of Charity on the feast of Corpus Christi at St John Lateran in Rome Italy on June 18 2017 Credit Daniel Ibanez 1 CNA Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

A religious sister with the Missionaries of Charity has been released on bail 15 months after her arrest. She is accused of cooperating with the sale of a child from a home for unwed mothers, although her supporter argue that she was coerced into confessing.

Sister Concelia Baxla, 62, was arrested in July 2018, along with Anima Indwar, an employee at the Nirmal Hriday home in Ranchi.

Sr. Concelia was released Sept. 27 on a 10,000 rupee bail, the equivalent of $150, and two sureties of the same amount, ucanews reports. The sister was also instructed to leave her passport at the court.

The religious sister, who suffers from diabetes, had been denied bail twice previously – once last October on the grounds that her release could interfere with the investigation into her congregation, and again in January because charges had not yet been pressed, according to ucanews.

Her lawyer argued that Sr. Concelia should be granted bail because she is not facing direct charges, and noted that Indwar was granted bail shortly after her initial arrest.

Sr. Concelia had been sister-in-charge of the unwed mothers section at the home since June 2017. Indwar was entrusted with escorting the unwed mothers, their babies, and their guardians to hospital and to the Child Welfare Committee office when the religious sisters were engaged with other duties.

Police said a couple reportedly paid 120,000 rupees ($1,760 USD) to Indwar for a baby from the home. The couple complained that Indwar took their money in exchange for a child, and that she later took the child back from them without returning money.

Initial reports suggested that three other infants may also have been sold.

Indwar has admitted that she sold children. Sr. Concelia said that she found out about the sale later, after a baby was missing during a Child Welfare Committee check. The sister says she informed authorities and that she did not take any money from the sale.

A police source said that Indwar provided to police a handwritten note from Sr. Concelia asking Indwar to take the blame on herself, Matters India reports.

Sr. Concelia's defenders, including the bishops of India, are asking whether she was an accomplice, or the victim of a coerced confession.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, said shortly after the arrest that Sr. Concelia's lawyer was only permitted to meet with her for 10 minutes, during which time, she said she was forced by police to give her statement, according to the Hindustan Times.

Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in July 2018 that the congregation was "deeply saddened and grieved" by news of the alleged sale, adding that they were coopering fully with the investigation.

However, a spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity said that the order stopped dealing with child adoption in India back in 2015.

The Albanian-born Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata in 1950. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and canonized in 2016. There are now 5,167 Missionaries of Charity sisters, both active and contemplative, around the world. The order has 244 houses in India.

In addition to the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, members of the Missionaries of Charity take a fourth vow pledging "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

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