Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Bollywood film drives cardinal bonkers

The villain is an Anglican priest, not a Catholic one, Cardinal Ranjith warns his co-religionists

It was an Anglican priest, not a Catholic priest, that murdered his secretary’s husband and his wife in a newly released Bollywood feature film, “According to Mathew”, the Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo reports. In a statement given to UCAN Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith this week stated: “In a country where the majority of people are Buddhist or from other religions, this film might give the wrong impression about Catholics.”

The film “According to Mathew” recounts the murder trial of the Rev. Mathew Peiris, who was sentenced to death for poisoning his secretary’s husband and his wife. He was granted clemency, however, and served 15 years imprisonment before being released from solitary confinement at age 79.

“In this film, the Anglican priest is dressed like any other priest and this might give the wrong message so we had to issue a statement to the media stating that Catholic priests don’t get married and this film is not related to Catholicism or the Catholic church,” said the cardinal.

The film is drawn from the 2015 book “Murders at the Vicarage – The Mathew Peiris Case”, by Dr. Ravindra Fernando, a senior professor of medicine at Colombo Medical School. Dr. Fernando wrote Fr. Peiris was serving as vicar of St Paul’s Church in Punchi Borella in the mid-1970s, and living with his wife, Eunice, in the parish vicarage. His three adult children were at the time living in England.

Fr. Peiris had gained notoriety as one of the few charismatic Anglican clergy in the predominantly Anglo-Catholic diocese of Colombo. He developed a local reputation as an exorcist and claimed to have received the blessing of stigmata. On Thursday’s Fr. Peiris held a deliverance service, driving out evil spirits from individuals and buildings.

One of those who regularly attended the deliverance service was Dalrene Ingram, a young married woman with three children. Fr. Peiris offered Dalrene the post of parish secretary and invited the family to move into the rectory, while his wife was on an extended visit to their children in England.

Russel Ingram, who had been in good health prior to taking up residence at the vicarage, unexpectedly became ill and lapsed into a coma. He subsequently died at Colombo General Hospital. Mrs. Peiris returned from England after Mr Ingram’s death, and she too took ill and was admitted to Colombo General Hospital. She subsequently died as well.

Physicians treating Mr. Ingram and Mrs. Peiris at the hospital suspected foul play and alerted the police. A forensic examination found the two had died from overdoses of insulin, causing a drop in their blood sugar that led to coma and death. Neither was a diabetic receiving insulin therapy.

Police arrested Fr. Peiris and Mrs. Ingram and charged them with murder. The defendants relinquished their right to trial by jury and asked the case be heard by a three judge panel of the Colombo High Court and Sri Lankan Solicitor General, Tilak Marapana, prosecuted the case.

No direct evidence linking Peiris and Ingram to the murder was produced at trial, but testimony by members of the two families, and the forensic evidence presented by the prosecution secured a conviction of willful murder, and the defendants were condemned to death.

The case was sent to the Court of Appeal and Darlene Ingram’s conviction was thrown out, but Fr. Peiris was judged to be guilty of the two murders. While awaiting execution, Sri Lanka abolished the death penalty and Fr. Peiris sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1994.

Mathew Peiris was released from prison in 1997 after serving 15 years confinement in a nine by ten foot cell. He died a year after his release at age 80, protesting his innocence to the last.

The Peiris case was Sri Lanka’s first high profile murder trial that turned on scientific forensic investigation, and the film based upon Prof. Fernando’s book was released in English and Sinhala with Tamil subtitles last week.

The film’s director, Chandran Rutnam, told UCAN he was pleased by the cardinal’s statement, noting it was “good publicity for the film.”

“This is not a film against the Catholic or Anglican church. This is a film about an individual. I’m a God-fearing Christian myself and I would not insult the church or Christianity,” Rutnam explained.

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