West & Central Africa

Mystery over reported suicide of Catholic Bishop in Cameroon

 

Questions have been raised about the suspected suicide of a Cameroon bishop with local officials claiming foul play.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Bafia, Jean-Marie Benoît Bala, 58 was found drowned in Sanaga River, southwest
Cameroon in an apparent suicide after going missing for two days, according to police.

The body was found by police, along with his personal effects, on the Ebedbda bridge with what seems to be a suicide note with one sentence saying, “Je suis dans l’eau” (I am in the water) written on the bishop’s official stationery. The Bishop’s car had been found by the police two days earlier.

There are however lots of misgivings about the allegations of suicide. Local officials say though the death may look like a suicide, foul play is still plausible. Some officials think it could be “a well-orchestrated assassination,” requiring detailed and careful investigation. This is because, the officials pointed out, wh
ere the bishop’s body was found is more than 30 miles from his home. They questioned why he had to drive that distance to kill himself. That is out of character of the bishop, his associates say.

“The man I knew would not be capable of such a gesture.” Abbott Constant Amombo, a friend of Bishop said, expressing his doubt about suicide. The bishop, he noted, was “a good swimmer,” therefore drowning in a river was not plausible.  Would that not be a strange method to kill himself? he asked. This kind of death is “quite
spectacular,” for the Bishop, he argued. And about the suicide note he said, “The message is light, childish and worthy of a Nollywood film.” (referring to a Nigerian film) All the more reason why suicide is out of the question, he argued.

If however this turns out to be a suicide, Abbott Amombo said, “it would further deepen the meaning of the mystery that surrounds our lives.”

Police hope that an autopsy will explain more about the cause of death. Also joining in the debate, the local media reported that the bishop wrote a personal letter to the apostolic nuncio in Cameroon two days before his disappearance, on an issue that might be connected to his death but did not suggest what the issue might be.

In an open letter, Prof. Vincent-Sosthène Fouda, a friend of Bishop Bala,  asked for prayers for the Bishop and the church. “Let us not show him a false love by allowing our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show him our affection and to do him good by praying for him: that all the stains of sin be cleansed, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. May he rest in peace,” the letter said.