CAMEROON – Autopsy raises suspicions about African bishop’s death
An autopsy has revealed “signs of torture” on the body of Bishop Jean-Marie Benoît Balla of Bafia whose body was found in a river last week. Unusual circumstances surrounded the death of the Cameroonian bishop, leading some to think he had committed suicide. Bishop Balla, who was 58, left his residence late in the evening of 30 May and was never seen again. His car was found parked on the Sanaga bridge near Ebebda, about 25 miles northwest of Obala. There was a note in the car which reportedly read: “Do not look for me! I am in the water.” The bishop’s body was found on 2 June 2, about 10 miles from the bridge.
Although some people thought the bishop had left a suicide note, others believed he may have been murdered. Archbishop Cornelius Esua of Bamenda said that Bishop Balla “did not seem to us as troubled as that (to have committed suicide),” and noted that bishop suicides are rare. “The bishops do not commit suicide,” he said.
The bishop’s autopsy seems to support suspicions that Balla may have been killed, especially as there have been other unsolved murders of priests in the country. The autopsy indicated that:
- the bishop’s body spent fewer than 4 hours in the water before it was found, even though his body was found several days after he disappeared.
- a lack of water in his lungs, which would have been present had he died by drowning.
- the body had a stiffened arm, folded on its abdomen indicating that Bishop Balla was not fighting against the fury of the waters.
The findings of the autopsy concluded that “Bishop Balla was tortured and brutally murdered.”
Catholic leaders in the country have called for prayers for Bishop Balla, as the investigations surrounding the bishop’s death are ongoing. Father Ludovic Lado, a Cameroonian Jesuit, said the suspected cause of Bishop Balla’s death has now changed from suicide to murder. He observed that it was hard to imagine why a “discreet and devoted” person like Bishop Balla would be the target of assassins. The bishop was a beloved pastor whom the faithful often called “Papa Benoit,” and he was known especially for his care for the sick and under-privileged. Fr Lado added that some have suspected a link between the bishop’s death and the death of Father Armel Collins Ndjama, the rector of the minor seminary of Bafia, who was found dead in his room earlier in May.
Bishop Balla was born in 1959, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Yaounde in 1987. He was consecrated Bishop of Bafia in 2003.