Catholic priest stabbed at the altar in 'hate crime'

Father Tomy Mathew, 48, was stabbed in the neck at St Matthew's Parish in Melbourne as he was about to start saying MassSt Matthew's Church, Melbourne/Facebook

A man aged 72 has been charged with stabbing a Catholic priest just minutes before mass began on Sunday.

The man is alleged to have stabbed Father Tomy Matthew, from Kerala in India, after he shouted at him: 'You are Muslim or Hindu... I will kill you.'

Mathew was about to begin an Italian mass at St Matthew's Catholic Church in Fawkner, north Melbourne, when the stabbing happened.

A 72-year-old man man was charged with intentionally and recklessly causing injury earlier this morning, Australian press reported. He was released on bail until the next hearing on June 13.

The priest's injuries, to his upper body, are not life-threatening. He was discharged from hospital this morning.

A woman, who didn't want to be identified, but who witnessed the stabbing, said: 'There was some shouting and lots of movement in the back of the church. I saw Father Tomy coming to approach me and he sort of waved me over. He asked if I could look at his neck. He said, "I've just been stabbed." As I removed some of his garment I could see quite a bit of blood.'

Thiruvallom Bhasi, a newspaper editor, said: 'The priest, Rev Tomy Kalathoor Mathew, was stabbed in the neck with a kitchen knife by the Italian during the mass at a Catholic church in Melbourne suburbs,' according to reports. He added: 'While the ceremony was on, the accused came forward and shouted that since he (Mathew) is an Indian, he couldn't conduct the mass.'

Father Abraham Kavilpurayidathil, spokesman for the priest's Thamarassery diocese in India, said Father Tomy had pastored St Mathew's for the last four years. He said the effect of the stabbing was ameliorated by thick clothes the priest was wearing in the cold weather.

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, said: 'Hate crime became a concern and it is high time for the government to initiate dialogues with other countries to prevent such crimes. Every effort should be made by the government abroad to spread the message of appreciation for others. We condemn this incident and pray for his speedy recovery.'