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Questions surround Cameroonian bishop's reported suicide

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OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Cameroon have urged prayers for one of the African country's bishops, whose remains were pulled from a river June 2, three days after his apparent suicide.

"This is a catastrophe for Cameroon, and particularly for our Catholic Church," said a June 5 statement on the bishops' conference website.

"We place our confidence in those helping the country and church by inquiring into the explicit causes of the death of this man of God, about whose level-headedness, thoughtfulness, wisdom, patience and gentleness no one had a bad word to say," the statement said.

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, bishops' conference president, had gone with Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaounde to identify the body of Bishop Jean-Marie Benoit Bala of Bafia, after it was found by a fisherman in the Sanaga River, near Monatele, the bishops' conference said.

The statement added that the 58-year-old bishop's May 31 overnight disappearance from his residence had not yet been "clarified," and said the church still awaited an explanation for his "appalling, disturbing death."

The French-language African Press Agency, based in Dakar, Senegal, said June 6 that media reports that Bishop Bala had taken his own life were questioned by police and justice officials. The agency said Cameroon's procurator-general had confirmed investigations were underway into the prelate's "suspicious death."

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