A Catholic priest who was brutally beaten Wednesday and remained in critical condition at UAB Hospital on Friday had been warned to discontinue an improper relationship with a woman who may have been the wife of his attacker, Bishop Robert J. Baker said.
The Rev. Emmanuel Isi, 57, associate pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham since June of last year, was involved in a car wreck Wednesday about 1 p.m. in the 5600 block of Avenue H in Ensley, a few blocks from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fairfield.
A Birmingham police homicide detective investigating at the scene Friday night said witnesses described Isi being dragged from his car and then assaulted after a collision that ran one car into a cinder block wall. Birmingham Fire and Rescue took Isi to UAB Hospital at about 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Both cars were towed from the scene and police are looking for the attacker, the detective said.
A woman who lives near the scene said she heard the cars crash and ran out to see two men punching each other, with one of the men being knocked backward, falling off a cinderblock wall and hitting his head.
Baker confirmed he had gotten a complaint about Isi having an improper relationship with a woman. “He was in some relationship that was overstepping boundaries,” Baker said. “We let it be known that it needed to stop. Our directive to him was cease and desist. We thought he did.”
Regardless, Isi did not deserve to be attacked, Baker said.
“It was an overreaction,” he said. “Certainly, no person deserves that kind of hostility.”
Isi underwent neck fusion surgery, was on a respirator and may be in danger of permanent paralysis, Baker said. “It’s just a tragic thing,” he said.
“In all other ways, his track record has been excellent; we received excellent comments about him,” Baker said. “We’re very grieved and praying hard for Father Isi. We’re all so saddened. We pray for both parties. Hopefully we’ll all learn from this.”
Isi, a native of Nigeria, is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, an order of priests founded in 1977 in Africa. Baker, head of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, said he was hopeful Isi would recover and be able to describe what happened. “We’re trying to get Father Isi’s side of the story,” Baker said.