The Enemy Within.
The Church in India although has many gifts and treasures yet it is plagued by different wounds. And her most painful wounds are casteism and financial corruption.
Indian society is marred by casteism for centuries; it has slowly and steadily plagued the Church, where Catholic brethren face severe discrimination because of their caste.
Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah diocese, Andhra Pradesh, is known for his love for the poor and empowerment of women. He started various grass root level programmes for the poor. He runs several child-and-mother care programmes that focus on nutrition and general health.
On the morning of April 25, the prelate was going for a religious function when his car was stopped. He and his driver were kidnapped and taken to a location, where the Bishop was stripped of his cassock; his hands were bound with the red fascia (sash); and he was beaten up with iron rods and sticks. The prelate, along with his driver, was released at 2 a.m. after hours of torture. Sources close to the prelate confirmed that he was also verbally abused for his caste.
Three priests -- Fr. Raja Reddy, Fr. Vijaymohan Reddy and Fr. Sanivarapu Reddy - along with 11 others have been arrested in the case on charges of kidnapping for ransom and making an attempt on the life of the bishop.
Sources close to the investigation have confirmed that there are two primary motives behind the attack - caste issue and financial corruption.
Bishop Gallela hails from a Dalit community and has been looked down by priests belonging to higher castes. Another reason is reported to be that the accused priests had demanded transfer of the current diocesan procurator and the post be given to Fr. Sanivarapu Reddy, but the prelate had declined the request. The diocesan procurator is the official in-charge of all collections in the diocese. Fr. Reddy had also demanded some funds for his parish but the process was delayed. The three priests had threatened the prelate on earlier occasions also with dire consequences for not adhering to their requests. They released him on condition that he would transfer Rs. 50 lakh to them.
Diocesan sources confirmed that ever since Bishop Gallela was ordained to the office, he has met with severe opposition from priests belonging to upper casts. It is evident that these priests have blatantly violated their vow of obedience, which they take at the time of ordination.
Oswald Cardinal Gracias of the Bombay Archdiocese expressed shock on the brutal attack on Bishop Gallela Prasad. Condemning the attack, Cardinal stated, "I know that Bishop Gallela has a great love for the poor and worked hard for them. I am shocked about this sacrilegious attack."
Mr. Rayappa who hails from a diocese in Andhra Pradesh said, "This attack on the Bishop is nothing but to teach him a lesson that the higher castes must always have a say on important diocesan matters, transfers and financial transactions, and that the prelate must listen to them because he is from a Dalit community." He added that casteism has been one of the saddest issues in the Church. Rayappa also said that one of the reasons for such happenings is that a priest is posted to one parish for several years without transfers.
One of the main accused Fr. Raja Reddy runs an "NGO" called the Father Raja Foundation and he is fondly known as 'Daddy'. He has also set up a home for kids called 'Daddy's Home' and an international school.
Sources close to the investigation said that the driver of the prelate stated that they were apparently locked up in a room in 'Daddy Home'; he further stated that he could recognize the 'iron gate and other surroundings'. The police have also recovered videos of the torture.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has condemned the attack and appealed to the police for speedy investigation. But the moot point is who will dig deeper and expose the plague of casteism and financial corruption gripping the Church.
Castesim above God
There are several reports pointing out that around 80% Dalit Catholics have been ostracized by fellow Catholics. Not too long ago, the Vatican was petitioned by a group of Tamil Catholics who were refused the right to bury their kin in the Church cemetery because they belonged to Dalit community. Their discrimination includes separate sitting arrangements in Churches.
Sagaya Shanty, a human rights activist who works on gender and caste issues at grassroot level, said, "Casteism in the Indian Church is very strong so much so that Dalits are made to sit somewhere else, away from the upper castes." She further said that while conducting a session on caste, a nun met her and wept, recalling her days when she was ill-treated because of the caste politics in the Church and in the convent.
Recently, a memorandum was submitted to Jesuit priest, Adolfo Nicolas, the head of the Society of Jesus, during his visit to India. It highlighted the discrimination in the Church against the Dalits. Last year memorandums were submitted to the Papal Nuncio of India and Nepal, Archbishop Salvatore.
Chezhiyan Anandaraj from Karnataka said: "The existence of caste in the Catholic Church is a fact though it isn't practised openly in a cosmopolitan place like Bangalore; it is a reality in rural areas. Even some of the hierarchy is deeply entrenched in caste politics. People from 'lower caste' are forced to have their own parishes.....Even in cities like Bangalore, Catholics look for marriages within their own caste."
Stating that Dalits need to rise above the caste and opt not to be identified as Dalit Christians, he said: "Unless Casteism is classified as Rascism, it will be difficult to fight this evil inside and outside the Church and there are some efforts by activists from India towards this in the UN."
It is clear from the police investigations that greed for money was the other motive behind the attack. Financial corruption is one of the deepest wounds in the Church and very few members of the Church hierarchy could tackle this situation. Apparently, corruption is rampant in many dioceses in the country.
President of the All India Catholic Union John Dayal states: " In India, possibly elsewhere, all religions including Hinduism and Christianity have become increasingly focused on material issues, institutions and trappings of power. Internal corruption and even competitive violence are inevitable. Caste adds another layer to this moral crisis. There are no faiths innocent in this."
Apart from being prosecuted under the law of the land, the accused priests have violated the sanctity of the sacred priesthood, not to forget the vow of obedience to their bishop. Therefore, they also need to face canonical penalties prescribed by the Church.
Rome-based Canon lawyer Ester Rita Altieri said, "According to me, this case falls perfectly under the facti species of Can. 1370 2. A person who does this against a bishop incurs a latae sententiae interdict and, if he is a cleric, also a latae sententiae suspension."
Altieri further said: " The important thing to keep in mind is that the Church has a real right to punish with sanctions the Christian faithful who have committed a crime (Can. 1311). There are two types of penalties: a) censures; b) expiatory penalties. Censures are strictly three: excommunication; interdict; and suspension. The purpose of the censures is to correct the person who committed the crime. If this person repents, the penalty no longer has a reason to exist so it is to be remitted. Expiatory penalties aim to repair the damage done by the crime itself, so there is not a right to absolution. They need to be expiated. The Legislator foresees that these penalties can be imposed in perpetuum, ad certum tempus or indefinitely."
On the canonical penalties she said: "Basically, there are two ways of incurring canonical penalties: latae sententiae and ferendae sententiae: in the first case, the penalty is incurred ipso facto, i.e. by the very fact of having committed the crime. Those penalties are always determinate and obligatory. The penalties ferendae sententiae must be applied only after a trial, by a judge's sentence. They can be either determinate or indeterminate, obligatory or "facultative" -- roughly meaning "optional" in the sense that the judge sometimes has discretionary power either to impose the penalty or not."
The most important questions we need to ask are: How long will we allow the wounds of castesim, groupism and corruption to bleed? When will our pastors and shepherds go to periphery and have the smell of the sheep?
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.
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