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Jesuit scholar calls for Dalit cardinal 

By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi: It is time the Church in India had a cardinal from the Dalit community, says a Jesuit scholar.

It will be a great recognition for Dalits who form more than 60 percent of Christians in the country, says Father A. Maria Arul Raja, a professor of Religious Studies at the Jesuit Theology Centre in Chennai.

The priest spoke to Matters India after addressing more than 200 bishops who represent 174 dioceses in the country at the biennial plenary in Bengaluru, southern India. He spoke about the Church and Dalits.

According to him, a Dalit a cardinal would elevate one of the most socially suppressed communities. It would be a symbolic gesture to affirm the dignity and rights of the community that has lived in “the sub-human condition imposed by the caste system on the community for centuries,” said Father Raja.

India has 13 cardinals so far starting with Cardinal Valerian Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, in 1953. They have represented various communities in the Indian Church: Goan, East Indian, Eurasian, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Eurasian, Tamil and Tribal.

Father Raja says a Dalit cardinal will give visibility to the community and highlight injustice done to them in society as well in the Church. “It will be powerful witness to Jesus who took a strong choice for the poor, outcasts, socially excluded, the priest said.

The gesture of appointing a Dalit cardinal will portray the Church “as it should be:” the Church of the poor, the discriminated and the socially excluded. It will encourage the community to oppose injustice, share resources and inspire leaders in the Church, Father Raja explained.

However, it is the prerogative of the Pope to appoint church leaders as cardinals, he acknowledged.

Another social activist Father Ajaya Kumar Singh too agreed with Father Raja. The Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocesan priest says a Dalit cardinal overdue.

“Empowerment means being part of governance and decision-making process. Dalits are worst represented in the Catholic Church. They suffer from multiple vulnerabilities. Their representation would give an inclusive, positive and humane face to the church,” Father Singh told Matters India.

The priest also believes a Dalit cardinal would “enhance the image, reputation and credibility of the Catholic Church and prove that it is for those on the margins.”

Dalits are seen as on the margins although they outnumber others in the Church. “The Dalit cardinal’s appointment could be a course correction for historical injuries and injustice done to the communities over centuries,” he added.

Jesuit Father AXJ Bosco, coordinator of the United Front for Dalit Christian Rights, also supports a Dalit cardinal. “If Dalits have to be empowered, they must assume leadership,” he told Matters India.

According to him, leadership in the Catholic Church is with the hierarchy. “Although 65 percent of the Catholics are Dalits, not even 8 percent of the bishops are Dalits; 12 out of 183. Unfortunately, the oppressive caste system, a social evil, dominates the Hierarchy and the Church,” Father Bosco regretted.

Dalit means “trampled upon” or “broken open” in Sanskrit and denotes people formerly known as untouchables in India’s multi-tiered caste system.

The government introduced free education and a quota in government jobs for Hindu Dalits in 1956 to improve their social status. While the same statutory rights were later extended to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, the demand for equal rights for Christian Dalits has been rejected by successive governments in India.

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14 Responses to Jesuit scholar calls for Dalit cardinal

  1. KC Thomas

    A catholic priest or bishop does not represent a community or caste. If all the cardinals are from North, South or from Brahmin or Dalit, or Tamil or Goan or Bengalee or Malayalee ,is there any harm or anything immoral?
    It is beyond my Ken to imagine a Jesuit priest could bring up such a flimsy justification for a Dalit Cardinal. In Andhra, how foolishly and unchristian some clergy think in terms of castes , I will ask, whether they have a mustard seed worth of faith in Jesus Christ .? Some kind of divisiveness already exists and if we bring in more divisiveness, we will get more occasions for fights, mudslinging,and court cases and ultimately a road leading to most unchristian destinations. Oh Jesus ,pour out some wisdom into the hearts of your people.

     
  2. Thankapan vaidhyar

    Shame to hear the discussion in church which is divided and mere human political terms and senses … Religious congregations in India is contributing lot of mess in the church. It is high time to check the clerics/religious with seculare and worldly thought pattern…

     
  3. George Jose

    I wonder how the tamilnadu church would react/accept a dalit cardinal at chennai.

     
  4. Vincent Bagul

    I support the views expressed by brother Ladislaus. Being a dalit cannot be a qualification for becoming a Cardinal.

     
  5. C.Amirtha Raj

    The recommendation is timely.A Dalit Cardinal will be a helpful symbolism.

     
  6. Immanuvel SJ

    Thanks to Fr.Maria Arul Raja for bringing this point for a thought before the Bishops. Though the Government is not ready to listen to the cry of the Christian Dalits at least our own leaders understand the situation of Dalit Christians and the need of their upliftment through giving them a Cardinal. If we do so, it will be a sign from the part of the Catholic Church that we disown the Caste system and we are going against that depressive system which is malignant to the entire nation and the whole human society at large.

     
  7. Ladislaus L D'Souza

    Frankly, the demand – even if iyou call it a suggestion – is itself a dangerous precedent. No my dear Reverend Father Raja – the 13 cardinals that India has had so far have not represented any particular community as such. Rather, they have each earned the Red Hat and not been vested with it just because they were Goan, East Indian or whatever. Get that right you holy Jesuit! And for goodness, please GROW UP, and more than anything else, please get yourself to hurriedly grow out of the casteist mould in which you are putting Indian Christians in general and Indian Cardinals in particular, even if you have so senselessly got yourself ingratiated. Can’t imagine a JESUIT talking such crap! Believe me Your Holy Reverence, a Dalit in India is as much entitled to EARNING THE RED HAT as any Catholic anywhere in the world and he will in due course of time. But asking for the cardinalate on the basis is outright bad in essence.

     
  8. Justine Gitanjali Senapati

    Thanks for bringing this issue at least to a talking point. Indian Church certainly needs to recognize the most marginalized group, the Dalits. In the Bible God has always chose a leader from the discriminated group. So that the individual will understand the needs of his own people. It’s time to speak for oneself. The real empowerment is sharing the equal rights, responsibility and power and leaving no one behind.
    We need to chage the narratives and midset today on Dalits. Stop labeling and wrong belief on them.

     
  9. Sujata Jena

    Enough of discrimination and injustice both in the church and civil Society suffered by Dalits.

    Let’s assume more responsibilities and stand for the rights and dignity of all.

     
  10. Dhirendra Nath Sabhapati · S.K.C.G Autonomous college,pkd

    Yes indeed India needs a Dalit Cardinal

     
  11. Girish

    Why to be miserly in harbouring ambitions? Actually, there should be a dalit Pope. However, the big question is whether it will improve the plight of the downtrodden or felicitate someone to fulfill his secret desire.

     
  12. Raj Attur

    This is not a new request from Dalit groups. We had a tribal cardinal and perhaps it’s time that we have Dalit Cardinal. At the same time, I wish the church too creates chances for the talented Dalit priests and appoints them as Bishops not because one hails from the caste. Moreover a reminder for activists especially for priests: please work among the Dalits and bring them up. At the sometime work with priests of like mind who may not be Dalits to bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth.

     
  13. Aswin Singh

    Aswin Singh ·
    India needs a Dalit leadership in the form of a Cardinal. It is because not only the Dalit Christians are the majority but also Hindu Dalits are also a majority in India. The appointment of Cardinal will have different effects on the people of the state in general. Whether the citizen is a Cristian or a Hindu he will have a sense of belongingness and respect towards the other person when somebody is standing as a leader from a particular community. Since India is known for its caste system… unfortunately Dalits are least in the order and least fortunate in enjoying the privileges from the government of India. So even government also will have respect and recognition to the community, when someone is there to lead the whole community.

     
  14. Antony Jesu

    I want it should take place during the reign of present Pope Francis, for the good of real church of Jesus Christ, not of the devilish caste dominated church.