Bishops’ conference warns legal action on “fake” letter
By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has dismissed as “fake” and “malicious” a letter purportedly written by its secretary general about an alleged plan to evangelize an offshoot of Hinduism in Karnataka.
The Church body on May 9 issued an “official clarification” about the alleged letter being circulated in the social media and in Karnataka state that is all set to elect its legislative assembly on May 12.
“The circulation of this letter just before the Karnataka elections is a disgraceful mischievous ploy,” says the “clarification” issued by the conference secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas. “We reserve the right to take legal action against those involved in making and promoting that letter,” the prelate warns.
Bishop Mascarenhas has also listed several errors in the March 28 letter allegedly written by Cardinal Oswald Gracias to Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore in the wake of the Karnataka government’s decision to grant religious minority status to Lingayat community.
“Cardinal Oswald Gracias is the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. He is not the secretary general … as alleged by those who are circulating and promoting this letter,” Bishop Mascarenhas explains.
He also points out that the letter was neither written on a letterhead nor carried a signature. “The language mistakes in that letter point out that it could not have originated from our office,” the “clarification” asserts.
The Church official also asserts that neither Cardinal Gracias nor the bishops’ conference would ever “indulge in divisive tactics as indicated in that letter.”
The “fake” letter begins thanking God for the Karnataka government’s decision on the Lingayat community that it says was an answer to the Church’s prayers. It also alleges that the Vatican embassy officials had met the Karnataka rulers on December 21, 2013 and several times later to press for separate religious status for Lingayats.
“Let’s work hard for the rich harvest of souls of souls in Karnataka,” says the letter that lists several steps to evangelize the followers of Lingayats. It wants the Church to build an “emotional bridge” with Lingayat religious leaders and institutions by 2020 to effect 5 percent conversion of the community by 2043.
The Siddaramaiah led Congress government’s March 22 decision on Lingayats reportedly has great implications on the assembly elections. The community currently forms 17 percent of Karnataka’s population.
Lingayats, a distinct Shaivate religious tradition, are followers of the 12th century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and Vedic rituals.
In their bid for a separate religion status, the Lingayats wanted to dissociate themselves from Veerashaivas, also a Shaivate religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the Vedas.
The movement for a separate religion tag started in 1942. It was resurrected in 2017 after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to look into the demand.
In December 2017, the government formed a seven-member expert committee to study five separate demands, three of which were for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats.