By Varghese Alengaden
Indore, Nov. 26, 2018: The show-cause notice served to Father Augustine Vattoly by the Administrator of Ernakulum-Angamaly Archdiocese is a blunder that exposes intellectual, professional and above all spiritual bankruptcy.
The allegations against the activist priest expose the worldly ways religious leadership acts when challenged.
It is worth reflecting on the basis and implications of this issue.
With the patronizing of Roman Emperor Constantine, the spiritual movement which Jesus started drifted away from His Way. With unlimited and unquestionable power, leaders of the Church abandoned the role of Good Shepherd and adopted the style of kings and emperors.
Prophets who questioned the drift from Christ’s way were considered heretics and punished by excommunication or burning alive. The Jewish tradition of murdering prophets returned to the Church.
Gradually man-made canon law and dogmas replaced the Gospel of Christ. With the patronage of kings and emperors the institutional Church was expanded to all parts of the world.
Fortunately God raised prophets and saints at different times to cleanse the Church and rebuild it. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther were some of them. However, the materialistic forces did not allow these renewals to last long.
The crisis which the Church faces today because of the divisions and scandals within and the threats from outside forces could be met effectively by returning to the Christocentric way of life. Each time the Church faces a crisis its members — bishops, priests and lay people — should ask themselves, “What would Jesus do if He were here today?”
Sincere reflection over the issues would help the Church solve all its current crises. It is a pity that the Church leadership, especially the Syro-Malabar hierarchy, does not want to confront such a question.
The root of the problem is our failure to understand the call of Christ to be prophets. “I have chosen you to be a prophet to the nations”. A prophet is the conscience of society. The horizon of prophetic mission is unlimited. Wherever human life is oppressed or justice is denied, a disciple of Christ has to speak and act without bothering about the consequences.
Unfortunately Church in India has not acted as prophet. It has taken the shortcut of being a welfare agency. The institutional interest and fear have always made the Church leadership to remain silent on injustices happening in the Indian society. The priests and nuns are trained to engage in charity and routine social works.
Whenever government tried to control the Church institutions, bishops had asked priests, nuns and lay people to come to the streets to protest and shout slogans. The same hierarchy forbids when people to act as prophets and protest against injustice and oppression inflicted by someone in the Church leadership.
Father Vattoly, right from his early years of priesthood, has opted to follow Christ who called him to be a prophet to the nations. Hence he has participated in many struggles of people. The Church authorities did not have any problem with such activities.
Now when he joined the struggle of the oppressed nuns for justice against a bishop, they want to control and silence him. If the Church leadership is afraid of being prophetic it should be happy and proud that a priest is living true to his vocation.
Labeling this authentic priest as part of terrorist groups and anti-Christian forces exposes the spiritual and intellectual impoverishment of those who try to control him.
When the Church is plagued by scandals and public opposition, issuing a show cause notice with baseless allegations is untimely and unprofessional.
The show cause notice speaks of offering daily Holy Mass as the way for a priest to grow in spirituality. Jesus lambasted the Jewish priestly class who promoted a cultic religion with rituals for the salvation of people. He violated all the Jewish laws and rituals which did not make people spiritual.
Cultic religion is preserved for the vested interest of the priestly class. It appears that all focus of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy is to keep the Church as a cultic sect and exploit the people without helping them to experience spirituality.
Father Vattoly was offering living Eucharist when he fought for the rights of the poor and the marginalized. When he was imprisoned for seven days because of his prophetic mission he was offering a better Eucharist than the elaborate cultic Holy Mass which the bishops and priests offer in the security of their churches.
It is important for the Church leaders to understand that Jesus had promoted spirituality of values instead of religiosity of rituals. He was more concerned about reconciliation, forgiveness, loving one’s enemies, doing justice and working for the liberation of the oppressed than performing complicated rituals which did not make people spiritual.
It is important to be a disciple of Christ by following his example than worshiping him. Father Vattoly follows the example of Christ who liberated the oppressed and exploited. It is more genuine than sitting in church for many hours worshiping God with long and loud prayers, which Jesus Himself had condemned.
The Church leaders and priests have to meditate the call of Christ to be salt of the earth and light of the world. If the leadership fails to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and fail to be salt through its integrity and credibility, it has no right to preach.
Instead of trying to silence and suppress genuine prophets like Father Vattoly the leaders in the Church should present themselves as role models for others to follow. It is better not to further mess up the matters which are already messy.
Instead of following the tradition of murdering the prophets let us follow the legacy of Christ.