By Deepkamal Kaur
Jalandhar, Nov. 7: Among the various controversies dogging Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar is the formation of a new congregation by him — Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus (FMJ).
Many priests in the northern Indian diocese have voiced concern over the congregation’s structure and speed of growth, besides the seemingly ‘luxurious’ life its members lead.
Priests have not been forthcoming in discussing matters of the diocese since the rape charge surfaced against Bishop Mulakkal, and later the mysterious death of a witness against him, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, at Dasuya.
However, in confidence they express concern over the lifestyle of the seminarians of the new congregation. They say it is at odds with the modest Franciscan ways of the priesthood.
The students of the new congregation are housed in a palatial building on a huge property that was bought for several millions of rupees at Malupota village on the Phagwara-Nawanshahr highway near Banga. It is an air-conditioned building that was earlier the Sanskar International School set up by a Delhi-based group.
Currently, the seminary has some 80 students from Kerala. The seminary also plans to set up a regular school also on the premises.
Its rector, Fathers Augustine (Agin) Edakalathur and Antony Irudayaraj live on the seminary premises. The congregation’s director Father Anthony Madasserry, lives at the FMJ generalate or headquarters in Partappura village on the Jalandhar-Nakodar road. It is a farmhouse with about 80 dairy animals and horses. The horses are being reared for starting a riding course at an international school proposed to be set up by the diocese in Ludhiana.
The headquarters also houses a shelter for the disabled, Dayasagar (ocean of mercy), being managed by another congregation, Friends of the Birds of the Air.
Father Madasserry, a close associate of Bishop Mulakkal, had remained in Kerala for nearly three weeks when the prelate was in judicial custody there, and returned to Jalandhar with him. The bishop thanked the priest profusely during the first Mass the prelate offered in Jalandhar after his return.
Father Madasserry also manages a few enterprises — Navjeevan (new life) Charitable Society and Sahodaya (rising together) that runs a private security firm; deals in school contracts for buses, uniforms and books and manages stitching centers, and Shine Coaching.
Another concern of the diocese priests is that among the major seminarians of the congregation are eight people earlier rejected at the Holy Trinity Regional Major Seminary at Jalandhar. However, Bishop Mulakkal, the congregation’s patron, admitted them.
The matter has been raised formally in internal communications of the diocese. Father Mathew Palachuvattil, executive director (Education and Culture) of the diocese, had sent out a circular to the nearly 120 priests of the diocese last year, expressing his dissent at the composition of the FMJ.
He noted recruitment on a war footing going on to strengthen the new congregation.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm and the business acumen of Father General. Normally, no congregation or diocese will ask a promising candidate to discontinue their studies for priesthood at the stage of second year of theology or higher, except for grave reasons. A decision in their favor can be seen as a decision against the collective decision of the superiors of the seminary. Collecting eight such persons for the congregation with a promise to ordain them within two or three years is not right. In what way will they be Franciscan or Missionary?” read Father Palachuvattil’s circular addressed to Bishop Mulakkal.
Father Palachuvattil, who was a close aide of Mulakkal’s predecessor the late Bishop Symphorian Keeprath, has also objected to the name FMJ. He has noted that it “makes use of the short form MJ that stands for the congregation founded by Bishop Keeprath — Missionaries of Jesus (of which the nun who has lodged the case against Mulakkal is a part). Will it not be a matter of respecting the wishes of the late Bishop to leave aside the short form MJ for the congregation started by him and coin some new name for the new entity?”
However, Father Irudayaraj disagrees: “All those priests who are saying things against the FMJ are from the traditional set-up. I am from a different mindset and I am taking up things with a futuristic plan. Bishop (Mulakkal) has complete faith in me and has, therefore, assigned me all new and big projects. Also, my view is that by giving more luxury to the students, such as air-conditioning or air travel, we improve their efficiency.”
On the students at the Banga seminary, he says their stage is minor seminary; they are plus-one or plus-two students who will go to the seminary at the college level.
Diocesan spokesperson Father Peter Kavumpuram, when asked about the concerns expressed by certain priests, said: “The FMJ is still in the making. The charisms [power, role or functions] of the congregation are yet to be charted. All those who are leveling allegations against it are those who either have vested interests or inquiries by the church pending against them.