By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi, Nov. 27, 2018: An advocacy group of Catholic religious on November 27 urged the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly to withdraw a warning letter he recently served on a “prophetic” priest.
The members of Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM) say they are shocked to know about the warning letter issued to Fr. Augustine Vattoly, who they say has “proved to be a true follower of Jesus of Nazareth, involving himself in the struggles of the people against injustice and oppression.”
Bishop Manathodath in his November 11 letter had asked Father Vattoly to respond by November 25 to various “reported” allegations against him. The prelate warned disciplinary action against the priest for allegedly inciting sedition and hatred against Church authorities and associating with extremist and atheistic groups.
Some of these groups, the bishop noted, plot against the Church and harm good morals.
Father Vattoly is the convener of the “Save Our Sisters” Action Council, an umbrella body of groups that support a Catholic nun who had accused a bishop of raping her repeatedly. The council organized September 8-22 a sit-in at Kerala’s Kochi city that led to the arrest of the rape accused, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
Later on November 14 it took the protest outside the Kerala government’s secretariat building in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, to demand the cancellation of bail granted to the prelate. Former Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan opened the protest.
The forum letter finds dichotomy in the Church leaders’ stand on public protest. It points out that the bishops had in the past asked priests, nuns and the laity to take to streets and shout slogans when government policies hurt the Church’s institutional interests. They justified such protests as a way to protect the Church’s interests.
“When the members of the Church come to know that something is rotten within the Church don’t they have the right to protest? Freedom of expression is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen,” asserts the letter signed by Forum president Carmelite Father Jacob Peenikaparambil and secretary Holy Cross Sister Manju Kulapuram.
The forum pledges solidarity with Father Vattoly and extended its “wholehearted support” to him. It views the bishop’s warning letter as an attempt to silence prophetic voice within the Church.
“Killing prophetic voices will impoverish the Church. Hence we request you to withdraw the warning letter issued to Fr. Augustine Vattoly,” the letter pleads.
The Forum’s full text of the open letter to Bishop Jacob Manathodath, the apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese:
November 27, 2018
An Open Letter to Bishop Jacob Manathodath, the Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese
We, the members of the Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM), are shocked to know about the warning letter issued to Fr. Augustine Vattoly, a priest who has proved to be a true follower of Jesus of Nazareth, involving himself in the struggles of the people against injustice and oppression.
As per the media reports, your warning letter alleges that Fr. Vattoly incites sedition and hatred against Church authorities and associates with extremist and atheistic groups. The main reason for issuing the threatening letter appears to be Fr. Vattoly’s initiative to organize a dharna in front of the Secretariat, Trivandrum on November 14, demanding that the bail granted to the rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal be cancelled.
When the institutional interests of the Church were hurt by the government policies, the Church leaders had asked the priests, nuns and the laity to take to the streets and shout slogans against the government. The Church leaders justified the protests by the priests and nuns to protect the institutional interests of the Church. When the members of the Church come to know that something is rotten within the Church don’t they have the right to protest? Freedom of expression is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen.
Priests and nuns are called by Jesus to be his disciples to continue his mission of integral liberation as explained in Lk. 4: 16-18. This requires exercising their prophetic role within the Church and in the society by questioning the authorities when they drift away from the path of Jesus. As Jesus lambasted the Jewish leadership (Mt. 23:1-30) for their hypocrisy, insincerity, exploitation of the people, misguiding the faithful etc. the priests and religious have to criticize the blunders and the crimes of the leaders within the Church. As long as Fr. Vattoly exercised his prophetic role within the wider society the leadership of the Church had no problem, but when he questioned the misdeeds of the leaders, he became a person who incites sedition and hatred against the Church.
Prophets of the Old Testament time, John the Baptist and Jesus and the modern day prophets were threatened and murdered. Using obedience and laws as weapons against those who stand for truth and justice is not anything new. The government of Maharashtra has used sedition law against the five activists who have dedicated their lives for the empowerment of the downtrodden. The crime of Fr. Vattoly is that he took a stand to support a nun who says that she is a victim of the misdeeds of Bishop Franco Mulakkal. If the bishops of Kerala can give their unconditional support with finance and influence to Franco Mulakkal why not Fr. Vattoly and his friends give support to the nun who is left alone? In fact, as a genuine follower of Jesus, you should have congratulated and supported Fr. Augustine Vattoly for his prophetic stand.
We would like to bring to your kind attention a portion of the statement by The Union of International Superiors General (UISG), “Abuse in all forms: sexual, verbal, emotional, or any inappropriate use of power within a relationship diminishes the dignity and healthy development of the person who is victimized. We stand by those courageous women and men who have reported abuse to the authorities. We condemn those who support the culture of silence and secrecy, often under the guise of “protection” of an institution’s reputation or naming it “part of one’s culture”. We advocate transparent civil and criminal reporting of abuse whether within religious congregations, at the parish or diocesan levels, or in any public arena”. (UISG DECLARATION AGAINST ANY KIND OF ABUSE, Nov 23, 2018)
Fr. Vattoly and his friends were helping a victim of sexual abuse to get justice. How can it “seriously injure the good of the Church” and cause scandal among the faithful?
We, the members of the FORUM, are of the view that your warning letter is to silence prophetic voice within the Church. The history of the Catholic Church is a witness to the fact that the Church became corrupt and stinking in the middle ages due to the absence of prophetic voices. Killing prophetic voices will impoverish the Church. Hence we request you to withdraw the warning letter issued to Fr. Augustine Vattoly. We express our solidarity with Fr. Augustine Vattoly and extent our wholehearted support to him.
With cordial regards
Fr. Jacob Peenikaparambil CMI, FORUM National Convener Sr. Manju Kulapuram SCSC, FORUM National Secretary