By Varghese Alengaden
Indore, Jan 25, 2019: The press release of the Syro-Malabar Media Commission on January 23 appears to be very childish and untrue.
The commission was responding to the views expressed by Carmelite Father Jacob Peenikaparambil in his write up, “Who are the enemies of the Church?” published in Matters India, on January 22. Fr. Jacob in his write up had raised many questions on the circular the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church issued at the end of its recent synod.
First of all, the press release is totally silent on the issues raised by Fr. Jacob in his write up. On the other hand, the media cell was indulging in mudsling on the person who wrote the write up without mentioning his name. The press release says, “Writing an article, criticizing the circular of the head of the Church in an online paper is a serious breach of discipline”. The press release did not mention which canon law is violated by writing an article criticizing the head of the Church. Fr. Jacob has written over a hundred articles, severely criticizing the policies and actions of honourable Sri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India and violent activities of the Hindutva forces. Neither the Government of India issued any notice to him of any disciplinary action nor the Hindutva forces came to attack him. How does criticism of an action, of a person in authority becomes a crime or indiscipline?.
“Priests and religious should avoid the temptation of presenting themselves above the law of the Church,” the press release said. Attempt is made to create lawlessness in the Church by suing the general acceptance gained through social work and this is nothing but criminal, the press release alleged. These are wild allegations without making any attempt to know the person concerned and his activities. Fr. Jacob did not cast any aspersion on the bishops in his article while questioning the issues mentioned in the circular.
Father Jacob is a priest respected by numerous priests, religious and people from all walks of life. He has a history of 41 years of upright and dedicated priestly life mostly among the poorest of the poor in the rural regions of Madhya Pradesh. He has been guiding a number of dioceses and religious congregations across the country for the renewal programmes. He has also held responsible positions in the CMI congregation and respected by all. In his books and weekly columns, he had expressed his concern for the values of Christ. He is known for his credibility, self discipline and deep spirituality. It is because of his deep spirituality and conviction of his prophetic mission he pointed out the failures in the circular published by Synod of Bishops.
It is because of his concern for the good of the Church, he had expressed his critical views about the circular . Blind obedience to anything and everything is told by the superiors is not the way of Christ. Christ questioned and even violated all the unjust religious laws which oppressed the ordinary people and lambasted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His times. The Syro-Malabar hierarchy is yet to learn the meaning of God’s call to be a “prophet to the nations”. Please do not forget the fact that we follow Christ who attacked the religious leaders of His times calling them abusive words like, “brood of vipers, white washed tombs, hypocrites, etc”.
There is a lot of exaggeration, amounting to lie in the press release. On what basis the media commission of the Church assessed that, “The circular by the head of the Church was received by the Church with one heart?” It is a very tall claim against the backdrop of the realities. The circular was not read in many churches in Ernakulam-Angamaly Arch diocese. It was reported in the media that a group of lay people burnt a copy of the circular in front of the Archbishop’s House, Ernakulum. It is the first time in the history of the Syro-Malabar Church that a copy of the circular by the head of the Church was burnt publicly as a protest. Don’t judge the act with the number of the group. Even if one person takes the courage to protest he is a majority. It speaks volumes of the rejection and oppression of a vast majority of people. The claims of the press release that all lay organizations in the Church unanimously welcomed the decisions of the synod is nothing but laughable.
Why doesn’t the Church leadership accept the truth that the Church is not just the members of the hierarchy. The laity, the religious- women and men, and the priests are also integral part of the Church. Why don’t the voice of thousands of women religious who do the maximum free labour to build the Church taken to consideration? Instead of reading the writings on the wall and understand the fast changing socio-political scenario, it is foolish for the leaders of the Church to act like the Church leaders of the middle ages. Why don’t the Syro –Malabar hierarchy learn the lessons from the prophetic Pope Francis? Don’t they read the bold statements he daily makes and prophetic actions he performs with diverse groups of people? Do they think that the Syro-Malabar Church is not the part of the universal Church whose head is Pope Francis?
Instead of threatening the prophetic priests, religious and enlightened laity with disciplinary actions, the Bishops should learn from Christ the Good Shepherd who went after the one lost sheep and initiate dialogue with respect and dignity with the affected persons. This is not the age of excommunication and inquisition. Church leaders have already done enough damage causing sex scandals and shady land deals. The leaders of the Church should take time to mediate on the words of Christ, asking to hang themselves in the sea for causing scandal to the little ones.
Similarly they should take initiatives to facilitate dialogue and reconciliation following the uncompromising demand of Christ, “If you come to offer the gift and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave the gift at the door of the temple (church) and first go and reconcile, then come and offer your gift”. How can the priests and bishops offer the Holy Mass nurturing revenge and hostility in their mind. As the leaders, it is the duty of the Archbishops and Bishops to take the first step to facilitate peace and reconciliation. Canon Law cannot be contrary to the Gospel of Christ. It can’t be also superior to the law of the land.
In short, the press release was a face saving mechanism by making wild allegations against the person who wrote the article instead of responding to the issues raised by him in his article. It has cut a very poor image of the media cell and of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod. I am sure this article also may face the same opposition from the sycophants of the hierarchy. It is worth mentioning that a few years ago the same Synod had issued instruction to the women religious of Syro-Malabar Church not to attend any retreats or seminars conducted by this writer because of his critical statement against the dismissal of Professor Joseph of Nirmala college Muvattupuzha, managed by the Kothamangalam diocese. Joseph’s hand was chopped off by a Muslim fundamentalist group. Instead of defending the victim the Management dismissed him from the service, depriving the livelihood of his family. In an interview to UCAN News in those days, I had criticised the dismissal as ‘an unchristian act’. I had also asked if the Church leadership was appeasing the Muslim fundamentalists to prevent further attacks’. It is known to all that his wife committed suicide after a few years due to poverty and mental stress faced due to the loss of Joseph’s job. His dismissal was lifted just a day before his retirement only after a new Bishop took charge of the Diocese. Infuriated by my critical statement, the Synod discussed and passed a judgement against me without even asking for my clarification. Later, when I met and questioned Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry and the then Curia Bishop Bosco Puthur
in their office at Kakkanad, they had no satisfactory answer to offer. It is high time the Church hierarchy realized that the genuine prophets cannot be silenced. Money and power cannot suppress the truth. The common people are intelligent and they cannot be taken for granted. The wise option is to repent and return to the way of Christ at the earliest. Gone are the imperialistic days of the middle ages.