By Jacob Peenikaparambil
The top leaders of the Syro Malabar Church reflected on various issues affecting the Church and society during its Synod held from January 7 to 18, as per a circular issued by the head of the Church at the end of the Synod.
After prolonged discussion and analysis, the Synod members came to the conclusion that the root cause of the problems within the Church is indiscipline by “some priests and religious who are either active collaborators or puppets in the hands of the enemies of the Church.”
Participation by some priests and religious in some public protests is assessed by the Synod as “the violation of all limits of discipline.”
Protesting peacefully is a fundamental right of every citizen of India. The question that arises in the minds of the ordinary faithful is how the exercise of a fundamental right becomes a violation of discipline.
The panacea proposed for all the problems by the Synod is restoring strict discipline by using the cannon of Canon Law. The terms like dialogue, reconciliation, justice, going to the periphery, and ‘Shepherds with the smell of the sheep’ etc. are profusely used by the present Pope Francis in his speeches and writings; but they do not find a place in the vocabulary of the circular issued by the head of the Church.
On the contrary issuing show cause notices and punishing the “erring members” are the means proposed by the Synod. The circular also says that priests and religious can take part in the interviews and discussions in the T V Channels only with the permission of the bishops or major superiors of the religious congregations.
Does a priest or religious, who is an Indian citizen, require the permission of the bishop or major superior to exercise his fundamental right? Are the fundamental rights subjected to the discretion of a bishop or a major superior?
According to some psychologists the language of using the threat of disciplinary action arises from fear. Do the bishops feel threatened because a few priests and religious, who can be numbered on fingers, started questioning certain actions by the authorities? Are they afraid of the courage of a few sisters who demanded justice? Are not those sisters the members of the Church? Don’t they have a right to get justice?
India is a democratic country and dissent or criticism within the parameters of Indian Constitution is the life line of democracy. The democratic culture is applicable to all institutions and organizations, whether religious or secular, within the country.
One fails to understand how the participation of a minuscule (less than a dozen) priests and religious in a protest can malign the Church. The faithful of the Church will be eager to know how the Synod members came to the conclusion that those who participated in the protest are colluding with the enemies of the Church.
Can the Synod pinpoint the enemies of the Church? According to the book, “We or Our Nationhood Defined” by M S Golwalkar, Muslims, Christians and Communists are the internal enemies of the nation. The Church that follows the way of Jesus should not brand anyone as an enemy.
One of the core teachings of the Catholic Church is that the call to religious and priestly life is a call by God, a call by Jesus to continue his mission. In fulfilling their mission the religious and priests have to be first and foremost faithful to their call and the mission of Jesus. They are expected to play a prophetic role within the Church and the society. Jesus was primarily a prophet and the mission of his disciples is also first and foremost prophetic. How can the cannon law, which came much later, be the sole criterion for the decisions and actions of priests and religious? Jesus has unambiguously taught us that Sabbath is meant for man and not other way. According to the teachings of Jesus, doing the will of God has precedence over the law. The Church exists for the continuation of the mission of Jesus and not for canon law.
The Second Vatican Council explicitly states that the Church is the people of God. No. 6 of the circular of the Major Archbishop, states that “the property of the Church is the result of the hard work of the sons and daughters of the Church from time to time”. The implication is that the property of the Church belongs to the sons and daughters of the Church. Do they not have a right to know how the property of the Church is managed or alienated? Are not the bishops and priests accountable to the people of God if the property belongs to the people of God? What are the systems and process which the Synod has put in place to ensure participation, transparency and accountability within the Church?
The perception of many lay people appears to be different from the perception of the members of the Synod. Many lay people think that the problems within the Church, especially in the Syro Malabar Church, are due mainly to the failure of leadership. The credibility of the leadership is often questioned. Did the Synod make an introspection regarding the role of leadership? How can the Synod put the whole blame on a few priests and religious for the credibility crisis in the Church?
Muzzling the freedom of expression and stifling prophetic voices do not appear to be a solution to the problems. Any organization may have to face challenges from time to time. It is by facing the challenges creatively that the organizations grow and realize their vision. Dialogue is so far the best method used for resolving conflicts and finding solutions to human issues. Using disciplinary action is a military style and not the style of Jesus Christ. Should we follow the style of Jesus or the military style?