Kochi, March 13, 2019: Bishop John Nellikunnel of Idukki has written to his priests explicitly telling them not to take any position favoring any political party or ideology.
The Bishop’s March 9 circular to priests assumes importance as Kerala’s more than 18 percent Christian population has significant sway in certain key pockets of central Kerala.
The state is scheduled to go to poll on April 23.
The Idukki bishop has cautioned his priests from engaging in election meetings and taking sides in political debates lest their actions harm the community.
“We are called to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep. As spiritual leaders of our people, we should not take any position favouring any sides. Our people do not want us to be actively involved in electoral politics in the present context. Our people are intelligent enough to decide in elections,” Bishop Nellikunnel wrote.
He also reminded the priest their duty before God to become symbols of charity and unity.
“Therefore I appeal to all of you to abstain from election-related propagandas, statements and meetings. By our words and activities, we should not give any scandals to the faithful and to the public. General guidelines will be given by KCBC and we shall respect them,” he wrote, referring to the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, a body of Catholic bishops in the state.
The mainstream political parties of the state depend heavily on tacit or indirect support of the Church, both the Catholic and Orthodox branches, in districts like Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta.
Both the Left and the Congress have often fielded candidates who are seen to be close to the Church establishment and have influence over the faithful.
While the Congress and its allies like the Kerala Congres (M) have traditionally been the benefactor of Christian votes in central Kerala, over the recent years, the Left has been able to garner a large share of the community’s votes. Its thumping win in the bye-election in Chengannur last year, earlier a stronghold of the Congress has been a proof of its ability to influence Christian votes.