By Varghese Alengaden
Indore, August 6, 2019: These days, people in India are experiencing insecurity and threats.
While many politicians have sold their souls for temporary benefits, some authors, actors, journalists and activists continue their prophetic mission of speaking out against human right violations, state sponsored violence and dictatorial actions of those in power.
The current socio-political scenario is very challenging and frightening. Democracy is gradually slipping into fascism and the universal values enshrined in the Indian Constitution are threatened.
This is the time the disciples of Christ stood out and did their prophetic mission. It is time every Christian showed loyalty to his call to be a prophet — prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:4). When the whole society is in darkness the disciples of Christ should show the way by their example. When the whole society is getting damaged, the disciples of Christ are called to be salt to preserve it from decay, add taste to the life of people and heal the wounds of hostility and violence.
Unfortunately, the disciples of Christ are failing in their mission. They neither act as prophets with courage and conviction nor do the mission of preserving society from decay. They neither nourish society with the flavour of their ideal life nor heal the wounds of conflict with their works of peace and reconciliation.
Though the call, vision and mission of the disciples of Christ are to be prophetic leaders, they have failed in their responsibility. Instead of being prophets of courage, they have become cowards, keeping silence when human rights are violated, innocent people are murdered and women and girls are gangraped.
The Church leaders, who have both human and material resources at their disposal, do not follow the Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ — by leading from the front. They preach morality to the common people in the security of the churches but remain silent when police chargesheet fellow bishops for committing sexual crimes and financial scandals.
A large majority of the clergy, religious and bishops ignore the multitude of financial irregularities and unethical acts by priests, religious and bishops because they lack prophetic courage and credibility. Many are afraid of the skeletons falling from their cupboard.
Internal conflicts, immorality and lack of good shepherd leaders with credibility, have inflicted irreparable damage to the Church of Christ. What Jesus spoke two thousand years ago have become true today: “If the salt loses its saltiness how it can be made salty again. It is worth to be thrown out to be trampled by men” (Lk 14:34).
The numerous scandals involving priests, religious and bishops have damaged the image of the Church. Like the salt which lost its saltiness, the Church is suffering from public insults and media bashing. The mission of Christ is damaged by these Church men and high priests.
There are conflicts and disputes in many dioceses across the country. Most of them are between dioceses and religious congregations over land and institutions. On the one side the priests and bishops preach about reconciliation and fellowship and on the other side they fight for land and property.
In the cases involving women religious, male domination prevails. The poor women religious succumb to pressures and agree to pay huge amount of money to diocese for the land they have been using for decades or they have to abandon the mission and leave the diocese. In the case of men religious, they refuse to succumb to the pressure of dioceses.
Neither the diocese, nor the religious congregation is able to settle the issues through dialogue or mediation. Often cases are dragged to the civil courts much against the will of Christ. Jesus had clearly instructed his disciples to avoid law suits in the court and the law enforcing agencies to solve the disputes among themselves. Bishops, who are expected to be spiritual leaders, act in a very unchristian way.
For example — the conflict over the management of the church at Thalore in the Trichur Archdiocese of Kerala. Years ago, during Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam tenure, the church attached to Infant Jesus Monastery Thalore was raised to the status of a parish and entrusted to the care of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) congregation.
In the course of time, Thalore became one of the best parishes in terms of its performance in various areas. The archdiocese wanted to take over the parish from the CMI priests. Majority of the people of the parish objected to the proposal. The archdiocesan authorities managed to create a parish and started offering Mass in a temporary structure near the ashram church.
Many parishioners continued to oppose the plan. The archdiocesan authorities refused to dialogue with the people. On the strength of the Church law they wanted all to obey the archbishop’s order.
I knew how saintly Swami Sadanand, a CMI priest, tried to reconcile the two parties. He spent many days visiting many bishops in Kerala, including Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, for solving the dispute through reconciliation and dialogue.
He even used Gandhian method of prayer and fasting for 12 days. The archdiocesan authorities intensified their attack on Swami Sadanand and even got him arrested and filed a case against him and a few lay people. The simple people in the parish only wanted the archdiocesan authorities to have a cordial dialogue.
I too made a visit to help the process of reconciliation. I wanted to meet the archbishop. He responded neither to my telephone calls nor to the messages conveyed through several priests of the archdiocese. All I wanted was to communicate the parishioners’ message to him. The tension mounted and reached the court and the district administration.
After many years, the District Magistrate of Thrissur took a decision, refusing permission to build another church parallel to the old ashram church. The magistrate’s order contains certain damaging observations about the manipulations and violations from the part of archdiocesan leadership in the long dispute.
The collector’s statement is a serious indictment on the diocesan leadership. The document states that “it was revealed during the hearing that the priests were creating divisions among the faithful.” The reason for rejecting the application was a slap on the face of the diocesan administration.
“In an atmosphere where neither the diocese nor the diocesan priests could solve the dispute within their own community, granting permission for the construction by the district administration can disturb communal harmony in the locality and can cause law and order problem.”
Why should the Church leadership and clergy create scandal and become a laughing stock before the general public? Will this judgement of the district administration persuade authorities of other dioceses to settle similar disputes? Will bishops, priests and religious learn lessons from the tragic case of Trichur Archdiocese? Will they speed up dialogue and reconciliation process in many such cases existing in different parts of India?
The country is in a terrible situation. The disciples of Christ should act as agents of peace. They can do so only if they stop fighting among themselves for land, property and power.
Instead, they indulge in disputes and go for court cases, wearing big crosses. Their loyalty to Christ is limited to shouting long and loud prayers and enforcing Church laws that they do not practice. They are modern Pharisees — owners of religious industry. They peddle religiosity drug.
The Church has hundreds of eloquent retreat preachers, who are busy solving the simple problems of innocent lay people and helpless nuns. Why can’t they act as prophets and spiritual directors of bishops and high priests to settle court cases and disputes within their community through dialogue and reconciliation? Why can’t they organize nigh vigils and retreats to heal the wounds of Christ’s body – the Church?
Why don’t they remind the Church leaders to follow the leadership model of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Why don’t they ask the shepherds of the Church to feed the sheep instead of amassing property and wealth? Why don’t they ask them to say, “Sorry, I made a mistake; can we forget and forgive?”
It is high time the genuine disciples of Jesus rose up and liberated the Church and its faithful from the slavery of oppressive religion of the hypocritical ‘priestocracy.’ It is time for all the disciples of Christ to repent and return to the Way of Christ — the way of loving one another; the way of unity and fellowship.
It is time we replaced Priestly Church with Prophetic Church.
(Father Varghese Alengaden is the Founder of the Indore-based Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education for Peace (USM, an NGO centered on developing enlightened leadership, responsible citizenship, and promoting harmony among religions and ethnic groups.)