Reviving Idealism lost is Reform
Silent Church as good as Dead
Random reflections on a dithering Church caught between serving God and mammon, copying state or Jesus, in spite of prophetic calls for radical reform & to flee worldly ways of marketing colonies of one’s own creation.
Better late than never! What? A reflection on the response of religious leaders especially church men to Delhi rape to death of Nirbhaya alias Brave-heart and Jyoti which shook every section of the country. Why? Because, don’t the churches revel in describing themselves as the conscience keeper of the nation, nay of entire humanity on matters moral, spiritual and sublime?
During the tense, tragic days from Dec.16 to 29 while writing to a theologian friend I was forced to tell him: “A church that keeps its mouth shut in the face of such dastardly atrocities right under its nose is as good as dead.” He too felt that way. But die-hard supporters of churchmen would not think so. They would protest against equating churchmen with dumb worldly politicians, it was brought to my notice.
It was then, to my surprise, I hit upon the headline: A Silent Church is a Dead one, in the Ucan-India news (Union of Catholic Asian News) by none other than John Dayal another catholic like me. I was in company, I thought. He was out with detailed facts and figures on rape statistics in India and argued that the Catholic church after challenging the government on the controversial Koodamkulam nuclear plant and the consequent punishment it got, the State blocking the use or misuse of foreign funds to a local diocese in Tamilnadu, had to be afraid and silent not to get into more trouble. Once bitten twice shy.
What of Nuns Raped?
But were not even religious nuns victims of gang rape in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa in the last 20 years asks Dayal. He leaves the question unanswered possibly not to wound further a seriously wounded church caught with sex abuses galore like rape and paedophilia all over the world by its own clergy and bishops. And recent Popes were going all over the world begging forgiveness and compensating victims at the cost of bankrupting dioceses. One has to be morally clean on all fronts to champion the cause of morality and spirituality. Congrats Dayal for waking up the Hierarchy to get moving as did the frail women on resurrection day to wake up Peter and company.
Even the newly elevated Cardinals, it looked were too busy with receptions, celebrations and photo-opportunities for marketing the epochal achievements of their respective colonies instead of comforting the afflicted rape victims under their watch in Church and society.
That reminded me of the comment of theologian Yves Congar describing the propensity of too many bishops to decorate themselves like brides on marriage day with gold and silver, colourful eye-catching glamorous, glittering, imperial mundane attire and outfits -- all an affront to the ordinary drab life style of a Carpenter of Nazareth, whom they are to follow and who ran away when an unthinking mob wanted to make him a King.
Fortunately there was no “Prince of the Church” since there was no mundane man made church on earth at all then. Time was when we had towering stalwarts like Cardinals Gracias of Bombay, Picachy of Calcutta and Parekattil of Ernakulam who were not confined to their petty provincial kingdoms but had a universal outlook and addressed issues affecting both nation and church in India as their own personal concern and bounden duty. They had their counter parts in the secular world as well like Nehru , Kennedy of US, De’Gaul of France and Garbachove of Russia.
Prelate of Port-Blare
It should have been these thoughts which prompted Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blare, a prelate after the heart of St. Paul commuting from island to island on dangerous (Semper in periculis – always in danger -- as Paul described his own) pastoral missionary mission, to go public with his article in IC: Needed: A Church without Grandeur. Doesn’t matter if it proved to be a cry in the wilderness, like that of John the Baptist since he got no public support even from his Episcopal confreres.
May be it is because he is only an ordinary Ordinary among extra ordinary Ordinaries. But he will be remembered for sticking his neck out to be paraded on a dish in royal banquets of church men to sting their consciences nursing imperial egos. Equally important, Bishop Alex has written in the IC also against credible dangers of the Koodamkulam project which no other bishop, I think, thought it their domain of pastoral duty to dare and step in to speak up. But what if the venerable princely class has not spoken? The Catholic hierarchy in India is not without matchless pastoral minded extra-ordinary Ordinaries among them.
Pastoral Bishop Nair
One among them to my puny mind is Bishop Patrick Nair of Meerut. He has spoken loud and clear on Rape. What is more his article: Rape is a Symptom of a Disease (IC 13/1/13) is pastoral to the core and suggests radical remedies to change the patriarchal, male dominated mindset in Indian culture the root cause. The treatment should start right in our own homes. Why boys at tender age are taught that girls matter less? What about dowry system which adds to discrimination of grown up girls? Why female foetuses are aborted with gay abandon causing an imbalance in sex ratio, 899 girls to 1000 males as of 2011 in northern sates? In olden days, the victor considered women the spoils of war. Are we to promote that idea of conquest among our bullish boys?
In some countries parents are taken to court if they maltreat their children. Why not allow our girls to go to court for second class treatment at home? There is nothing wrong in admiring a girl’s beauty. What is wrong is to sexually desire her. This should be taught at home. Man by nature is more passionate while woman is more affectionate and children should be taught signs of female affection should not be mistaken for sexual consent. Bishop Nair is profuse with such practical suggestions. All of us have a duty to listen and do what he suggests to fight this rot in us and society. His article to my mind deserves widest publicity in the print media especially in the vernacular.
Chhotebhai, Dayal Duo
So with persons like Dayal and Chotebhai from among the laity and Bishops like Alex Dias and Patrick Nair, Catholic church in India is not totally silent. Sorry for not elaborating on Chotebhai’s recent articles calling upon the hierarchy to introspect on various burning issues. His observation in Rapist in Me, quoting St.Francis: “There goes Francis but for the grace of God” at the sight of a criminal led to gallows is sublime, superb and spiritually humbling to me and to all self styled upright ones. But it looks that the Catholic Church in India is left in the lurch with tail trying to wag the head, blind, deaf and speechless like the Indian State.
By failing to read and react to the signs of the times spoken of by the Vatican council, the church is definitely abdicating its mission to witness Jesus in the modern world. It has become a carbon copy of the secular leadership on our political landscape unable to effectively connect with popular pleas like that of an Anna Hazare, a Kejriwal and a leader-less youthful fair sex battalion at Raisina hills. Concrete calls for a Jan Lokpal, Women’s Representation, and Ousting rapist’s leaders from all parties are met with face saving promises never implemented.
Yet the church from Pope to least pastor is making a lot of noise on pious platitudes put in new bottle like “New Evangelisation” while the laity itself, not fooled with honorific, pacifying and palliative tributes like “forefront of the Church” or “the church” itself shout back: “What you are speak to us so loud that we can’t hear what you say. You call us the People of God, just as the State calls ‘We the people’ the real masters only to be looted, not served.” What is new and what is evangelising without speech or meaningful action to connect with contemporary society on boil?
Clergy Laity Divide & Disconnect
Besides is it not a tragic comedy when the church speaks ad nauseam of dialogue but utters no word in reply to pleas, cries, nay shouts and even rebukes from laity through proliferating social media and website magazines like Ucan-India, Almaya Sabdam, Soul and Vision, Emalayalee, Bilathi, South Asia mail, Syromalabar Voice or Faith blogs, since official church publications adamantly refuse space to news and views not pleasing to or pampering the top brass in the church? What a contrast this to Jesus who never failed to listen to distraught cries from the crowd. Nor did He ever shut the mouth of any questioner honest or crooked. He went a step further even to extract questions and answer them from on lookers hesitant, doubtful or awestruck under His spell or those out with a positive intent to trap Him.
One possible explanation is that an aging leadership in the church like their political counter part still living in stone age and not in today’s knowledge era of internet, are not able to see, hear and read internet sites of a fast changing signs of times to connect with people who matter – people of God in Church and we the people in the state. Even this scribe honestly tried to write many times to highly placed persons without getting any response and therefore even suggested that knowledgeable secretaries to top church men should be appointed to promptly handle their internet mail, but only to fall on deaf ears.
But it is also true that some stray bishops like late bishop Martini of Milan, are up to the mark to meet the challenges of the times. Some of them have even surprised me with their unsolicited emails with requests to keep them on my mailing list. So what is the sure remedy if the Vatican prescription to read and react to sings of the times is not a council but a command, not an option but a duty? Follow the Chinese example? They have barred all above 68 far removed from ground realities from holding leadership positions in politics. A church that still stuck to the life style of an imperial Constantine era should think in those terms to become relevant to our times.
Rahul’s Jaipur Speech
In this context Rahul Gandhi’s Jaipur speech was termed a typical lucid voice of opposition within Congress, a bold critique withi! It simply mirrors the on going critique aslo within Church from top to bottom, from Martini of Milan to youth all over. Is it not due only to leaderless fair sex youth crowd on Raisina ground that all the revolutionary turmoil for change happening today in India? Only certain words in his speech need substitution or modification in Rahul’s speech to wake up the Catholic church.
For example he said: People’s “lives cannot be decided by a handful of people behind closed doors who are not fully accountable to them ... the system (Church) is stuck in the past. It has become a system that robs people of their voice, a system that disempowers instead of empowering.... the power so many seek is actually a poison.,... The only antidote to this poison is ...not to become attached to it... not to chase power for the attributes of power...(.but) only use it to empower the voiceless.“
“Why do a handful of people control the entire political (church) space? ..... We only empower people at the top of a system (hierarchy). We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom.”
Daily “I meet people who have tremendous understanding, deep insight and no voice.....they are kept outside our systems(churches). No one can hear their voice. No matter how much they try to speak, no one listens.... then I meet people holding high positions with tremendous voice but with no understanding for the issues at hand... Why does this happen?... because we don’t respect knowledge. We respect position...it does not matter how much wisdom you have, if you do not have position, you mean nothing. This is the tragedy of India(the catholic church).
“Why is our youth angry… out on the street? …because they are excluded from the political class (patriarchal church)… (to) watch from the sidelines as the powerful drive around in their lal battis…Why are women suffering? Because their voice is being trampled upon by people with arbitrary power over their lives. Why are the poor confined to powerlessness and poverty? Because decisions regarding …. services they need are decided by people far away answerable to them only in theory.”
“Until we start to respect and empower people for their knowledge and understanding, we can’t change anything in this country(church)..... all closed systems....promoting mediocrity and mediocrity dominates discussion while the voices of insight and thought are crushed by the loudness of those who possess neither understanding nor compassion.”
Success does not come from excluding insightful people or killing initiatives. “We won’t praise other people” for their strength but find out their weakness “to neutralize them... People who are corrupt stand up and talk about eradicating corruption; and then people who disrespect women everyday of their lives talk about women rights. Until we start to respect and empower people for their knowledge, for their understanding, we are never going to change this country(church).”
“ We need the aam aadmi to participate in our politics (church life). Because even as I speak their future is being decided in closed rooms. There is a young and impatient India(church) and it is demanding a greater voice in the nation’s (church’s) future. Let me tell you that they are not going to watch silently.”
“The time has come to question the centralized, unresponsive and unaccountable decision-making in governance( the church)...The answer is not in running these systems better. The answer is to completely transforming these systems.”
To be Ass and Broom
These are some of the thoughts that come crowding into my idiotic mind as I reflect on the happenings in my Church called variously – Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher), and also Mater et Meretrix (Mother and Prostitute).As Mother who nursed me to grow with ideas and idealism, nay vision, conviction and action, I am immensely and eternally grateful to her.
But my mind revolts against the prostitute in her running after the glitter of power, pelf and pleasures of this world. To me evangelisation, new or old, is very simply this: To struggle to become that Ass carrying the Lord on the back into the limelight of today’s modern world – a vale of tears for the poor, illiterate and marginalised, exploited, oppressed and imprisoned by an insensitive powers that be; equally to be that broom in His all powerful, all loving, all holy hand that knows to shower down blessings and mercies only, yes to be His broom to sweep clean the nooks and corners of the Aegean stables sullying God’s Kingdome here on earth.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,