1st May 2014
BACKGROUND: I happened to see a news item in the Hindustan Times dt 31/3/14 with a statement attributed to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai on the “global survey commissioned by the Vatican “. The report quoted the cardinal as saying that “the data from India was not quantified, and only showed general perceptions.” I immediately wrote to the Cardinal seeking a clarification, more so since he was one of the 8 handpicked advisors to the Pope, and also the then President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI). My query was on “unquantified data”, which in itself is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. My letter to the Cardinal was printed in some Christian journals.
On 1st April I sent a copy of the Cardinal’s statement and my response to the same, to several persons on my regular mailing list. On 7th/8th April I independently received a request from James Kottoor/Bob Kaiser/Rene Reid to join up with the efforts of “Catholic Church Reform International” (CCRIL), pertaining to the forthcoming World Synod on the Family, and their efforts to obtain feedback on the same. Since we seemed to have common goals I had agreed to co-operate in their effort. That is a separate matter.
CARDINAL’S RESPONSE: Cardinal Gracias responded to my letter on 15th April stating that the Conference of Catholic Bishop’s of India (CCBI- which is the body of Latin Rite bishops only) had sent the questionnaire to all the dioceses. The responses were collated and sent to Rome. However in the same letter under reference the Cardinal also stated that the process of data collection was still continuing, and forwarded my letter to Bp Lawrence Pius, the Chairman of the CCBI Family Commission.
VERIFICATION: Somehow the Cardinal’s letter did not ring true. Hence, by way of abundant precaution, I sent out a query on the 17th April, enquiring from my group if they were aware of any Survey on the Family conducted in their respective dioceses.
RESPONSES: I got responses from eminent lay leaders all across the country stating that no such Survey had been conducted. The response came from people in the following dioceses: Bombay Archdiocese (the Cardinal’s own), Delhi Archdiocese, Bangalore Archdiocese, Pune Diocese, Ernakulam Archdiocese, Chennai Archdiocese, Allahabad Diocese, Bareilly Diocese and Meerut Diocese. I consider these responses sufficiently representative to state that no Family Survey had been conducted across the 167 dioceses in the country.
QUALIFYING OBSERVATIONS: One respondent then stated that she had received a questionnaire in Mumbai, but decided against responding as she found it too “technical”. I received another response from Pune that some kind of a survey was responded to by a group of priests of the diocese. It was not circulated among the laity.
FURTHER CORRESPONDENCE: Based on the responses received till then I again wrote to Cardinal Gracias on 23rd April, informing him, among other things, that the feedback indicated that no survey involving the families had been conducted, and expressing the laity’s disappointment at the same. This letter was circulated to my group on 24th April. In the interim I received another response from Mumbai also stating that a questionnaire had been received but not answered, for reasons similar to what I have already stated. Cardinal Gracias again replied on 24th April reiterating that the matter has been forwarded to the CCBI (Latin Rite) Family Commission, and that the Synod Secretariat (in Rome?) was dealing directly with the Oriental Churches (Syro-Malabar and Syro Malankara Rites)
BOMBAY SURVEY: At about this time we also received information that the Questionnaire had been put up on the Diocesan website, and published in the largely circulated diocesan weekly “The Examiner”. Bp Angelo Gracias candidly admitted that there was not a single response to the Questionnaire! This raises two very fundamental questions: (ii) Was there a mismatch between the Questionnaire’s content and the respondents to whom it was addressed? (ii) Was this a case of deliberate obfuscation?
THE INSIDE STORY: I recently met a bishop who is a close friend. We discussed several issues for over an hour. I asked him about the Questionnaire. This is what he had to say: He had received the Questionnaire with the instructions that it had to be replied to in 15 days. The bishop (a very sincere person) declined for the following reasons: (i) There was not enough time to translate it into Hindi, the local language, disseminate it, and then collate the response (ii) Several of the questions relating to homosexuality, same sex marriages etc are non-issues in India.
On my persistence I was told that the Family Survey was NOT discussed by the CBCI (supra-ritual body) during its Plenary Assembly in Palai in February. However, it was raised by some Latin Rite bishops at their meeting of the CCBI, but nothing concrete emerged.
CONCLUSION: If several countries like Japan, Germany, England, etc could conduct the Survey in the stipulated time frame , why was it not done in India, more so when one of the Pope’s handpicked group of eight advisors is here, and was at the time heading both the CBCI and CCBI ? Does this not amount to disrespect for Pope Francis’s stated intentions? Does it also not amount to betrayal of the aspirations of the laity in India, and its families who are the Domestic Church? Has there been a deliberate cover up, to avoid facing embarrassing questions; and presenting a rosy, but grossly distorted picture, to Rome? Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in India, and the universal Church, are the poorer for this.
It is worth pointing out that when the Vatican organizes a Year for Priests or a Year for Faith, then the entire church apparatus goes into overdrive to organize a yearlong campaign, with prayer cards etc. However, when something is aimed at the families (laity) then it is treated much too casually, almost scornfully.
In the circumstances the enlightened lay leaders of India are left with no option but to organize their very own National Consultation on Catholic Families, and forward the findings to Rome, and to empathetic organizations in differed parts of the world like CCRIL. It is also their duty to expose the fraud and betrayal of the Catholic hierarchy of India. It would have been one of its best kept secrets, had it not been for a seemingly innocuous report in the Press, that this writer took up in right earnest.
DISCLAIMER: The averments made in this report are based on inputs received from various sources, and believed to be true.