Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why Go to Church?

Isaac Harold Gomes (Kolkotta)

As per the news in Ucan India, the Thrissur Archdiocese is devising an action plan to check the practice of rising interfaith marriages among the members of different Catholic sects in the state.

The action plan is being formulated after the Catholic authorities found that there is a significant fall in the number of members in the community. According to an unofficial survey conducted by the Archdiocese, everyday one of their members is marrying someone of a different faith, which tends to diminish the strength of the religious community. On an average, around 200 cases, mostly women, marrying spouses of different faith, are being reported each year.

A committee headed by Auxiliary Bishop Mar Raphael Thattil was formed to look into the issue and he went to Rome to meet the Pope to discuss the issue. One wonders why the Auxiliary Bishop had to rush to Rome to meet the Pope to find a global solution to local problems! Especially when the Family Synod in Rome discussed mainly on LSBT / Gay Rights Group (basically a western phenomenon recognized by their laws)  rather than discussing more on interfaith marriages, a rising phenomenon in Asia particularly India. Please read the box at the end of the article.

Whether it is Kerala or Kolkata, the reason for more of our girls marrying into other religions is the same i.e. they are not finding Christian grooms to match their qualification and social outlook. Then again is the demand for dowry even if the girls are better educated and earn more than the boys! This menace is being aided and abetted by the Church, particularly the Kerala Church.  

However, our girls, thanks to their education, are no longer prepared to take things lying down and go by the archaic rules of the Church which treats women like second class citizens, irrespective of their upgraded skills and their willingness to share these for the betterment of the Community. Even though the Church extols Mother Mary to the sky, the position of the Woman remains the same - she has to play second fiddle to her husband, her son and to the Church instead of being treated as a Co-partner in the life and nation-building process, including protection of the environment! The Christian Church, more so the Catholic Church, is beset with double-standards when it comes to treatment to our women, even nuns!

Even though Vatican II has pronounced that the Church is to be built together by the Laity and the Clergy and that members of the Laity are Co-partners and not collaborators, the Church Hierarchy still thinks it is supreme. It’s officials behave like Corporate Honchos whether it be a parish priest, a school principal or a Bishop. In 99.5% cases one has to seek an appointment with them or meet them only during office hours, whereas they are supposed to be at the service of their flock (in the words of Pope Francis "Smell the Sheep") 24x7. In most Catholic schools & colleges, the principals act like Prime Minister and are allergic talking to Catholic parents. Their very look and attitude (nuns included) send shivers down the spine of Catholic parents. They only look out for elite warmth.  The first thing they ask of a layperson is “Where do you work?”  Needless to say, the treatment accorded thereafter is proportionate to the warmth of the wallet.

Though the Indian Church led by the CBCI celebrated 50 Years of Vatican II with great festivity, most parishes including Calcutta, have not formed the basic structures of Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) and Parish Finance Committee (PFC) to embrace the Laity and bring in transparency, accountability, checks and balances. Even though the Pope is shouting from the roof top on transparency and accountability and has called the world's best audit and consultancy firms to spruce up the Vatican's finance and systems, for the Indian Church transparency and accountability are big No No!  There is even no published data on the percentage of Catholic students in Catholic institutions.  These are minority institutions only for namesake as its own student-force for which they have got Minority status constitutes not even 10% which is much below the norm set by the Supreme Court of India. Our institutes are serving the elite and consider themselves to be separate entities from the Church which Pope Francis said on his election to the papacy in March 2013: "How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor." 

Gone are the days when all Indians believed "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow". The iconic Calcutta Archdiocese is planning (still planning!) to implement PPCs and PFCs in all parishes. There is no uniform deadline for implementation and each parish priest is looking for excuses to delay their implementation.  They are also trying for Nomination (instead of election) so that they can nominate / co-opt members who won’t speak out their minds and would toe the dotted line. This means the PPC, particularly the PFC in each parish will be loaded heavily in favour of Parish Priests, who want to call the shots and many of whom are corrupt. 

The 10 October 2012 Judgement by Kerala Court declared that parishioners are the rightful owners of church property.  "Church and Church properties would not vest in the Pope or the Archbishop and the maxim "Roma locuta est, causa finite est" Rome has spoken, case is closed, no longer survives)." This judgement has been ratified by the Supreme Court and not been challenged by any Bishop or the CBCI.

In another judgement (New Delhi IANS Oct 20, 2012), the Supreme Court said that the Menace of systemic corruption violates human rights. "Corruption is not only a punishable offence, but also undermines human rights, indirectly violating them" said the Apex Court Bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Fikkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla in a judgement. Justice Chauhan said: "Systemic corruption is a human rights violation itself, as it leads to systematic economic crimes".

It is this systemic corruption including keeping the laity away from participation in ownership and management of church-run institutions, that is one of the prime reasons for our women marrying into other communities. To ensure our girls marry into our communities, our Youth have to be empowered and involved more in church activities. The ideal mix of boys and girls, under some guidance, would encourage healthy relationship and marrying into Christian Community.  However the reality is that the Youth are sidelined without being given a decision-making role in Church activities. They are mainly called for photographic sessions for power-point presentation to Church Dignitaries.

The Kerala Church is facing the effects of rapid urbanization and migration for jobs - India is increasingly becoming a pluralistic society. Other states are facing similar problems too in varying degrees. These problems can be countered by maintaining inter-state and inter-diocese family database which will be updated parishwise and diocesewise and come in handy in match-making, sponsorship and other aids.  In this initiative help of the Pan-India Laity which is rich with qualified professionals in various fields can be taken by the Church.

As the Apostles did from the Pentecost Day, the Church has to reach out to the laity on a daily basis (for interaction on education, career counselling, vocational training, mother and child health & sanitation and eco-friendly housing – the basic emphasis being building the Family).  Our women should be accorded due respect as CO-PARTNERS and the Church, along with the Laity, should read the signs of times 

The following report from the Vatican sums it all:

Vatican City, June 08, 2014:
At Pentecost, with “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room” a Church that “surprises and unsettles” was born; a Church which “no one expected to hear anymore of” and that “announces a new message”; a Church that is not a paralyzed by “fear” that “will not settle with being merely innocuous or decorative”; a Church “that does not hesitate to come out, meet the people, to proclaim the message that it has been entrusted.” “A Church that does not have the ability to surprise, is a weak, sick Church, that needs to be hospitalized in an intensive care unit”. These are some features of the Church traced by Pope Francis today before praying the Regina Caeli.

Our Pope's messages are not being absorbed by the Indian Church and basically falling on rocky soil. It appears that Conservative forces want to take Christianity back to 50 years and undo all the good work of Pope John XXIII (now a saint) who when launching Vatican II said . "Throw open the windows of the Church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through."

Excerpts from Draft and Final Synod Report Draft:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community... Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
The Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman.

The Church teaches: "No grounds whatsoever exist for assimilating or drawing analogies, however remote, between homosexual unions and God's design for matrimony and the family." Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies should be accepted with respect and sensitivity. "Any sign of unjust discrimination in their regard is to be avoided."

Sources: Catholic Herald for draft report, Vatican press office (in Italian) for Paragraph 55

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