A few days back, in a comment in CCV (Church Citizens’ Voice) Chief Editor’s post on Nurses strike for fair wages, I had written that the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala is facing a crisis heading towards a possible split between the Clergy and the Faithful.
I doubt if Kerala Church can ever be saved from this crisis and shame, even with more years of Mercy and Compassion. It is the attitude of the Church rulers that is in need of radical Change. A great number of devout laity and clergy are forced to grin and bear hanging their heads in shame! Not many Dioceses in Kerala stand out as witnesses to the Good Shepherd. The face of the church is terribly disfigured.
With the proud presumption, that law of obedience can be enforced, Bishops rule their kingdoms like dictators who cannot be questioned. Allegations of injustice are not confined to just one Prof. Joseph’s case; hundreds of examples where families of faithful were cruelly shattered, can be traced. Most of the hospitals in Kerala are Church-owned. If the nurses cry, they are not paid even at the rate of a sweeper. So it is only fair to hold the Church responsible in the first place. Instead of seeking for a solution, the Thrissur Archdiocese issued a pastoral letter asking the faithful to stand with the hospital authorities, not with the sorry plight of suffering nurses. Their official publication ‘Catholica Sabha’ wrote glorious articles, saying that the Church is in Crisis and the faithful should fight against the nurses-strike. Remember that it is the same diocese, which celebrated 'Bon Nathale’ flash-mobs to get into Guinnes Book of Records, spending crores of rupees.
In an open Channel discussion on the present issue of nurses, one responsible priest boldly said that their main concern is mostly physical maintenance of the hospitals under their control. At last Cardinal Alancherry had to interfere with a statement that charity without giving proper wages is not to be recommended and nurses should be paid appropriately. This was at a time that Christians all over the world had risen up declaring their solidarity with the nurses on strike and a threat: “No more funds to build Churches” had begun to be discussed.
Damages happening to the good name of the Church is not a matter of concern for the wolves in sheep’s skin. It is here that the Church needs a reorientation. Keeping the same person in control of a whole diocese until his death is an unfair practice, which should be stopped forthwith. Otherwise, ridiculous statements and shameful pastoral letters will continue spoiling the true Christian spirit and breaking the trust of the faithful in the Church.
As a sign of hope a lot priests and a few Bishops have come forward in support of the nurses. Most of them even dared to speak in public, adding to ever so many bitter comments the Church is already facing. Just to give the CCV readers worldwide, an idea on what is happening in the Church, I translate here a responsible Catholic priest's comment which appeared in Facebook.
He writes: “I offer my whole-hearted support to all nurses, my sisters, on strike. I’m a Catholic priest and most of my siblings and relatives are nurses. I fully understand your pain and stand in support of your long drawn strike. It is a matter of contradiction that almost all the Church owned hospitals, all managed by priests or nuns oppose the nurses-strike. Unfortunately, the management in its struggle to prove their efficiency by showing huge profits they make, they forget to serve mercy and compassion and resort to inhuman practices. According to my understanding, not a single hospital under Church control runs in loss. The liabilities they talk about are due to loans they have taken to build new structures and buy more machinery for timely expansion. They continue to say they are in debt. Not a single penny from any hospital is taken out by the diocese for other common needs of the Church.
“Because of the merciless and cruel steps taken by some Church authorities, many priests like me feel ashamed to witness Christ in public. This is because of the log in our own eyes (“Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?”– St. Matthew 7:3). The money earned through exploitation is equal to the 30 silver coins earned by Judas Iscariot and his Akeldama. We are really afraid, of the effects of the curse of these nurses – angels upon earth. I do not believe that Lord Jesus who came to protect the suppressed and oppressed will ever argue for the Hospital managements. St. Paul also won’t approve of anyone stealing from rewards due solely to a laborer. Remember that Jesus paid a day’s wage to all who worked that day, irrespective of the one who came first or last. Similar should have been the attitude of the Church Management. Due to a few misguided priests 95% devoted priests are put to shame. All charitable things they do are wiped out by the tears of the crying nurses. I assure you that a lot of priests are still holding on to their vow of obedience and are relentlessly praying for your welfare.
Where we fail, we hope and pray you win. We beg your pardon for all the sufferings this small class of callous authorities have caused you. I wish that the Church publish again 'RERUM NOVARUM, the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on capital and labour. A century back, it has clearly stated what our approach should be towards all workers.
My comment is not for any applause that an open criticism could fetch but to give some solace to the working class, especially nurses, in Christian institutions. Stay united. United struggle for a just cause is sure to produce good results, because when God is with you which force on earth can be against you and win!”
He concludes his comment saying, ‘With my head bent with shame’. Yes it is with my head hung in shame that I too express my feelings.
Isaac Gomes from Kolkata wrote: But the church apathy towards its workers is seen not only in the hospitals and health centres in Kerala, it is rampant in almost all Church Institutions in India – especially in the educational institutions run by the Church with MINORITY INSTITUTION tag which protects them from Government scrutiny. Oral hire and fire of staff is rampant, along with abysmal pay and denial of standard benefits like Provident Fund, Medical Insurance, Gratuity, etc. In Kolkata there are a number of Catholic Missionary schools which have remained unregistered for years and indulge in these malpractices with impunity. There were even court cases on oral hire and fire without any compensation, but because of the Minority tag and money power, these school authorities managed to influence the judge (read greasing the palm) and get away. Until and unless the matter of Kerala Nurses is taken to court, it will all tantamount to shedding crocodile tears and delaying tactics on the part of the Kerala Church authorities, which like any other church authority in India, consider themselves Omnipotent. The proof is even the Kerala Catholic Sabha which is supposed to take up causes of the Catholic Laity, has been brought to the forefront by the Church authorities, to coerce the agitating nurses to call off their strike. A surprise audit into the accounts of the Hospitals run by the Catholic Church in Kerala will reveal the truth i.e. how much money they are making and siphoning away especially to the own NGOs.