(Note: Laity Empowerment is a burning issue on which we continue to have debates, over cups of tea & coffee and heaps of paper. In spite of constituting over 85% of the Church, the Laity is kept at bay in matters of Church administration, including Church institutions viz. schools and colleges. For this, the temptation would be to hold the Clergy squarely responsible. But in this the Clergy is aided and abetted by some self-professed lay leaders of social standing. They are the prime reason for the undoing and weakening of the Laity. This is the reason the church hierarchy selects these leaders (read wet blankets) on all important committees to be its mouthpiece and to sideline outspoken and upright members of the Laity. Isaac Gomes – Associate Editor).
Kolkata's leading Catholic weekly, The Herald Kolkata, dated 17-23 February 2017, carried a report captioned “Catholic Association of Bengal initiates to form Asansol Unit.” The report contained pertinent observations on the Laity by Mr. Eugene Gonsalves, a professed laity stalwart, who was the erstwhile President of Catholic Association of Bengal (CAB) and also immediate past President of All India Catholic Union (AICU). He can be seen in all photo ops with CBCI and other church authorities, airing concerns of the Catholic Community with the Government. In the Herald report, Mr Eugene made the following comments on the Laity:
1. “Vatican Council II” states that all Pastoral work has to be done by the Priests and all temporal parish work to be done by lay people.
Mr Gonsalves has not thrown light on how the Laity can be involved – is it through obeisance, collaboration or co-partnership? In this context, Pope Benedict XVI’s message of 10th August 2012 is crystal-clear. He wrote “Laity should be considered not as `Collaborators’ with the Clergy but as persons truly `Co-responsible’ for the being and activity of the Church. Co-responsibility requires a change in the mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the Laity in the Church”. He exhorted the Laity on active co-responsibility with one’s own pastors by having the courage to make even demanding proposals. “Offer your availability to participate at all levels of social, cultural and political life, by always setting your site on the Common Good”, he wrote. So the Pope has clearly advocated CO-PARTNERSHIP of the Laity with the Clergy.
2. There is lack of interest and commitment among people. People have become materialistic.
This is a sweeping statement. Certainly there are committed lay persons willing to serve the Church. The Laity is so full of talent but first it needs to be respected and valued by Church Authorities. Most Church Committees are manned by the same lay leaders who wear different hats for different occasions. In the Archdiocese of Calcutta, this has been the pattern. Mr Eugene Gonsalves can be seen on various committees of the Archiocese of Calcutta e.g. The Herald Board, APPCoT (Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Core Committee), Laity Commission, Mother Teresa Canonisation Core Committee, Seva Kendra Board of Directors – to name a few. He was the finance in-charge of the Canonisation Core Committee in spite of being the mastermind in trying to walk away with Rs 17 Lac FD of CAB. He was stopped in his tracks thanks to a flurry of letters and reminders from CAB Life Members and their lawyer to the Archbishop and to Syndicate Bank.
3. All think that Fathers have to do everything, we are not responsible.
Responsibility comes with “Co-responsibility”. It is for the Clery to let go and work jointly with the Laity which wants transparency and accountability. Until the Laity demands (which Mr Eugene, in spite of being the erstwhile President hesitates), the Clergy does not loosen its tight grip on Church and its institutional administration, particularly in matters of finance. The Indian Church is more engrossed with temporary goods than spiritual matters. This is evident in the statistics which show that more than 200,000 Catholics left the Church in 2014 in Germany because it was making merry with their “Church Tax” deducted from their salary (Source: Patheos Catholic).
4. Lack of awareness among people regarding rules and regulations.
Mr Eugene Gonsalves deserves to be complimented on this observation. But knowing this, why doesn't Mr Eugene having been the immediate past President of AICU and the past President of CAB, make arrangements to explain the rules and regulations of at least AICU and CAB to the members and prospective members? He has never done this. In fact the practice of CAB is to take the membership money but not to give the 16-page Rule Book. No wonder most members of the Laity – like the members of the Catholic Association of Bengal (CAB) – are unaware of the rules and regulations, not to mention of reading between the lines! Because of their blind faith, CAB, runs the Association as its fiefdom. Though it is a registered Association of persons under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act 1971, it bends rules including financial, and have even denied fundamental voting rights to its 700+ Life Members. It controls all decision-making through its 35+ Executive Committee Members! And it calls itself the oldest Lay Association of India having been established in 1911! What a mockery of Laity Empowerment with its parent body, All India Catholic Union, turning the other way, in spite of complaints of malfunctioning of the 105+ year-old Association.
During the September 2015 Election of Office Bearers, there was an uproar by Life Members to be granted voting rights when Mr Eugene had the temerity to announce that Life Members would not be given voting right because they would sell it for money! Some moneyed members (Patrons and Benefactors who had paid Rs 50,000/- and Rs 25,000/- respectively) were allowed to cast their votes twice and make a mockery of everything `Catholic’! All this happened in the presence of Archbishop Thomas D'Souza, Archbishop of Calcutta and Ex-Officio Chairman of Catholic Association of Bengal, who allowed the election farce to take place, by offering the consolation that he would see to the electoral reforms next year.
When the next AGM took place on 18th September 2016, in response to the demand by some Life Members to be given voting rights, the Archbishop made the following observations:
1. He said he agreed that Life Members (about 700) should be given voting rights. Till date, only 35-odd Executive Committee Members had usurped all the voting and decision-making rights.
2. Earlier some Patrons and Benefactors (one-time payment of Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 respectively) who were on the CAB Executive Committee were allowed to vote twice – once as Executive Committee Member and once as Patron or Benefactor. The Archbishop agreed to follow the universal norm of ONE PERSON ONE VOTE.
3. He said the present practice of outgoing office bearers still remaining on the Executive Committee along with the newly elected office bearers is absurd and should be abolished.
4. The Archbishop said the present system of taking in Life Members was too automatic and before grant of membership, background check was necessary.
5. He observed that CAB statute had several anomalies and required amendments.
It is to be noted here, that the present Articles and Memorandum of Association and other rules of Catholic Association of Bengal, were framed mainly by Mr Eugene Gonsalves, during his Presidentship, with a view to continue the hegemony of a select few who owed their unquestioning allegiance to him. It is with this end he had ensured that voting and decision-making rights remained with his coterie of 35-odd Executive Committee members, who were given freebies before the election of office bearers. The dynamics were simple : "You scratch my back, I scratch yours!"
As if to atone for the Septemeber 2015 election farce, the Archbishop, on the floor of the house (AGM), formed a 5-member Committee with Fr. John Mohandas as Chairman. Three members were chosen from the assembly of members present at the AGM and two members from CAB Executive Committee. Till date they remain unnamed!
The Committee was mandated to review the Memorandum & Articles of Association and suggest suitable amendments in keeping with the Catholic spirit of transparency. The Archbishop said the first meeting of this Select Committee would be in end December 2016. By August 2017, an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting should be called to thrash out the reforms and amendments, so that they can be ratified at the September 2017 AGM. Surprisingly, even the Archbishop’s deadline has fallen on deaf ears. TILL DATE NO MEETING HAS BEEN CALLED.
The Report also mentions Mr Dominic Arokianathan as Treasurer of CAB. CAB's letterhead shows Mrs Vienna Gonsalves as Treasurer. If Mrs Gonsalves has put in her papers, then there should have been fresh election with advance notice to all Life Members.
This article was given to the Herald for publication, but did not see light of the day.