Very sad to report the unexpected murder of a respected Syro-Malabar Catholic priest – Fr Xavier Thelakatt, who was holding a very responsible position as Rector of the pilgrims centre of St. Thomas mount Malayattoor, in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. He was stabbed to death at around 1.30 PM on 1st March 2018.
News Channels are collecting his life history and his contributions along with chasing the culprit Johny who escaped into the woods that surround the Shrine.
The unbelievable twist is that it was his own former co-worker, a sacristian of the same Church, who stabbed him to death. The church has the right to suspend a worker for multitude reasons but a man who has been in service for 30 years deserved a regular subsistence allowance, according to Government Rules. Not only his suspension was not waived off but also he was practically delayed his deserving allowances. Did this middle-aged man really mean to kill the priest is a question because the priest was stabbed on his thigh only and the delay on the part of others in taking him to the hospital has contributed highly. The case needs a brief review of the present SM Church proceedings to understand the reasons that led to this murder.
It is true that these days the Ernakulam Archdiocese of the SM Church is jumping out of the frying pan into the burning fire. Shocking news of financial misappropritions are coming out on an everyday basis. In October 2016, it received a notice from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Foreigners Division (FCRA Wing) which asked the Archdiocese for clarification on non tallying accounts in its statements.
It has not yet come out of the much discussed shameful ‘Land scam’ and now the dispute is in the Court. Income Tax also has begun exploring into the sources of that crores that had been exchanged through the Church beneficiaries. The faithful lay members of the community is on an uprise against the present leadership for varying reasons of corruption.
Since the inception of Syro-Malabar Eparchy in 1992, in the disguise of Vatican’s Canon Code, the laity was deprived of its claim on everything they built up and were pushed into glittering cages, destined to practise Church imposed rigid rituals and keep digesting new disciplinary codes.
This is just one side of the affair. On the other side, the number of Bishops kept on increasing like ‘Autorikshaws in a junction’. This is the way Philipose Mar Chrysostom, the centurion Mar Thoma Metropolitan, put it. The most pitiable thing was that most of them hadn’t the required competence to handle those regular issues of a diocese. No diocese has an effective grievance cell that could tackle individual issues requiring special explanations. The growing percentage of criminals within the priest fold, and growing cases of misappropriation in Church accounts and above all compelling the laity for more donations and demanding more obedience from them made things worse. It is at such a scenario that this case also is to be seen. The murderer Johny was in Church service for 37 years with a good service record until lately and from the time of suspension he lost his regular income and could not find another job to sustain himself. While the Diocese played in crores, it did not bother to give subsistence allowance (which was peanuts) to one of its long-serving workers.
This is not the only case of this kind. These people who spend their life in the churches from morning to evening and without break now live at the mercy of the priests in charge. Precisely, the Parish Priest in charge decides the fate of these helpless prisoners. In a similar case, in which an old man was terminated from service in a church in Kanjirappally Diocese, the bishop also refused to re-induct him in service. At last the entire parish had to rise up to compel them to settle the case.
The attitude of the laity towards cassock wallas have changed drastically. Quite recently at Ollur forane church of Trichur Diocese, the agitating laity did not allow the Archbishop to come out of his car. Even if the bishops do not mind to settle this laity-clergy divide, they should look into the lives of servants of the church like Johny, passionately. One solution is to form a local Crisis Management Committee comprising lay members of integrity and allow it to see to the solution of such problems. Priests should not be allowed to unilaterally decide upon sensitive issues like this. As long as the Clergy pull all the strings of control, our woes are never going to end. Shame on SM church, what else to say!
A heinous crime like this is not appreciated and my point is that a joint effort of the Clergy Laity combine is required to settle all similar disputes before they go out of hand. Fr Xavier will ever be remembered as victim to this weird religious system of the Syro Malabar Church.