reports from Kolkata
The recent tsunami of episodes involving the Indian Catholic Church namely the Ernakulam Archdiocese multi-crore land scam, abuse of the sacrament of confession by four priests in Kerala Church, allegation of rape against the current Bishop of Jalandhar (reportedly the first time a bishop in India has been charged for such an act) and the reported sale of infants in Jharkhand by the Missionaries of Charity, all point to one direction, which is the pressing need for the powers-that-be to INTROSPECT on how they are using their authority entrusted to them in blind faith by the Laity.
As Bishop Dabre of Pune said on Republic TV on 14.07.2018, we must give up our “Holier than thou” attitude, book the perpetrators and bring in robust systems, with proper checks and balances in our Church organisations. The larger an organisation (e.g. Missionaries of Charity which is worldwide), the greater is the need for regular checks and balances in the system. If this is ignored and the grass is allowed to grow under the feet, things will spiral out of hand in this age of interactive and instant digital communication where news cannot be suppressed as was done in the era of print media.
On Sunday, 15th July 2018 mass at Auxilium Parish, Kolkata, the celebrant who is the Economer of the Salesian Kolkata Province, said during his homily that all Christians are Prophets, Pilgrims and Missionaries at the same time. He said all prophets can be priests but all priests cannot be prophets. He further said it is very challenging to be a Christian as in the face of so many temptations and frailties, very few can muster courage to speak the Truth upfront. A prophet can do this and speak without fear for he is guided by God. To him wine is wine (Truth) and water is water (lie). He/she urges the ruling dispensation to be equitable, transparent and accountable. In a democratic country like India, no institution or organisation, particularly those in public welfare domain, can claim it is above scrutiny, even if it wears the Minority Institute tag.
In keeping with the above line of thinking, Thomas D'Souza the Archbishop of Calcutta, in prophet-like zeal, twice urged the Catholic Association of Bengal (CAB) to mend itself. First at the 28 September 2014 AGM when he said: (1) There were several irregularities with the manner in which CAB was being run. (2) That he thought he should point these out at the AGM to all members as he felt correction was immediately necessary (3) That once the office bearers’ tenure ends, they should not continue to be on the Executive Committee and influence decision-making. He said as a Catholic Association, transparency in CAB’s functioning was paramount.
Then, at the AGM in September 2016, he constituted a 5-member CAB Constitution Review Committee (of which the writer was one) to look into gaping anomalies viz. (1) Denial of Voting Rights to all Life Members who are the backbone of CAB (2) Double Voting Rights for Executive Committee (EC) Patrons and Benefactors – even the President, Prime Minister, Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis do not enjoy this privilege! (3) President is the sole Arbiter to interpret the rules (4) Mandatory authorisation by two EC Members, of Nomination Forms of members who wish to contest CAB Office Bearers’ election. This clearly encourages lobbying and ensures only those who “belong to the club” are elected by mutual understanding. As only the 35+ EC members have voting rights, the results are decided beforehand and Election is an eyewash – which Life Members just watch as spectators (read mute and meek sheep)!
At the September 2015 Election Farce, when the Life Members demanded voting rights for themselves, Eugene Gonsalves, erstwhile President and ironically also immediate past president of All India Catholic Association (AICU) which claims to be the torch bearer of Laity Empowerment, had the cheek to tell them that they were not given voting rights, because they would sell their rights! One of the Life Members Rahul Sequeira, immediately stood up and demanded an unconditional apology from Eugene. Rahul has since been removed from membership. The corruption still continues and Life Members, who are the backbone of CAB, are still denied their legitimate voting rights, which should have come naturally from the standpoint of natural social justice. In this respect, Fr Franklin Menezes who is one of the architects of the Pastoral Plans of the Archdiocese of Calcutta and heads the Environment and Social Justice Commission, is totally silent on natural justice to CAB Life Members, for Eugene belongs to his club and is on the Board of Seva Kendra!
CAB’s riposte to the Archbishop was a contrived turnout of only 55+ members out of 830+ at the Extra Ordinary General Meeting (EGM) held on 20th August 2017, at the behest of the Archbishop, where only the recommendations for change acceptable to EC members were unilaterally taken up for discussion. This is both a farce and an irony as all EC members including the office bearers viz. President, two Vice Presidents, Secretary, Honorary Treasurer were under the scope/ scrutiny of the Constitutional Review Committee! To stonewall the Archbishop’s drive for transparency, he was divested of most of his powers as Ex-Officio Chairman of CAB (persecution of a prophet), reducing him to a titular head in his own jurisdiction where CAB operates.
CAB has also not answered lawyers’ letters dated 22 August 2017 and 18 June 2018 (links given on top of page) questioning:
- The validity of the EGM and
Its silence on Life Members’ repeated queries on its audited accounts (FY2015-16 and 2016-17).
Readers would recall Sir John Dalberg-Acton’s remark “POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT, AND ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY”.
The need of the hour for the Church and all Church-based Institutions including Lay Associations and NGOs is to take regular stock of their systems, Checks and Balances, including self-emptying (not coffers – A few powerful persons of CAB who think CAB is their personal property, had attempted in June 2015 to clean up Rs 17 Lac out of the Corpus Fund but were stopped in their tracks because the then Treasurer firmly put his foot down, and followed it up with lawyer’s letters of which the Archbishop is well aware!). For this the Treasurer was voted out of power in September 2015 Election, where none of the 30+ EC members voted for him and Eugene's wife got elected, by the same dubious method. This clearly proves it is the EC members who are up for sale, and not the Life Members, as was claimed by Eugene Gonsalves, much to the insult of Life Members. Can you believe it, out of the six members in the Corpus Fund, which controls fixed deposits, and the funds, two are from the same family? One is Eugene who wanted to clean up Rs 17 Lac and second is CAB Treasurer, who happens to be his wife!
The present goings-on clearly show CAB is no more an association of members which its constitution states, it is a family enterprise of a few who have ulterior motives.
Let me make one point very clear which I have done earlier too. I have no animosity with any CAB member, within the club or outside the club. I am speaking out just on the issues and not against any person. I know we all have our shortcomings but we can always improve on them.
Will the Archbishop’s prophetic pronouncement “Transparency is the key” have an impact on the powers-that-be in the Archdiocese? When will the Laity including CAB Life Members, RISE and perform its Prophetic Role?
The writer was Honorary Treasurer of Catholic Association of Bengal from Setpember 2012 to September 2015.