An open letter from a Dalit Catholic leader has questioned the official Church’s apparent silence over the recent kidnap and torture of a bishop by priests in southern India.
“Is it because Bishop Prasad Gallela belongs to the Dalit community and the three criminal priests belong to a dominant Reddy caste? Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only in words?” asks Father AXJ Bosco, adviser, Citizens Forum for Justice, in his letter to Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
The Jesuit priest, who is also adviser, National Council of Dalit Christians and convener of Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace for Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, further asks: “Why is the Church leadership frightened or unwilling to act? Are they afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?”
The priest told Matters India that he wrote as a follow up of a solidarity rally he helped organize on May 16 at Kadapa in support of Bishop Gallela.
About 1,500 people, including 10 priests and 8 nuns, from Kadapa, Kurnool, Nellor, Khammam, Vijayawada and Gunter attended the rally. Dalit Christian leaders from Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad also attended the rally.
Church of South India Bishop Prasada Rao of Kadapa, in his introductory speech, expressed solidarity with his Catholic counterpart and condemned the culprits.
The participants affirmed solidarity and unity among Catholics and promised to work for justice and equality in the Church. They too condemned the priests, who they alleged had behaved like Judas and betrayed Jesus and the Church. “They are a shame to Catholic community,” the rallyists said.
Bishop Gallela of Cuddapah (old name of Kadapa) was kidnapped at 11.00 am on April 25 while he was returning after saying Mass in a Marian shrine. It was later found out that he was taken by criminals hired by three priests from the diocese. The miscreants blindfolded the prelate and his driver and took them to an unknown place where they were tortured and abused. They dropped him back at 2:00 am.
Father Bosco recalls that the Church had protested when a nun was raped in Kolkata in March 2015 through meetings, candlelight processions and press statements.
“It was great injustice done to the sister and the Church leadership responded appropriately in condemning the injustice and demanding severe punishment for the culprits,” he says in the letter.
However, there was no such response from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the Telugu Catholic Bishops Council or the Conference of Religious India, the national association of Catholic major superiors, laments Fr Bosco, who was a former provincial of Jesuits in Andhra Pradesh.
“You can very well imagine what the people especially the Dalit Catholics would think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the Official Church,” the priest adds.
He also says the participants of the solidarity rally, mostly Dalit, had expressed their hurt, frustration and anger at the inaction of the Church leadership.
“We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church and it is a great challenge to the Christian Community in India. The question to ask is- If Jesus were to be here what he would have done?”
While appreciating Cardinal Cleemis’ personal sympathy for Dalit Christians, Fr Bosco asks, “When will the Church leadership collectively respond appropriately to the Monster Caste in the Church, which goes against the basic principle of our Lord Jesus – Equality, Justice and Love?”
He urged the prelate to direct various sections of the Church to address the problem and take definite steps to “respond to the menace of caste issue in the Church,” especially among bishops, priests and religious. Such a move would have a positive impact on the laity, he adds.
Fr Bosco wants bishops who are unwilling or unable to make the changes identified and transferred to dioceses “where they may comfortably exercise their call and divine vocation.”
He says many Dalit leaders are willing to help in bringing about “action-oriented dialogue” so that the Church in India becomes a community of love and justice.