This has reference to the interviews of Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta, Archbishop Thomas Macwan, Bishop Gerald and Bishop Alex Vadakumthala published in the Indian Currents 02-08 August issue. The respondents replied by email to 10 questions on Church’s Mission for the Poor and its all-inclusive Ethos. Here we examine the response of Archbishop Thomas D’Souza to some pertinent questions in the context of the Archdiocese of Calcutta:
Q. 1 – What is the Christian vision of inclusive society?
ARCHBISHOP: As I understand it, ‘inclusive society’ includes all people. In other words, it excludes no one from its service or issues that deal with justice and human rights. A Christian vision excludes discrimination based on caste, creed or gender.
FACT-CHECK: The Archbishop is absolutely right: In Christianity there is no discrimination – no one is high, no one is low. But in reality caste-based discrimination exists in the Indian Church. Particularly in South India, there are separate caste-wise queues for the Eucharist and even separate burial grounds. Because of this, and other subtle discriminations in the Hierarchy, there is a concerted demand for Dalit Bishops. If “Christianity excludes discrimination” as the Archbishop said, why should there be Non-Dalit and Dalit Bishops?
Q. 2 – Why are the Christians inherently charitable? What is the Christian way of serving the poor?
ARCHBISHOP: The Christian way of serving the poor is by doing acts of mercy and charity: helping them in their needs for food, shelter, education and above all working for their rights and dignity as human beings. Working for justice by creating an awareness of their rights are also ways of serving the poor.
FACT-CHECK: In the Archdiocese, there is no parish/diocese-wise planned nutrition programme to cater to hunger, mother-and-child health and education for the poor. Many cannot afford fees even after concession (out of Rs 3,500, say if a concession of Rs 500-700 is given only on fee component say Rs 1,000, balance Rs 2,500 become fully payable in addition to the concessional fee). The fallout is poor students drop out and are not retraced. More than 90% students in Church-run institutes in the Archdiocese are non-Christians. Most Christian students cannot get entry into the high-fee courses in church-run colleges/universities. The result is our institutes blissfully produce political and corporate leaders from other communities and not from our fold for whom our founding fathers shed their blood and sweat. Shelter for poor Christians is a big question mark. The Archdiocese cannot show any such housing schemes. Regarding working for the rights and dignity as human beings, the ground reality is staff members in many of our Missionary institutes are under constant fear-psychosis of losing their jobs. Loyola High School Kidderpore is one such school. Though the school is cash-rich, several teachers have been forced to resign under threat without any show-cause/charge-sheet, some teachers' salaries are being downgraded and the management has even claimed that some members of staff have been paid excess salaries of Rs 2-4 Lakh which will be adjusted from their current salary. To recover the so-called excess amount paid, the management has even threatened to deduct from the PF and Gratuity settlement of the staff members who have resigned. All this is verbal without any documentary evidence of the demand for recovery of excess payment. Isn't this demand atrocious? Isn't staff salary and annual increment decided by the School Management Committee of which the Secretary is a member? How can salary decided by the Management Committee be scaled down with retrospective effect considering an annual inflation of around 10%? How can one's PF be withheld by employer? Doesn't the School deposit the PF deducted every month with the Regional PF Commissioner? It appears the School Management is being led by Mohammad Bin Tughlaq (School Secretary)!
Regarding Dignity, there have been several instances of violation of the dignity of female staff members in a Salesian school in Kolkata. The Archbishop is fully aware but has not lifted a finger to stem the rot. His inaction has emboldened the perpetrator. Whoever has spoken out has been terminated from service even during Covid times. What Charity and Working for Justice is the Archbishop talking of? He only sheds crocodile tears.
Q. 3 – Does the Church align with political movements such as leftist/rightist, Marxist, capitalist, socialist, Maoist?
ARCHBISHOP: No. The Church works for justice and human dignity of people, especially the poor and oppressed and upholds the values of the Gospel and the Constitution of India.
FACT-CHECK: The Gospel and the Indian Constitution are preached but not practised. In most churches, the workers are pathetically-paid, without ESI/Medical, PF and paid leave benefits. Our Church-run institutes, because of their Minority Institution tag which insulates them from government monitoring, get away with hire & fire of staff. Many Service Rules are manipulative and anti-Constitutional. Most Church-run institutes do not even have a properly constituted Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to address Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) as prescribed by the 2013 Act.
Q. 4 – How does the Church involve in acts of justice, while contributing to nation-building and working in tandem with the governments?
ARCHBISHOP: The Church's faith-response to situations of injustice demands that she works for justice: taking up human dignity and rights issues with and on behalf of those whose human and constitutional rights are violated; going to court in order to get justice for the suffering and poor people; organising and making the people aware of their constitutional rights etc. At the same time, the Church is engaged in nation-building through education, health care, social and human development especially of the poor and marginalized, dalits and tribals.
FACT-CHECK: The Archbishop sweeps pressing matters of justice under the carpet [Case in point: Complaint against the current Parish Priest (of St Ignatius Church Ekbalpur) who has an on-going criminal case of molestation at Barrackpore Court]. This priest is also Secretary of Loyola School Kidderpore and playing havoc with the staff of the school (reported above) with some staff members not being paid their salaries for four months. He has terminated the job of one lady who has been working in the Parish office for 14 years and took ill. When she rejoined office after recuperating, she was asked not to come from the next day and send her young daughter to him instead! How can the Archbishop allow a tainted priest (Fr Albert Sahayaraj – please see photo) be parish priest and secretary of the cash-rich Loyola School to starve and deprive staff members of the school? Why should a parish priest be secretary of a school or in a school Management Committee? Spiritual and Temporal (money/property) matters simply do not go together. Didn't Jesus say "one cannot serve two masters?" And the Archbishop preaches justice and Constitutional rights of people?
Q. 5 – An impression has been created that the Church hasn’t extended enough support to the activities of priests like Stan Swamy in their fight for the rights of Tribals and Dalits. What is the reality?
ARCHBISHOP: The truth is that the Church has always supported activities of priests when those activities to fight for the rights of Tribals and Dalits are non-violent and proceed out of love and concern for them…. Although Fr Stan Swamy's work for the poor, the Dalits and Tribals was not widely known outside Jharkhand when he was alive, the Church always stood by him.
FACT-CHECK: No parish priest/Bishop in the Archdiocese ever uttered Fr Stan Swamy’s name during homily on rights of minorities/tribals/dalits, until he was arrested in October 2020. In fact, during a Webinar in July 2021 to pay tribute to Fr Stan, one priest on the panel revealed that Fr Stan’s own Archdiocese (Pondicherry) had banned him for his tribal rights advocacy. So much for the Church always standing by Fr Stan as claimed by the Archbishop!
Q. 10 – Is it not a fact that the Church has become more ‘institution-oriented’ than ‘people-oriented’?
ARCHBISHOP: It used to be so; but now the Church is more and more 'people-oriented'. The involvement of the Church in the lives of the people is more visible today than before. The prophetic mission of the Church must be carried out by all the members, especially the Laity.
FACT-CHECK: People-oriented? How? The Laity which constitutes 99% of the Church, has no say in Church finance and administration. The Archbishop is not available to people when they want to meet him with their parish and other problems. He dodges them and does not even answer their phone calls, nor does he reply to their emails. He has allowed a non-Catholic businessman to operate from the Archbishop’s House. Most parishes do not have Parish Finance Committees and Assets Register. Diocesan Finance Committees are headed by Clergy with hardly any lay representation. At least the Archdiocese of Calcutta is not “people-oriented” as the Archbishop claims. Regarding the Prophetic Mission of the Laity, the less said the better. All the Commissions in the Archdiocese, of which the Archbishop is Chairman, are puppets and at best, paper tigers.