Kidnap, ransom, murder, suicide, and sexual exploitation – all the ingredients of a B grade Bollywood movie. Except that this is real not reel life. And it is all happening in the holy, apostolic, Catholic Church. It reminds me of the line from an old song – “Shame and Scandal in the Family”.
The latest episode in this seemingly never-ending saga is the abduction and assault on Bp Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah, Andhra Pradesh, on 25th April. As per the report of Benwen Lopez in Indian Currents, the bishop and his driver were kidnapped, physically assaulted, blindfolded, and released after several hours and a ransom demand of Rupees Fifty Lakhs. The alleged mastermind was a priest of the diocese, Raja Reddy, alias “Daddy”. He runs his own NGO called “Daddy Home”. It is alleged that it was in this very “home” that the bishop and his driver were held to ransom. The other two alleged co-conspirators are again priests of the same diocese, and both are also Reddys.
Isaac’s Comments: All the three accused were not only priests of the Cuddapah (Kadapa) diocese, they were Parish Priests, very much at the helm of affairs. As per Matters India report dated 4th May 2016, they were: (1) The main accused, Fr. Nalladimmu Raja Reddy, 48, runs “Daddy Home”, “Puja International School”, “Raja Foundation” and other prestigious institutions on his own. He is the Parish Priest of Palur in Peddamudiyam mandal of Kadapa. (2) The second priest arrested Fr. Lingala Vijaya Mohan Reddy, 45, the parish priest in Vallur and is accused No. 13. (3) The third priest arrested, Fr. Sanivarapu Marreddy, 39, parish priest at Renigunta in Chittoor district is accused No. 14.
The Kadapa Superintendent of Police (SP), Dr. P Navin Gulati disclosed that five cars, four ATM cards, 14 cell phones, a pen drive containing a video of an interview of the Bishop and his driver while in captivity were recovered.
The accused confessed to have made four unsuccessful attempts to kidnap the Bishop between April 6 and 15 when he went to Tirupathi and Bangalore, the SP revealed.
Fr. Sudhakar of Virupapuram parish of Kurnool diocese deplored, “Fr. Marreddy was in Italy for long. Sad happenings! Let us pray for our Church! These fathers are misled by power and money and have done great damage to the church.”
The Reddys’ angst against the bishop apparently was because he hails from a dalit community, and he had refused to give plum postings to the Reddys. Bizarre though it is, had it been an isolated incident, it could have been treated as such. It isn’t. Of late there have been a spurt of murders/ suicides of priests in Karnataka and Kerala, as also the sexual molestation of nuns. It is a deep-rooted malaise, and must be seen in the wider context of what is happening in the Catholic Church, more particularly in India.
I see these as symptoms of a greater disease. From the symptoms we must go to the disease. Lopez says that casteism and financial corruption are the most painful wounds inflicted on the church. I would not treat them as superficial wounds, but as a cancer that is surely and steadily destroying us. Rev Suresh Mathew, Ofm Cap, the Chief editor of Indian Currents, says that acceptance or admission of the disease is the first curative step. Let us then accept the reality of these diseases and address them accordingly.
Isaac’s Comments: This deadly sickness in the church will not be accepted by the Indian Church Authorities, more so by Cardinal Cleemis, CBCI Chairman, because he himself comes from Kerala which suffers from casteism among Catholics. He does not have the unalloyed priestly courage to speak out the truth (to call a spade a spade). Therefore, for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest and shaking up the casteist South Indian Catholic Community, he will not lift a finger and allow the status quo. Like the three Reddy parish priests now preaching their trade in police custody, he too is greedy – more eager to hold on to his chair than "encountering Christ" in the manner the Pope wants!
Except for Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and a press release signed by Archbishop Thumma Bala of Hyderabad, President of Federation of Telugu Churches & President of Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Council (TCBC), sent to the editor Church Citizens’ Voice, not a single Cardinal or Bishop has condemned the heinous crime. So acceptance or admission of the disease by 180 Bishops of India is out of the question. They would continue to behave like ostriches or three wise monkeys "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The Indian Church will increasingly become a den of the dons (trained in Italy as can be seen from Fr Sudhakar's comments above, for practice in India – isn’t there a saying “think global and act local”)?. Talking of Cardinal Oswald he has no doubt condemned the heinous attack on the Bishop but has he ever spoken out against the big menace of casteism in the Indian Church? He has not. As one of the eight wise members of the Pope's inner circle, instead of highlighting core issues like education, basic health and sanitation, low-cost housing and stressing on teaching every able-bodied Catholic the art of fishing, he considers it his topmost priority to harp only on LGBT rights!
We begin with caste. It is the bane of India, and the church has not been left unscathed. Casteism in the Church is manifest in many forms, beginning with the oldest Christians in Kerala. It is common knowledge that the Syrian Christians (as they are now known) that were converted in apostolic times, belonged to the higher castes. The Latin Catholics, converted about 500 years ago by the Portuguese, were mostly fisher folk. The second oldest community, the Goans, was also horribly caste conscious, because the Portuguese first converted the Saraswat Brahmins, in the expectation that the others would follow suit. Unfortunately, till very recently, Catholics wore robes of different colours during religious processions, to indicate their caste.
Perhaps the most outrageous caste discrimination within the church today is in Tamilnadu. There are separate seating arrangements in the churches, separate ciboria for communion, and yes, after death too, separate cemeteries. When I was National President (NP) of the All India Catholic Union (AICU) in the early nineties, I had visited the infamous cemetery in Trichy that had a wall separating the burial areas of the dalits and the rest. I was informed that the local M.P., a Catholic, had declared that if the wall was not dismantled before Christmas he would cut off his right hand. Last heard, the wall and the hand are both intact!
Isaac’s Comments: In Christianity there is no place for casteism. By virtue of the one and the same Baptism, we are all clothed in the same Christ. So how can the Indian Church, now being headed by Cardinal Cleemis, allow casteism in the Indian Church? Having separate caste-wise queues for communion and separate caste-wise cemeteries is simply ridiculous and absolutely anti-Christ. I do not think, Pope Francis is aware of this evil practice in our country, thanks to the misinformation given to him by CBCI and thanks to the smoke-screen engineered by Cardinal Oswald,India’s representative at the Vatican. We must remember that one of the reasons for the increase in the number of muslims is that in Islam there are no castes, all are reportedly equal. We must also remember that in this world there are actually only two castes: The Haves and the Have-nots!
In Andhra the Reddys are a prosperous community and many embraced Christianity. YSR, the former Chief Minister, was a Christian. G.S. Reddy M.P. was the NP of the AICU for several years. The Reddys, while embracing Christianity, did not jettison their cultural roots. Even the Hindu Reddys were at ease with them. I recall Dr B. Gopala Reddy, the Governor of U.P. in the 60’s. His wife Lakshmikantama and daughter Anuradha regularly attended the Marian novenas in the Lucknow cathedral.
It is possible that in the next phase of evangelization the dalits were converted, leading to resentment among the Reddys, who may have felt that their exalted position was being compromised. There are many more instances of institutionalized caste discrimination in the church, but for now I will revert to the situation in Andhra, and what lessons we can learn from it.
The resentment of the Reddys reminds me of how the Jews felt when the Gentiles began to accept Jesus. They considered the latter unclean, a word similar in meaning to the “untouchable” in India. When the Roman Centurion Cornelius wanted to be baptized Peter was initially horrified, because “it is forbidden for the Jews to mix with other people of another race” (Acts 10:28). However, God shows Peter a vision of clean and unclean foods and tells him three times (yes Peter always needed to be told three times) that “what God has made clean you have no right to call profane” (Acts 10: 14-16). He acknowledged that “God has made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10: 28). He then declares that “God has no favourites, anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10: 34-35).
Since we Christians so often forget what scripture says, we need to remind ourselves of the following verses. Referring to the hostility between the Jews and Gentiles St Paul says, “He has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person the hostility … by restoring peace to create a single New Man out of the two of them” (Eph 2:14-16). Paul further reminds us that “Everyone of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).
Are the Reddys ready to listen to the Word of God? Why only the Reddys? Every one of us who discriminates against a fellow human being cannot lay claim to being a Christian. Even more so for a Catholic priest who claims to proclaim God’s Word.
The second disease referred to by Lopez is financial corruption; which is becoming more and more visible. Earlier the clergy dealt more with spiritual things, but now they deal with big institutions, big ideas and big money, and the temptation is too strong to resist. From breviaries they have switched to briefcases. Simplicity and renunciation, especially among the diocesan clergy, is becoming a thing of the past. The clergy are accountable to none. There is no provision for RTI in the church. From pastors of souls they have become masters of doles (funds). There is a palpable fall in moral standards and an increase in living standards. Bishops seem unable to rein in their priests, perhaps because they too have their Achilles heel, which can be used to blackmail or silence them.
Isaac’s Comments: Financial Corruption is due to the Indian Church, headed by CBCI, deliberately failing to implement transparently elected and not manipulated by parish priests (by putting in their nominated members to outweigh elected members as is done in most cases), Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) and Parish Finance Committee (PFC) in each parish in each diocese in India. PFCs with the requisite checks and balances, can bring in transparency and accountability in church finance, provided parish priests refrain from tinkering with them. The notion that must be buried for good is “parish priests are kings” and replaced with “parish priests including bishops are to smell their sheep and serve them 24×7”! This must be drummed into their head. Unfortunately Parish Priests are emboldened by Lay Leaders like Charles Sassoon (Secretary of Laity Commission, Archdiocese of Calcutta) who relentlessly propagate the view “parish priests are kings”. When I countered him saying that they are just "caretakers" and as per the Pope and Canon Law are mandated to "smell and serve the sheep 24×7", he found my counter very galling. No wonder the Archbishop has appointed him lame-duck Secretary of the Laity Commission to ensure that the laity is spineless! Till date there is no available data on how many parishes in India have duly instituted PPCs and PFCs. Another proof of the slip-shod approach of 180 plus Indian Bishops who hold once-in-two years CBCI Synods in closed-door quarters, without allowing the press and the laity, to pass pious and hollow resolutions only to be consigned into the dustbin!
I spent seven years under the tutelage of a very holy priest, Fr Augustine Deenabandhu Ofm Cap, and have learnt much from holy and learned Jesuits and Redemptorists. I have seen what really Christ-like priests are capable of achieving. Hence I feel more sad than angry at the pathetic quality of priests today. It is not that they are bad; it is just that they are not good enough, and far from the perfection that they are called to (cf Mat 5:48). I see many sociological, psychological and ecclesiological reasons for this decline in standards.
Before Vatican II (1962-65) there was an over emphasis on rules and regulations, with rigid norms for priests, including their dress and lifestyle. Vatican II replaced this with personal responsibility. Most clergymen did not know how to handle their newfound freedom, and tended to abuse it. The process of vocation promotion and seminary formation remained stuck in the pre Vatican II era, resulting in a gross mismatch. I shall dwell on this later.
Before that, there are some very human factors that warrant attention. Firstly, since priests are celibate they have no spouses to prick their egos! This may sound stupid, but it isn’t. Hence they live in splendid isolation, as the Lord of the Manor, rather than as the Babe of the Manger. Secondly, all men have a creative urge – to produce a Baby, a Book or a Building. The first B is foreclosed, the second is not easily attainable, so the majority opts for B3 – Buildings! They can go on endlessly building institutions, but not communities.
Thirdly, they have mistaken identification with, to being identical to the laity; often living very secular lives. This has in turn lowered their image in the eyes of the laity, who now perceive the clergy as being no different from themselves.
Fourthly, there is the deep frustration with celibacy and continence. A seminary professor once said to me that most priests are celibate, not out of conviction, but either because of lack of circumstances or fear of consequences. The way many of our brother priests dress, eat, drink and make merry raises a big question mark about their continence. This frustration manifests itself in flamboyant lifestyles, the thirst for power and a superiority complex that masks their own sense of inferiority.
These human weaknesses are more acute in the diocesan clergy, as compared to those in religious orders. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, religious orders have ongoing formation for their members. Secondly, to a large extent they have some form of community life. The diocesan clergy are bereft of both. Pope Francis belongs to a religious order, the Jesuits. He seems to be aware of this. I have noticed that in his papacy several of the newly appointed bishops in India belong to various religious orders. I see this as affirmative action.
Isaac’s Comments: It is not unusual for quite a good number of priests to be unhappy with celibacy and continence. If they are unhappy they can leave priesthood, join the real world, and take the responsibility of marrying and leading a family life. But this calls for a lot of sacrifice and maturity. This is exactly what these priests do not want to do. Instead of taking responsibility and earn their living by the sweat of their brows, they prefer ready-made food and shelter and then flit from flower to flower to drink honey (malleable girls, women and nuns), and savour their suddenly acquired divine power to rule their flock. They must be given a stern reminder, that they cannot both eat the cake and hold it in their hands! In this context, I am reminded of the opinion put forth by one very senior priest who has been financial controller of of the Archdiocese for more than 30 years and at the same time been Judicial Vicar of Church Marriage Tribunal as well as Parish Priest (so many feathers on his cap!). He opined it was wrong to live in with women but there was nothing wrong in going around with a number of women as long as you do not marry them! Please go back to my earlier remark – priestly discernment of divine licence to flit from flower to flower and “deflower” with impunity!
Lest I sound too subjective let me add some objectivity from the relevant teachings of Vatican II. The “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” says that “Priests do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood … they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power” (LG 28). The “Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church” affirms this. “Bishops enjoy the fullness of the sacrament of orders, and all priests as well as deacons are dependent on them in the exercise of authority” (CD 15). Appointments and transfers are not to be done under pressure. The Decree says that pastoral considerations alone are to determine these. “A parish exists solely for the good of souls … hence this should be the determining factor in the appointment and subsequent transfer of priests: (CD 31). It is therefore obvious that a priest cannot function autonomously, or lay claim to a particular post, as seems to have been the case with Daddy (not father) Reddy. The Decree also affirms what I said from subjective experience that “to render the care of souls more efficacious, community life for priests is strongly recommended” (CD 30).
Delving deeper, I feel that the present style of seminary formation, which was established after the Council of Trent over 400 years ago, is terribly outdated. In his introduction to the “Decree on Priestly Formation” (Abbott Edition) Alexander Carter says, “A seminary is not a lumber mill or a smelter. It cannot take a raw youth, and after subjecting him to a few approved processes, turn out a neatly fashioned or keenly honed priest”. In layman’s language this means that no matter how much you refine iron ore you will not get gold.
The aforesaid decree lays emphasis on the circumstances of the person entering the seminary. Aspirants should have the “right intention and full freedom” (OT 2). And again, “Careful inquiry should be made concerning the rightness of intention and freedom of choice” (OT 6). It advocates that “vocation promotion should be systematic …and take appropriate help from modern psychology and sociology” (OT 2). It asserts that “Necessary standards must always be firmly maintained, even when there exists a regrettable shortage of priests” (OT 6).
From 1979 to 1982 I was the founder Secretary of the U.P. Regional Youth & Vocations Bureau, through which I was actively involved in youth ministry, marriage counseling and vocation promotion. I had evolved a radically different approach to vocation promotion; which was much appreciated by the doyen of Indian theologians, Fr Josef Neuner SJ. I regret to state that the present form of vocation promotion is far from what is envisaged by Vatican II. It is too much to elaborate here, but rightness of intention and freedom of choice are both questionable.
For now, suffice it to say that if we don’t abide by the Word of God, if we turn our backs on the teachings of Vatican II, and if we are loath to learn from the behavioural sciences, then we are bound to see many more bishops bound and gagged; and many more Daddy Rajas demanding their pound of flesh; thereby shaming the Church with their scandalous behaviour.
* The writer was earlier actively involved in vocation promotion and has often conducted programmes for seminarians.
From: Blaise Costabir <email@example.com>
A synopsis of the current situation in the Catholic. Be it Goa or AP. One or more of the issues you highlighted are applicable. Goa does not have a sex scandal as yet atleast not officially as the last instance where a priest was murdered allegedly by men he picked in the park and took back to his residence. The men were acquitted and the matter buried as was the priest. But we have a lot of murky financial dealings and questionable sale of land.
We need solutions and right now none seem to be on the horizon. The Church is not going to change the way they find or form priests.
Nor are they willing to give up on the big ticket deals.
SO what do we do????
From: louis menezes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Chhotebhai, a masterpiece. None of your readers would differ from you in the painful scenario of the Church in India you have painted. We are in the thick of it, day in and day out. Some more than others, depending on how involved you are in church matters and how often you interact with the clergy, the higher clergy and the Bishops.
Goa and TN have been cited and I can fully confirm that the malaise of caste thrives and manifests itself brazenly in everything that we do, practice, profess in the name of Jesus Christ.
My revered parents forbade the mention of caste in our house. ( Incidentally , my father, Armando Menezes, used to say that White was not a colour , but the absence of colour !)
What it really comes down to, Brother is that far from being " known by our love" we Catholics in India are no different from the rest. God save us. Louis