Our woes never cease!

JosephJoseph Mattappally (Asso. Editor)

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.

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3 Responses

  1. Varghese Pamplanil says:

    Varghese Pamplanil writes:

    The killing of a priest in Malayattoor is sad and deplorable. But is it not time to have an overview of how such incidents do happen?

    When Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the Empire, the civic administration was entrusted to the Church. The bishops functioned as today’s collectors in India imposing taxes and rent. Payments were required to be made to Rome for bishoprics. Bishoprics like Milan were highly sought after for the revenues they generated. The parishes may have been  like today’s talukas.

    With the Portuguese establishing hegemony over the Malabar Church, the Roman system came into force here to. The churches and related institutions were and are built  by the donations/labour of the often illiterate simple-minded parishioners. One fine morning the Church/clerics misappropriated everything; they behave like autocrats and law unto themselves with no accountability to the  general members. This arrangement is  dangerous in a democratic society.

    If the clerics confine themselves to the religious sphere by staying in some assigned  places and visit the various churches on the demand of the faithful incidents like what happen in Malayattoor will not repeat. They can lead the prayers, collect the fees and then “VAMOOSE” and get lost; the problems will disappear in a jiffy. In today’s world the Bishops, the Vicars and the bureaucracy appended thereto are not cost effective. They are superfluous and unwanted. The clerics are not competent to solve the problems encountered by the  Catholics in  general.

    The warning bell has been sounded, better be beware!

  2. Isaac Gomes says:

    The caption "Our woes never cease!" by Joseph Mattappally is very apt indeed. It appears the Church likes to have woes and persecution. Otherwise how can one explain the very sad death of Fr Xavier Thelakatt who succumbed to a stab on his thigh. It appears the authorities at St. Thomas Mount Malayattoor tried to play the victim card even to the extent of making Fr Xavier a sacrificial lamb. Otherwise how could there be such a long delay in seeking immediate medical attention for Fr Xavier who was the Rector? How can a Pilgrim Centre (where hordes of faithful come) function without any doctors and medical assistance at call? How can Archdiocese of Ernakulam run a Pilgrim Centre  without proper basic infrastructure like doctors, nurses and first aid being in place?

    Regarding treatment of Church workers, it is very unfortunate that they are even now treated like virtual slaves and the relationship that exists is that of a Master and Servant. In today's age of Human Rights, this is indeed very debasing and dehumanizing. Hire and fire (many a time oral) is rampant in church organisations. Humane and proper work conditions and proper pay structures are virtually non-existent in most church organisations.  In this connection, some Suggestions and Recommendations placed at the Convention of CRI- Bishops of Bengal, October 6 -8, 2014, Darjeeling, West Bengal, by a senior and conscientious priest are worth reading:

    1. Let Bishops, Priests and Religious begin to listen seriously to the laity. They have an accumulated wisdom born of their varied day to day experiences.

    2. Pay not only just but decent wages, with specific terms and conditions, to all personnel working in the Church Related Institutions. Let the BRBC with CRI formulate a Regional Policy and Guidelines with regard to the financial remuneration with terms and conditions for employment and regulation of service of all Church Related Workers. 

    3. Train lay persons to take responsibility for the financial administration in Church Related Institutions.

    4. Let lay persons be entrusted with the responsibility of parish accounts, banking with regard to parish, institutional and Diocesan finances, maintain accounts of the same, have them audited and the needful done with regard to the filing of income tax, foreign contribution returns etc. Let the laity be appointed for Social Service institutions, schools, etc.

    5. Let lay persons be involved in the formulation of diocesan policies, including scale of pay, terms and conditions of service of Church Workers, in the planning and implementation of diocesan functions not forgetting to use their expertise to raise local funds for the various works of parishes, institutions and dioceses. 

    6. Let competent lay persons be part of the Diocesan Finance Committee. 

    7. Engage the services of competent lay persons as liaison officers between Heads of parishes, Dioceses and civil, legislative, political and judicial officers and as PROs in the parishes and dioceses. 

    8. Competent lay persons may be entrusted with the administration and material goods of the parish whereas priests be totally involved in spiritual, liturgical and pastoral animation.

    9. Engage the services of competent laypersons to resolve grievances of Church workers in parishes, institutions and the diocese. 

    10. Identify suitable laity, train and motivate them for political field. Each field has its own demands and expectations. Hence to involve in political sphere, our laity need to be exposed to the existing political reality and social analysis. Our laity need to be sensitized on negative influence of social media, modern trends in the society and to proactive analysis of situations. They need to be animated to face the evils in our society.

    11.Can we set aside a percentage of fund in each diocese/ Congregation for the training of laity

    12. Encourage and train young persons in journalism (print and electronic media), civil, judicial, revenue, police, and administrative services.

    13. Encourage and train lay Christians to take active part in politics to make the Christian presence felt for the better governance of the country.

    14. Train the laity in inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism,..at the grass root as well as professional level to bring about understanding and appreciation of various religions. The implementation of these suggestions requires primarily willingness and determination and at the same time an awareness that everyone in the Church is called to be ‘missionary disciples with equal partnership’ and that the hierarchical structure of the Church is not for power, domination and control but for the service of all brothers and sisters in Christ in the spirit of Jesus’ leadership of humble service. 

    None of the above recommendations has been implemented. 

    What stands out is one of the resolutions which is "To involve laity for tapping the financial resources in the parishes and diocese!"  It's evident from this resolution that there is no perceptible change of stance from the Clery which still believes in assigning only one role to the Laity which is to  "Pay, Pray and Obey."

  3. almayasabdam says:

    Dominic Jose K (Lawyer at Mangalore, India) writes: 

    It really shows how despereate the laity is about the chuch and chruch administration, deprived of all the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of the church which is strictly restricted to the laity and not to the priests and their higher ups. we should feel ashamed of the imprisoning system.

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