“The time has come when Christian society should change its thought. Matters such as conversion, dependence on western countries to solve petty problems, worsening condition of Dalit Christians and corruption are deep-rooted within the Church. Casteism in Christian society is increasing day by day. Thus, conversion has not helped in dismantling the caste system in Indian society and Church is party to that.” – R.L. Francis
Christian society has been at the receiving end of a bitter fight between Hindu and Christian organizations for the last decade. Church has used them as a safety jacket and despite lots of problems has not deviated from the core agenda.
Foreign grants to the Church have enormously increased over the said period and Church has used this fund to set up new Churches, schools and convents in various states. In order to influence the media, they have established separate media wings in their dioceses. Church intends to use this platform to highlight the issue at the national and international level. The tussle with anti-conversion organizations has increased in Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra .
The race for conversion and re-conversion activities by Christian and Hindu organizations respectively was responsible for large-scale violence in Kandhamal in Odisha. A large number of people lost their lives in this communal riot. Many were rendered homeless.
During this period, clashes between Hindu and Christian organizations were witnessed in some parts of Karnataka also, where BJP is in power. Similar clashes took place in Andhra Pradesh also.
Due to these tussles, common Christians are neglected. This is a cozy situation for the Church. Whenever an issue of administrative corruption in a convent school comes into the light; Church immediately terms it as an attack on Christianity.
Media becomes a tool in the hands of Church in this process. Church claims to fight for those children of minority Christians who have no place in their convent schools. The presence of Dalit and Tribal Christians in Church-run educational institutions and hospitals is negligible. The Church leadership runs the educational institutions and hospitals with a profit motive where poor Christians have no place.
The Government and Christian society are dancing to the tune of a handful of priests with vested interests. They are sitting on the huge assets of the Church in the name of conversion and have created a war-like situation in many parts of the country. Christian society has started understanding their real game. Voices for rights have started coming out from within the Church.
Christian society in Mangalore recently decided to pressurize Church to give preference to Christian community children in educational institutions run by the Church. A meeting was reportedly chaired by a former Justice of Karnataka High Court. In the said meeting, it was said that 1.3 percent of clergy takes decisions on all matters pertaining to the Church and 98.7 percent laity have no role in policy related decisions. Members in the meeting expressed displeasure that Church administration is involved in property transactions on a large-scale. In Mangalore alone, Church has sold property worth two billion rupees and where this money has gone nobody knows. There are seven thousand Churches in the country where 25 lakhs rupees are collected every year. Why doesn’t church spends this amount on the welfare of poor Christians?
The Church targets Dalits and Tribals for conversion. They run after them till they are converted. Once they are converted to Christianity, the Church never bothers about their welfare. The social and financial condition of these Dalit and Tribal Christians remains the same even after conversion.
The Delhi based Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM), a decade ago put forward a 10-point agenda to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India and the National Council of Churches for the development of Dalit Christians. PCLM demanded a blanket ban on Conversion related activities, leadership role of the minority Christians in institutions run by the Church. It demanded transparency in foreign grants, elimination of the role of Vatican in the selection of bishops, and constituting bodies for the protection of Church properties. Church leadership shrewdly suppressed these reformist voices. But, the supporters of the organization kept spreading awareness and similar voices have now started coming from inside the Roman Catholic Church.
Former Justice Michael F. Saldanha has great influence on the Church leadership. He reportedly submitted a report to the Vatican representative Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio following the report of the Somshekhar Commission constituted by the Karnataka government regarding attack on churches.
Now, he is advocating the rights of laity in the Church. There is an urgent need for a transparent policy in this regard. Church has huge resources but these are managed by a handful of clergy like Corporates. This is why the Church controls 30 percent of the educational institutions in the country but more than 40 percent of Christian population is illiterate.
In 2008, the demand for setting up a national board for Church properties came to the fore. The movement demanded the government intervene in the matter. Madhya Pradesh Minority Commission started working on such proposal. Angered Church tried to socially outcast Anand Bernard who was then member of the commission. Supreme Court former judge Justice K.T. Thomas, former Union minister Eduard Faleiro and Christian thinker Joseph Pulilkel supported a board where government will have some intervention. Church leadership rejected this proposal though, in many western countries, the government intervenes when needed.
The Indian Church enjoys immense clout and it is the sole owner of properties in the Church. The clergy does not want to loose its clout. They know that it is in their interest if Vatican and other western countries have power to intervene in India. Church wants to shirk away from its responsibility of welfare of its people. It wants to pass the buck on to the government. Ranganath Mishra Commission is the latest example of the Church’s real intentions.
The time has come when Christian society should change its thought. Debate should start about how to face serious challenges confronting society. Matters such as conversion, dependence on western countries to solve petty problems, worsening condition of Dalit Christians and corruption are deep-rooted within the Church. Casteism in Christian society is increasing day by day. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the Mala become Mala Christians, Madiga become Madiga Christians and Reddy become Reddy Christians after conversion. Thus, conversion has not helped in dismantling the caste system in Indian society and Church is party to that.
The worsening relationships with other faiths and loyalty towards a single political party and influence of Vatican in the selection of Bishops in India are other issues that require to be discussed at length. Church should come out of its ostrich like mentality. They have to face reality and try to integrate with the democratic powers. They will have to participate actively in the democratic process. Their existence will always be in danger unless they adopt steps to bridge the gap.
Christians should have a clear understanding of their responsibility towards their religion, society and the country. Only then, they will be able to flourish in India . Vijayvaani, New Delhi, May 23, 2011
» R.L. Francis is president of the Poor Christian Liberation Movement
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