The terrors of the confessional – Alexander D. Samuel

Confession Booth

Alexander D. SamuelThe Church needs to allay our anxieties over undue secrecy and our concerns that public crimes will henceforth not be settled privately with impunity. Otherwise, the Church would only invite comparisons with the much derided, extra-legal khap panchayats. – Alexander D. Samuel

In 2011, two advocacy groups filed a criminal complaint against the Vatican before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged commission of crimes against humanity. The crime related to the nearly 5,000 instances of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults committed by predatory Catholic priests. The Vatican, as the seat of the Holy See and the Catholic Church, was sought to be held responsible for allegedly covering up this extensive abuse. But the case did not stand a chance of being ruled upon, as the Vatican was not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC and the court consequently lacked jurisdiction.

Why then did the advocacy groups file this complaint that required intensive research and documentation? In the words of Mark Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association, “when you look at the concept of why and how the ICC was created, I just don’t think this (case) fits. But the filing does something that’s important. It raises awareness.” An awareness that becomes essential given the nature of the appointment, functioning and the social roles of the perpetrators involved in the abuse.

In July 2018, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) submitted a 25-page report to the Union Home Ministry in which she recommended steps to scrap the custom of confession. This recommendation came in the wake of the allegations against priests of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who were accused of blackmailing and subjecting a woman to give sexual favours to them, using certain confessions she had made to one of them. The Catholic Church vociferously criticised the NCW’s recommendation.

In the words of the president of Catholic Bishops Conference of India Cardinal Oswald Gracias, abolishing confession is a “direct infringement on our freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.” He also stated that the state must concentrate its attention on women empowerment and domestic violence instead of “dabbling in religious matters about which it understands nothing”.

In her defence, the NCW chairperson had earlier stated, “if religious customs and practices are coming in the way of security and safety of women, NCW can definitely seek remedies. The women should not confess, especially before men. If we do not raise such issues and try to make changes, who will?” She also noted that many churches make confession compulsory to conduct marriages and baptise children.

Under Canon 989 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, each member of the faithful, after having reached the age of discretion, “is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year”.

There have been many calls around the world, in the last few decades, for streamlining the “penance of confession”. In a gruesome murder and rape case dating back to 1960, a young schoolteacher, Irene Garza was last known to have given confession to a young priest, outside the confessional in the South Texas border town of McAllen in the United States. Her body was later found with evidence of having been raped while in coma from blunt force trauma and suffocation. But because of shoddy investigation and reluctance of elected officials to investigate a priest in the year of presidential election bid by Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy, the case went cold (The Washington Post, December 8, 2017).

But her family was persistent and the case was reopened in 2015. One of the points her family highlighted was the unusual and the inappropriate manner of taking her confession by the priest, who was the last person to have seen her (Under canon law, Can. 964 §3, “confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause”). Father Feit, who had taken that confession was eventually held guilty last year on account of, inter alia, his own confession to the rape and murder to another priest, Father Dale Tacheny. Father Tacheny had taken Feit’s confession in 1963 but kept this confession to himself out of “a religious obligation”. He changed his mind in only 2002, after leaving the religious life and notified the police. This fact raises the other issue relating to confession—the breaking of its seal to notify temporal authorities.

Private Confession, Private Absolution

According to the Church, a confession made under the sacrament of confession/penance, is one that is made before God, even though it is a priest who hears it and he, again, absolves only in the name of God. But what this view does not factor into, is that this “private confession followed by (automatic) private (read divine) absolution” turns problematic when it involves a public crime.

Today, the Church’s earlier practice of recognising the distinction between private delicts and public crimes has whittled down. Writing in the context of requirement of breaking the seal of confession in child sexual abuse, noted theologian Joseph Grayland said that current practice “tends to equate the confessing of sin with restitution; grave sin with non-grave; grave public sin with private misdemeanour; and all restitution with the spiritual good of the penitent and not the rehabilitation of the victim” (2004:167).

He further notes: “granted that the rites of sacramental reconciliation/penance … insist on the reform or conversion of the sinner, nevertheless we are confronted by the unpalatable consideration that we may have created out of the sacrament of reconciliation/penance a culture of secret, private confession followed by a quasi-automatic absolution that has, in its own turn, so influenced the methods by which the Church is administered that the culture of secret, private confession and private absolution is now a normative part of Church governance.” (2004:155).

The case of Father Arockiaraj, accused of the murder of a 16-year-old girl, is a case in point. He had voluntarily confessed to the murder on surreptitiously recorded phone conversations with the victim’s mother but later attempted a cover-up together with his higher-ups. In fact, many priests convicted or accused of sexual abuse have often confessed to their crimes to fellow priests. The priests who take those confessions are constrained by the religious obligation of not breaking their seal and hence do not report them to the police.

This conundrum was studied in-depth by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, that was appointed by the Australian Government in 2013. The commission that was made up of judges, a retired police official, a psychiatrist among others, recommended that laws be passed to create the criminal offence of failure to report information on child sexual abuse that is disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession made to a priest (2017:103).

The commission also recommended that religious confession for children should be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult and if another adult is not available, the rite of religious confession for the child should not be performed (2017:59).

Both these recommendations have relevance for India. In Father Arockiaraj’s case, his actions were looked into by a “private” Canonical Court constituted by the Church. Before that body, Arockiaraj admitted that he had “bodily contact” with the victim and that he had “used her” (The Indian Express, 21 August 2016). But the Church authorities failed to report it to the police. In a statement to the media, Father John Joseph, the Vicar General of the Coimbatore Diocese, stated that the Church had acted immediately against Arockiaraj “as per the canon law”. But when asked why the Church hadn’t reported sexual abuses against a minor to police, he replied, “That was a mistake…. We are innocent…. It was a very, very unfortunate incident. There were mistakes on the part of the Church too. But we didn’t do it on purpose.”

But maintenance of secrecy seems to have sanction from the very top of the Church hierarchy. The Vatican for its part has done well to have long recognised the possibility of misuse of confessional statements by priests, similar to what has been alleged in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church case. The 1962 Vatican document Crimen sollicitationis specifically provides for dealing with cases concerning sexual advances made by priests during or using the sacrament of confession. But ironically, not only the procedures for dealing with such cases were to be confidential but this document itself was to be kept a secret. Unfortunately, its successor document Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela of 2001 also does not provide for reporting the crimes to the police.

In an interview with the BBC, canon lawyer Thomas Doyle said that the secret procedures amount to “an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy, to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by churchmen”. In such circumstances, the Church needs to allay our anxieties over undue secrecy and our concerns that public crimes will henceforth not be settled privately with impunity. Otherwise, the Church would only invite comparisons with the much derided, extra-legal khap panchayats.

The other recommendation of the Royal Commission mentioned above, relating to reform of the procedures for taking of the confessions given by children, highlights how legal regulation of confessions given by vulnerable persons may sometimes be in order. On the other hand, the Indian NCW chairperson’s recommendation that confessions be done away with, goes beyond regulation into the realm of abolition/prohibition. But legal progress and social awareness is often achieved by quixotic undertakings—tilting at windmills as it were—as had happened in the case of the complaint lodged against the Vatican before the ICC.

When the NCW chairperson asserts, “the women should not (be compelled to) confess, especially before men”, it appeals to our logic. But in the case of a religious order where women (read nuns) are not allowed to take confessions and only men are ordained as priests, the taking of confessions of women by male priests needs further scrutiny. – Swarajya, 12 September 2018


Kerala’s criminally incontinent Christian priests – T.K. Devasia

Crown of Thorns

Cross Crossed-Out“Sexual abuse cases involving the clergy are on the rise in Kerala. This is because the Church is protecting the guilty….” – Joemon Puthenpurackkal

When a person confesses his sins to a priest, a very sacred sacramental seal is formed. Breaking this seal by the priest even to save his own life or that of another person or to aid the course of justice is treated as a grave sin by the Canon Law applicable to the Christians across the world.

A priest in Kerala committed this sin that amounts to criminal offence under the civil law by using the confession of a married woman to sexually exploit her and to present her to his fellow priests by sharing the details of the confession with them, according to the complaint of the woman’s husband.

The man, a member of Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, one of the most ancient churches, filed the complaint before the Church authorities after his wife narrated her ordeal following discovery of a five-star hotel bill in her email box. The incident came to light after his telephonic conversation with a Church official got leaked and found its way to the social media, rocking the two-million strong church with 30 dioceses, including seven in other Indian states and three abroad.

According to the audio clip that has been widely circulated on social media, the woman confessed about her relationship with another priest before her marriage. The complaint said that the series of rape incidents began after the confession which was made during their daughter’s baptism.

The man alleged that the priest had shared the confession with, at least, five to eight priests, who used them to blackmail and sexually exploit her. Church head, Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, has removed five priests, including one from Delhi, mentioned in the complaint from their official duties pending inquiry.

Church spokesman P. C. Elias said that the Church will hand over the complaint to the police if the allegations were found true. He said that a thorough investigation was required to ascertain the veracity of the allegations as some of them were very old.

The woman’s husband has not filed a complaint with the police so far. He said in his audio clip that he was expecting the Church authorities to take action against the priests involved in the sexual exploitation. He wants the accused priests to be defrocked and removed from the church.

However, senior officials of the Church have taken the allegations with a pinch of salt. Church managing committee chairman Father Mathew Abraham said the complainant had crossed swords with the Church on several occasions in the past. “Once he created a scene in his parish committee meeting and tried to assault a priest. Other members of the parish had condemned his action and isolated him from the community. He may be trying to take revenge by raising baseless allegations against the priests,” Mathew said.

He said that it was difficult to believe that priests will take women to star hotels for sex. “It is not easy for anybody to do such things in star hotels which are under 24×7 CCTV surveillance. If any one of the priests accused by the complainant has taken his wife to the five-star hotel, it can be confirmed from the CCTV footage,” he added.

Moreover, Mathew doubts whether any priest will break the seal of confession as his Church considers it as inviolable. He said that the present incident may be the first case of breaking the seal of confession since the origin of the Church.

“All our priests realise the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance. I don’t think anyone will do anything to break it. Moreover, most of our priests are living with families, maintaining high standards of Christian life,” the priest added. He also feels that the allegation could be part of attempts by a lobby trying to disrupt the reputation of the Church, which is involved in a legal battle with the rival Jacobite faction over the control of churches and their properties for nearly a century now.

However, the senior Church official said that they will take the allegations seriously and asserted that exemplary punishment would be given to the priests if they have done anything wrong.

But Church activists doubt it. Joemon Puthenpurackkal, who has been spearheading a campaign to bring to book two priests and a nun accused in a sex-related murder case for more than two-and-a-half decades, said that the Church had a long history of protecting the accused clergy.

He said he is still pursuing the case related to the murder of Sister Abhaya at a convent in Kottayam in March 1992 which is still pending in the trial court because of the Church attempting to protect the clergy involved in the case. He said that another minor girl was raped by a Catholic priest at Kottiyoor in Kannur district. Multiple institutions under the Church had sprung into action to shield Robin Vadakkancherry after the 17-year-old girl gave birth to a child.

“Sexual abuse cases involving the clergy are on the rise in Kerala. This is because the church is protecting the guilty. If Church officials stop this and take stern and timely action against the guilty, such cases will come down,” Puthenpurackal said.

There has been a string of sexual assault cases involving clergymen in the state in the recent years. The latest in the series is the rape of a 42-year-old Bangladeshi native by a Catholic priest from Pala diocese in Kottayaam district.

The accused, Father Thomas Thanninilkumthadathil, had gone into hiding after the police registered a case against him following the woman’s complaint. The priest, vicar of St Mathew’s Church Perumthuruth near Kaduthuruthy surrendered before the police, following a huge public uproar in the social media.

Another Catholic priest from Thrissur had tried to escape similarly after raping a nine-year-old girl, who was attending classes for the Holy Communion, in 2014. Father Raju Kokken, vicar of the St. Paul’s Church at Thaikkattuserry, was later arrested and the case is now in a court in Thrissur.

In 2013, Father Arokiaraj, a priest at the St Stanislaus Church in Palakkad, had raped and killed 17-year-old Fatima. The priest, who confessed that he had sexually abused the victim, was dismissed from the Church but the incident was not reported to the police. In December last year, a special court in Ernakulam awarded double life term to Fr Edwin Figarez on charges of raping a 14-year-old several times between January to March 2015 in the priest’s home at the Puthenvelikkara Church in Thrissur district.

Joemon said that the cases had come to light because of social media. Earlier, such cases were suppressed by the Church by exploiting the religious sentiments of the faithful, the human rights activist said. – Shining India News & FirstPost, 27 June 2018

» T.K. Devasia is a freelance journalist who writes for FirstPost and Reuters.

Blame the system protest

Pope Francis casts doubt on clergy-abuse victims – Mary Dispenza

Pope Francis

Mary DispenzaIn the midst of Francis’ tears and apologies, the systemic evil of clergy sex abuse remains alive and largely undercover within the ranks of the Catholic Church. – Mary Dispenza

In scripture we find the lines, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Survivors of clerical sex abuse are tired of turning the other cheek—tired of lies and promises, especially by popes, who through the ages have formed commission after commission, held conference after conference, issued report after report, and made promise after promise.

Church leadership has repeatedly sought forgiveness for what Pope Francis recently described as the “irreparable damage” caused by priests. In the midst of Francis’ tears and apologies, the systemic evil of clergy sex abuse remains alive and largely undercover within the ranks of the Catholic Church.

“There is not one single piece of proof against him (Barros). It is all slander. Is that clear?” the Pope said.

The Vatican committee that found Karadima guilty in 2011 of committing sexual abuse against minors relied upon testimony from the same children, now adults, who also implicated Barros.

The act of elevating one priest, credibly accused of covering up for another priest who commits crimes of sexual violence, or colluding with them in any way, is worthy of dismissal—not protection and advancement. Pope Francis has turned a deaf ear to survivors, actions that can send many back into darkness for fear that they too will not be believed and are guilty of slander.

Survivors of sexual violation and trauma rarely, if ever, lie about their abuse. Victims consistently tell the truth. Pope Francis was wrong to challenge the voices raised in protest against the anointing of Barros. The pope was wrong, and he knows better than to effectively tell a survivor he or she is lying and not to be believed. He knows better than to tell a sexual-abuse survivor that he is guilty of calumny.

The greatest sin in this story is disregarding the truth of Father Karadima—that as a pedophile he was passed on from parish to parish just like the priest who raped me when I was 7-years-old.

Pope Francis’ appointment of Barros hearkens me back to my childhood and Catholic school. There I was taught that what really makes a sin, a great big mortal sin, is to know it’s wrong and do it anyway.

In the 2015 film on Boston’s clergy-abuse scandal, Spotlight, actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays Boston Globe journalist Mike Rezendes, put it this way, “It’s time! They knew, and they let it happen! To kids! OK? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this. Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!”

It’s time. No, it’s past time. Enough rhetoric. Enough blaming. Enough apologies. None of this posturing keeps children and others from being harmed, and holds abusers accountable. It’s time, Pope Francis, to stand up for survivors, take their stories to heart and take the right action. – The Seattle Times, 25 January 2018

» Mary Dispenza is a former Catholic nun, educator and National Distinguished Principal. She is the Oregon regional director for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Priests & Alter Boys

Top-ranking Vatican cardinal charged with sex offenses in Australia – Julie Zauzmer

George Pell

Julie ZauzmerCardinal George Pell faces multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” the Australian criminal justice system’s term for offenses committed in the past. – Julie Zauzmer

A cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s finances has been charged with multiple sexual offenses by Australian police, in one of the most significant indictments against a top-ranking leader of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal George Pell faces multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” the Australian criminal justice system’s term for offenses committed in the past, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced at a news conference on Thursday morning in Australia.

That morning, Victoria police notified Pell’s legal representative that he has been charged and must appear in court on July 18, Patton said.

Patton said that Pell was treated no differently than any other defendant because of his high rank in the Vatican—notifying a legal representative and summoning the defendant to court at a later date is the recommendation of Australian prosecutors in a case like his.

Patton did not discuss the details of the case, so it was not clear whether Pell was charged with participating in abuse or covering it up.

In the Vatican, Pell’s job as secretariat of the economy is so crucial that it has been described as the second-most-powerful role in Rome, after only the pope. But for years, he has faced accusations of improper behaviour connected with clergy sexual abuse in Australia.

In Ballarat, Pell’s hometown, dozens of children were abused by priests. After the abuse came to light, priests testified under oath that Pell knew about the abuse while it was occurring.

The scale of the abuse in Ballarat was staggering: In one fourth-grade class of 33 boys, 12 committed suicide, the Post reported in 2015. Five priests who worked in the parish were convicted of crimes, including one who was found guilty of abusing more than 50 children.

Two years ago, Peter Saunders, a survivor of sexual abuse on the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, spoke out against Pell, calling him “almost sociopathic” in his lack of concern for the victims of abuse in an interview with Australia’s television program “60 Minutes.”

Saunders asked Pope Francis at the time to remove Pell from his position and take “the strongest action against him.” But Pell publicly refuted Saunders’s allegations, and a Vatican spokesman stood with Pell, saying the cardinal “must be considered reliable.”

Pell has served as a priest since 1966.

In response to an Australian inquiry into clergy sexual abuse last year, he testified in court that he had heard about “misbehavior” by two priests—including priests kissing children and swimming naked with them—but had not reported it. He had heard only fleeting references to the priests’ actions, he said, and knew little about the incidents.

He said he doesn’t remember a child ever reporting abuse to him, though he added, “My memory is sometimes fallible,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. When children did report abuse in earlier decades, he said, they weren’t likely to be believed.

“In those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial,” he said. “At that stage, the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the Church, from shame.” In his testimony, he said, “The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those.”

On Thursday morning, Patton did not offer any details about the charges against Pell, other than to say that the cardinal faces “multiple charges in respect to historical offenses.” – The Washington Post, 28 June 2017

» Julie Zauzmer is a religion reporter for the Washington Post in Washington, DC.

Protest against George Pell

Where is the Brahmin, seeker of the highest truth? – Makarand Paranjape


Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeIndia is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. … The main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” – Prof Makarand Paranjape

No right-thinking Indian can justify the ancient régime of varna vyastha, whose injustices, inequalities, and indignities have survived into our own times. Yet, arguably, it is caste, not ideology, that is still the driving force in Indian society and politics. This contradiction of repudiation-reification makes us pose the moot question, “Has the Brahmin disappeared from India?”

Some 20 years ago, Saeed Naqvi, in The Last Brahmin Prime Minister of India, conferred that dubious distinction on P. V. Narasimha Rao. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ascension to the august office proved Naqvi wrong. Rani Sivasankara Sarma’s autobiographical account in Telugu, The Last Brahmin, published soon after Naqvi’s, also asks similar questions, though from a socio-religious, rather than political, standpoint.

I was startled to learn that on his last visit to India in 1985, the great philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti raised the same question in his conversation with Professor P. Krishna at Rajghat, Varanasi (A Jewel on a Silver Platter: Remembering Jiddu Krishnamurti by Padmanabhan Krishna). Krishnamurti is quick to clarify that “Brahmin” is “Not by birth, sir, that is so childish!” As the conversation unfolds, Krishnamurti narrates a story to illustrate.

After defeating Porus, Alexander is impressed by the efficiency of the former’s administration. Alexander hears that the person responsible, Porus’s Brahmin Prime Minister, has left the capital after the loss. Sending after him, Alexander is further surprised at the Brahmin’s refusal to call on him. Deciding to visit him instead, Alexander asks, “I am so impressed with your abilities. Will you work for me?” “Sorry,” says the Brahmin, “I must teach these children; I no longer wish to serve emperors.”

Krishnamurti’s tale is a variation of the story of Alexander the Great and the Stoic. The latter refuses to give up philosophy even in face of the monarch’s threats or blandishments; clearly, this story has both Greek and Indian versions. Krishnamurti concludes: “That’s a Brahmin—you can’t buy him. Now tell me, Sir, has the Brahmin disappeared from this country?”

In thus defining a Brahmin, Krishnamurti is following a tradition as old as the Buddha. In Canto 26 of the Dhammapada titled, “Who is a Brahmin,” the Tathagata says, “who is devoid of fear and free from fetters, him I call a Brahmin.” Verse after verse clarifies, enumerates, and explains the qualities: “He who is contemplative, lives without passions, is steadfast and has performed his duties, who is free from sensuous influxes and has attained the highest goal—him I call a Brahmin” (386). “Not by matted hair, by lineage, nor by birth (caste) does one become a Brahmin. But the one in whom there abide truth and righteousness, he is pure; he is a Brahmin” (393).

Traditionally, those born in the Brahmin jati were supposed to aspire to and espouse such high ideals, whether Vedic or Buddhist. But in these contentious times, the Buddha’s words themselves have been politicised. There are many “modern” translations of the Dhammapada where the word “Brahmin” has been removed completely. The Vedas, of course, are rejected altogether for being “Brahminical.” The object is clearly to attack, denigrate, and destroy the abstract category called “Brahmin.”

Often, the main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” Actually, the latter word was invented by Orientalists to refer to the worship of “Brahman” in contra-distinction to the Buddha, which was called Buddhism. The rule of Brahmins, though there was possibly never such a thing in actual Indian history, should more properly be termed “Brahminarchy”, a term no one uses. Much misinterpretation has also entered our own languages through the back translation of “Brahminism” as “Brahmanvad.” The latter is understood as the ideology of Brahmin domination promoting a hierarchical and exclusionary social system.

Maharaja NandakumarThe history of anti-Brahminism should not, however, be traced to Phule, Periyar, or even Ambedkar, who were all trying to reform rather than destroy Hindu society. The real culprit was more likely British imperialism. If the Muslim invaders tried to annihilate the Kshatriyas, the British attempted to finish off the Brahmins. After the East India Company assumed the overlordship of Bengal, their first execution was of “Maharaja” Nandakumar, a leading Brahmin opponent of the Governor-General, Warren Hastings. On 5 August 1775, Nandakumar was hanged for forgery, a capital crime under British law. But how was such a law applicable to India?

Macaulay, though an imperialist, called the execution a judicial murder. He accused Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court, of colluding with Hastings.

The hanging of Nandakumar took place near what is now the Vidyasagar Setu. The entire Hindu population shunned the British, moving to the other bank of the river, to protest against British injustice and to avoid the pollution caused by the act.

Today, India is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. My own university, JNU, is full of pamphlets and posters against Brahminism, one even blaming “Brahminical patriarchy” for the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, who went missing on 15 October 2016. Anti-Brahminism, however, is never considered hate-crime or hate-speech. Why? Don’t Brahmins have human feelings or rights? Brahmins, moreover, are soft targets, scripturally and culturally enjoined not to retaliate. As the Dhammapada (389) puts it, “One should not strike a Brahmin; neither should a Brahmin give way to anger against him who strikes.”

Is it time intellectually to re-arm Brahmins so that they maintain both their own dignity and the veneration of their inherited calling? Does the ideal of the Brahmin continue to be relevant to India, whether we define a Brahmin as one who cannot be bought, a seeker of the highest truth, or a teacher and guide? Shouldn’t such a person, regardless of the jati she or he is born in, continue to be a beacon of light and leadership? As to those born into the community, they may well remember the Kanchi Paramacharya’s sage advice: Fulfill the responsibilities but do not expect the privileges of your birth. – Swarajya, 6 January 2017

» Prof Makarand Paranjape is an author and teaches English at JNU, New Delhi. 

Brahmin & Moghul

See also

Vatican has never apologised for its crimes, and will not apologise for the Goa Inquisition – Aravindan Neelakandan

The Inquisition

Aravindan NeelakandanIn 1999 the VHP raised the issue of apology for Inquisition during the Papal visit to India, Indian Catholic officials crisply declared that “tendering an apology for the so-called inquisition was not on the Pope’s agenda.” And termed such a request by Hindus as “raking up unnecessary issues for cheap publicity.” – Aravindan Neelakandan

When it comes to ‘apologising’ for genocides, which it either directly instigated or facilitated through tactical support, Vatican is a conjurer adept in sleight of words and institutions. You are made to believe that Vatican has changed; that the Vatican has apologised but then you go through what has been actually said officially and by whom, and you realise that nothing has changed.

Take for example the absolutely safe sounding name for one of the oldest congregations in Vatican— ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’. That is the modern name. The original name? ‘Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition’. And what did it do? Banned books and burnt the heretics. And what does it do now? It still bans and restricts books within its sphere of influence like the books of Rev. Anthony de Mello SJ and the fact that it does not burn the heretics no more is more because of the want of power than because of the want of willingness. The spirit behind is the same: ‘Roma locuta; causa finita est‘ – Rome has spoken and the case is closed as every student of theology knows, even if the case closed means the closing of the lives of millions in torture chambers.

So it will be prudent for the followers of Indic faiths to understand how the Church has reacted with response to its role in other genocides. Here we take the example of three cases: Nazi Holocaust, Native American genocides and Rwandan genocide. And in each case we shall see briefly the Indic parallels.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp EntranceNazi Holocaust

When Pope John Paul II expressed his regret for the Holocaust, the same play with words was in display in full plumage. In the much popularised ex cathedra statement issued by Vatican We Remember: A Reflection of the Shoah, the Church laid the blame everywhere else except on itself. The Holocaust “was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime” and “its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity”, the communication stated.

The fact is that paganism as such had no institutionalised anti-Semitism. Most of the virulently anti-Semitic laws had their origin in Christian laws. For example, in 1592 Jesuits introduced the rule forbidding admission of men of Jewish origin calculating their ancestry to the fifth generation. Derived from the Jesuit rule, ‘German blood certificate’ of Nazis introduced in 1935 calculated Jewish ancestry for three to four generations. Similarly blood-libel, a Christian propaganda against the Jews based on which the Church even manufactured martyrs, Passion plays which incited mobs to attack Jews, were all substantial Catholic contributions to Nazi propaganda. Yet, the Church without hesitation could call the Holocaust as the workings of a Neo-Pagan regime whose anti-Semitic roots were outside Christianity.

Then it pointedly called Jews “the elder brothers”, quoting Christian scripture. To the uninitiated in Christian theology it looks very pleasant. But in Christian theology it has a specific meaning. The elder brother is always wrong in Christian discourse. When quoting their scripture to call Jews “the elder brothers”, the theologians who crafted the document were well aware that this phrase actually links in their theology the Jews with Cain. In the grand narrative of Church the verse “…the elder shall serve the younger” in Hebrew Bible (Genesis 25:23) is darkly transformed to mean Jews serving the Christians in servitude. Maximinus to Tertullian, the founding fathers of the Church had allowed the ink to flow in torrents to explain how Jews as elder brothers were cursed like Cain. Historian Leon Poliakov in the third volume of his authoritative book The History of Anti-Semitism points out that one of the “essential points” of the teaching of the Church has been “the fall from grace of the elder brother, since wandering Jew, wandering like Cain was also marked by a similar sign on the temple.”

Interestingly the document contained not a single word of apology and had only a single word expressing “regret” for the six million Jews died in the Holocaust. This is the nature of “regret” showed by Church in the most popular and horrible Holocaust of recent history. One should couple with this two important phenomena. One is the installation of “Auschwitz crosses“. This happened when a Carmelite convent was opened near Auschwitz and a huge cross was erected there. Jews protested this blatant Catholic aggression into one of their most painful recent memories. Yet in 1998 the same year Vatican issued “We remember” document on Holocaust, the Archbishop as well as the Cardinal of Catholic Church opposed the removal of the cross which insulted the memory of the Jewish victims of Auschwitz.

And the Church has not bothered to express even such mild watered down, theologically correct, regrets for Gypsies and other “undesirables” killed by the Nazi regime with which Vatican had signed a concordat.

St Thomas and Hindu assassinPresent parallel in India

If it is blood libel for Jews, it is the manufacture of Christian “saints” martyred at the hands of Hindus in general and Brahmins in particular, in India. Complete pseudo-histories have been fabricated like in the case of “martyr” Devasahayam Pillai, in which the Hindu king of Travancore ordered torturing and killing of him for embracing Christianity. In reality, the kings of Travancore had been pro-Christian. The missionaries writing to British government actually cited the example of the Travancore Hindu princely state which allowed Bible teaching in government schools and where large parcels of lands were freely given to Christian missionaries. Yet the Church has been actively propagating the fabricated martyr story. The very historicity of this ‘martyr’ has been questioned by historians. Yet stage dramas are conducted demonizing Hindus and full efforts are on to canonise him.

In the case of St. Thomas myth in India also, the Hindus are made the treacherous villains who stabbed St. Thomas. In the case of this legend, there is a well manipulated evolution of narrative to suit the local prejudices. So the initial Christian account spoke of “low caste man” having killed Thomas by accident. In these earlier narratives, they attributed elephantiasis as the curse of St. Thomas. As anti-Brahminism became a popular political and evangelical tool, the current stories speak of Brahmins as the schemers and killers of St. Thomas.

In Christian propaganda literature endorsed by top Catholic clergy, fake “secret circulars” of RSS similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion used by Nasis to demonise Jews, were published.

Junipero Serra & Native American BoyNative American Genocide

Doctrine of Discovery” forms the theological basis of the Native American genocide. It involves the fifteenth and sixteenth century Papal Bulls which gave the Christian invaders the right to own the “discovered” American lands for their Christian States and allowed them to convert, enslave or in case of refusal for conversion, exterminate the Native Americans.

Often Native Americans were lured with gifts from Spain and then they were trapped through baptism and their old ways destroyed. No wonder the missionaries called these Spanish goods “bait and means of spiritual fishing”. The converted Native Americans were kept within the mission compounds and had to labour. Their women produced food for the mission. The men cultivated land and took care of the cattle—effectively becoming cowboys of the mission. To this day, missionary propaganda murals depict these events as one of peaceful serene coexistence.

However contemporary accounts by neutral observers give a different picture. For example the journals of French man Jean Francois de la Perouse, who was sympathetic to the missionaries called the mission compound resembling a “slave plantation”. Native American men were whipped in public and punished if they disobeyed. Women too were whipped but in secret chambers lest it ignite the men folk to raise a rebellion.

Missionaries coveted the Indian land for three reasons: it made conversions easy; landless natives converted and provided slave labour; and it placed vast lands at the disposal of missionaries. “Civilizing the Indian can only be achieved by denaturalizing them,” said Fermín Lasuén, another prominent missionary at the mission. That Fermín Lasuén belonged to Franciscan order of the Catholic Church is an interesting paradox for Hindus (like this writer) who love to eulogize St. Francis of Assisi as a saint with ecological sensibility. However, the point is that such “denaturalizing” of Native Americans at once provided the mission with slave labour and vast land resources.

Along with such naked aggression, the violent proselytizing was also supported by the myth of St. Thomas. Catholic clergy spread the story among Native Americans that St. Thomas had come long before Spaniards to South America. Famous Virgin Goddess they venerated became the image of Mary which the Apostle had kept as a holy relic. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent divinity was St. Thomas. The native God Tehuitzahuac was actually Jesus Christ himself. These ideas spread through sermons in the Church thus justified the destruction of native culture which was supplanted by Christianity. St. Thomas myth fitted well with the “doctrine of discovery”.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 reiterated this mindset of “doctrine of discovery” when he addressed the Native Americans. He declared that the natives were ”silently longing” for Christianity and ”the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.” The present Pope Francis had simultaneously displayed words seeking forgiveness from Native Americans but the deeds were exactly opposite. He is proceeding with the St. Francis Xavier: The Scourge of the Coromandel Coast!canonizing of Junípero Serra—the founder of Catholic Missions in San Francisco, who ran a mission estate for Native Americans chillingly similar to Auschwitz minus the gas chambers.

Present day parallels in India

In many places across India, Indian Catholics are made to venerate ‘St.’ Xavier the architect of Goan Inquisition. The most prominent Catholic seminary to this day stands on the destroyed Siva temple considered the holiest place in Goa for Hindus.

The St. Thomas myth has been propagated in India also. The Church has been increasingly lending its voice in support of crackpot theories that Hinduism is a derivative of Christianity preached by St. Thomas. In Tamil Nadu, using the Dravidian political movement, sustained efforts have been made to push this crackpot agenda. In the ground level, evangelical guidelines have been issued to missionaries which make use of these crackpot theories to confuse the ordinary Hindus.

Vincent NsengiyumvaRwandan Genocide

Now we come to the “apology” of Vatican for Rwandan Genocide. The fact is that Vatican has not expressed apology and Rwandan government has rightly pointed that out. It was actually an inadequate apology by a Rwandan Catholic bishop. The role of Catholic Church in Rwanda in building the racial tensions is far more sinister and heavy to be washed off in such inadequacies.

The two communities in Rwanda, Tutsi and Hutus, were identified as racial types by the European missionaries, anthropologists and colonial administrators. The Tutsi were invaders and they were “clever”, similar to Europeans to a degree and they appropriated the land through trickery from Hutu who became their slaves. Implanting this myth initially, the colonial administration and its religious arm, the Catholic Church favoured the Tutsis, agreeing with colonial government policy in considering Tutsi and Hutu as distinct races. However, the Church’s support to Tutsis waned dramatically with the Rwandan revolution in 1959.

As some Rwandan patriots of Tutsi origin started questioning the Catholic Church in meddling in politics, the Church joined hands with the Hutus. The Church started filling its local hierarchies with Hutus and the Belgian Catholic clergy even participated in drafting the Bahutu Manifesto in 1957, which paved the way to the genocide later. With colonial and Church support, the Hutu republican party captured power in 1959 and initiated the first Rwandan massacre in which more than 20,000 Tutsis were killed. A report points out:

The demonization of Tutsis preceded the 1994 genocide. Even though this was a clear and grave human rights violation, Bishop Perraudin and his senior aides dismissed these events as a social revolution intended to redress social injustices. For thirty years these views were not questioned.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is the result of a long chain of events in which Church was a major player and hence a key facilitator of genocide. Yet, the Vatican has not found it right to express “regret” or apology—what has happened is the statement of a regional official of the Church.

Robert CaldwellIndian Parallel

Church has been at the forefront of spreading the Aryan-Dravidian racial divide theory and has invested much into this conflict creating narrative. Despite the fact that renowned anti-caste fighters like Dr. Ambedkar had denounced racial interpretation of caste conflicts, the Church and its affiliates go on with the propaganda of “Aryan Brahminical religion” oppressing the so-called Dravidians. The Dravidians are traced to Abraham and through him Jesus is made a Dravidian! In Indian North East and in tribal areas of India, many Catholic missionaries take forward the pseudo-scientific race theories claiming that the Hindus and tribals are separate races etc. This sustained campaign on racial lines camouflaged as “social justice” just as in the case of Rwanda, contains in it the grim possibilities of many such massacres in India. Only Indian culture’s innate strength is holding on against such human tragedies happening.

So we come to the crux of the question. Will Vatican apologise for Goan Inquisition? The answer is emphatic “No”. It has never apologised for its crimes against humanity which have been more documented and more publicised. Hindus have never publicised the crimes done against them by the invaders systematically. Hindus seldom have a museum or memorial for those martyred for Dharma by the Catholic Inquisition. There have been no plays, no movies through which the memories the cruelty of Inquisition and more importantly the sacrifices of the Hindus to defend their religion, have been taken forward to their next generation.

So when in 1999 the VHP raised the issue of apology for Inquisition during the Papal visit to India, Indian Catholic officials crisply declared that “tendering an apology for the so-called inquisition was not on the Pope’s agenda”. And termed such a request by Hindus as “raking up unnecessary issues for cheap publicity”. In other words Hindus weigh definitely less than the Jews, Native Americans and Rwandans in the public relations radar of Vatican. The only solace is despite the Church running in India all the tactics it used in Rwanda, pre-holocaust Christendom and against Native Americans, Hindus still survive as a religion, culture and nation. – Swarajya, 4 December 2016

» S. Aravindan Neelakandan is the co-author of a path-breaking book on Dravidian and Dalit faultlines, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines.

Hitler's Pope Pius XII

From top-left, going clockwise: Leo XIII with Otto von Bismarck (Germany, 1862-1890), Pius XII with Benito Mussolini (Italy, 1922-1943), Pius XII with Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1933-1945), John Paul II with Augusto Pinochet (Chile, 1973-1990), Benedict XVI with Álvaro Uribe (Colombia, 2002-2010), Francis I [as a priest] with Jorge Videla (Argentina, 1976-1981), Pius XII with Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic, 1930-1961), Pius XII with Francisco Franco (Spain, 1936-1975).

Pope Francis the Actor

See also

Francis the Actor: Argentinians dissatisfied with the pope’s response to the ‘dirty war’ – Vinod Sreeharsha

When will the Catholic Church apologise for the Goa Inquisition? – Shefali Vaidya

Pope FrancisShefali Vaidya“Goa is sadly famous for its inquisition, equally contrary to humanity and commerce. The Portuguese monks made us believe that the people worshipped the devil, and it is they who have served him.” – Voltaire

The palace has been razed to the ground. Hordes of chattering tourists walk over the site now, clicking selfies against the massive white-washed facade of Saint Catherine’s Church in Old Goa. Children crowd around an ice-cream cart. Couples canoodle under an ancient banyan tree nearby. No traces remain of the dreaded “Vhodle Ghor” or the “Big House” as it was referred to in hushed tones by the terrified people of Goa, except a few moss-covered blocks of laterite stones that lie scattered in the grass. Those stones are the only surviving witnesses of the bloodiest chapter in Goan history—that of the Goa Inquisition.

Return to the ruins of the Palace of the Inquisition in the evening, after the last busload of tourists has departed. Sit a while on a laterite block as the sun goes down. If you are sensitive enough, you can still hear the terrified screams of hapless victims being tortured inside the “Vhodle Ghor” by the Inquisitor’s court. In 1560, the erstwhile palace of Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur, in Old Goa was turned into a terrible torture chamber with the addition of a chapel, the residence of the Inquisitor, more than 200 windowless prison cells and many torture chambers.

Burning at the stake by the InquisitionNot many people outside Goa know about the terrible Goa Inquisition. The Inquisition was introduced in Goa in 1560 by the then Portuguese king Joao III at the behest of Francis Xavier, the Jesuit monk whose mummified remains lie in a church just across the road from the site of the Palace of Inquisitions. Inquisition lasted in Goa till 1812—a period of more than 250 years! It was temporarily abolished in 1774 by the relatively moderate Marquis De Pombal, but was reinstated promptly in 1778 after his fall from grace. Under the Inquisition, thousands of people, both men and women, were arrested on charges of heresy and subjected to inhuman torture. Many were burnt alive at ritualistic public spectacles known as autos-da-fe.

The Court of Inquisition was set up as a royal tribunal, headed by a judge answerable only to the king based in Lisbon. One of the first acts of the Inquisitor’s office in Goa was to forbid public practice of the Hindu faith. Hindus were forbidden to worship their Gods and Goddesses in public. In 1566, a vice-regal order prohibited Hindus from constructing temples or repairing old temples. In 1567 the Portuguese started destroying Hindu temples. In Bardez district alone, more than 300 temples were razed to the ground and churches built in their place.

All Hindu rituals including marriages, thread ceremonies and cremations were banned by law. All people above 15 years of age were forced to attend Christian preachings. The Palace of Inquisition became a torture chamber for Hindus, Jews, Muslims and even for converted Christians who clung to their Hindu customs and traditions. More than 42 Hindu customs were considered heretical, including wearing the sacred thread, wearing a tilak on the forehead, greeting people with a namaste and removing of slippers outside a place of worship.

Historian Alfredo de Mello describes the Goa Inquisition as a collection of “nefarious, fiendish, lustful, corrupt religious orders which pounced on Goa”. According to François Pyrard de Laval, a Frenchman who lived in Goa between 1608-1610, the Goa Inquisition was more severe than the one practised in Portugal. The most authentic account of the tortures of the Goa Inquisition comes from another Frenchman, a doctor named Dellon, who was imprisoned at the palace of the Inquisition. He describes his experiences in his book De Relation L’Inquisition De Goa [English-language edition]. The translation of this book is a part of the famous Goa historian A. K. Priolkar‘s seminal work on the subject.

For me, the Goa Inquisition was not just a sterilised remote term to be read in history textbooks. My own family had borne the brunt of the Inquisition. My ancestors had to leave behind their village, their land and all their wealth to save their faith. As their original village Nagoa was destroyed by the Portuguese under the religious command of the fanatical Jesuit priests, my family moved to Cuncolim and started a new life. They made a choice to not surrender their faith. Some others chose otherwise. Converting to Christianity meant official patronage and a good life. The Court of Inquisition guaranteed “protection” to Hindus who converted to Christianity and gave them rights over the lands of people who had chosen to leave their homes rather than convert to Christianity.

Jesuit priests killed at CuncolimIn 1583, all temples in my own village of Cuncolim were destroyed by the Portuguese army under direct orders from the court of Inquisition. The proud warriors of my village were not ones to suffer in silence. They led an armed rebellion on 25 July 1583 against the Portuguese. Five Jesuit priests and 14 local converts were killed in the attack. Enraged by this, the Portuguese sent a massive army that burnt and pillaged the village and unleashed unspeakable atrocities on the people. The local warriors still did not give up. They merely hid in the surrounding forests and attacked the Portuguese forces using guerrilla tactics. The Portuguese then tried to be cunning. They invited the leaders of the revolution for talks at a nearby fort and in a stunning act of treachery, sixteen unarmed chieftains were brutally massacred by the Portuguese. Only one escaped by jumping into the river. The sacrifice of the chieftains of Cuncolim is still remembered in Goa as its first ever freedom struggle.

The effects of the Goa Inquisition are felt in Goa till today. There are families torn forever into two, one branch still carries the ancestral Hindu name while the other bears a Christian name. Churches exist where temples once stood.

A few days ago, the Catholic Church apologised for its role in the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A Church statement officially accepted that its members planned, aided and executed the genocide, in which more than 800,000 [actual count is 1,074,017] people were brutally massacred. In 2015, Pope Francis had apologised for the “many grave sins” committed by the Church against the indigenous people of South America while speaking in Bolivia. Before that, his predecessor, Pope John Paul II had apologised to the Muslims for the crusades and to the Jewish people for the anti-semitism of the Catholics that had aided the holocaust and for the involvement of the Church in African slave trade.

When will the Catholic Church apologise for the terrors of the Inquisition it inflicted upon the people of Goa? – Swarajya, 26 November 2016

» Shefali Vaidya is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist based in Pune.

Inquisition Victims

OLD GOA: Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian victims of the Inquisition, their hands nailed to posts, listen to a Catholic padre read out charges against them. They will be burned at the stake in an auto-da-fé. A Portuguese nobleman waits and watches on a horse. He and the Church will share between themselves the confiscated properties.