The Church in Kerala has been rattled by dissent, land scams and sex scandals that have literally resulted in creating cracks in the monolithic structure of different sects.
It was just recently that a section of priests of the Syro Malabar sect held a public meeting to voice their protest against the reinstatement of George Alencherry as the Cardinal of the Ernakulam Diocese. A land scam had seen he being made to stay out of office after the intervention of the Vatican. But with the same authorities reinstating him, there is fear that dissenting priests would face the wrath of the official section. This was voiced by the more than 200 priests who gathered and said that they would not follow the orders issued by the Cardinal, something that has never ever happened till date.
The Kerala diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) has been facing dissent after it came into public that there was huge capitation fee being collected for admission to its medical college run. That a private bank account was there to deposit such amounts earned the wrath of the followers forcing the Church authorities to step in. An official inquiry has been ordered and the panel will have a bishop to look into financial irregularities.
After the arrest of the former bishop of Jalandhar Franco Mulakkal on charges of repeatedly raping a nun has come the latest of the a Catholic priest George TJ being arrested on Sunday on charges of sexually abusing minor boys at a Kochi-based shelter home where is the director.
According to police, the priest had been abusing six boys at the shelter home for several months and the children discussed it among themselves and fled the shelter home. They went home to inform their parents who complained to the police. This finally led to the arrest, bringing the Church again into bad light.
The arrest of Franco Mulakkal and the protests leading to police action triggered an unprecedented trend in the Church. The complaint of a nun that she had been raped several times by Franco, created a furore in the Church and among the faithful. Even after the charge became public, there was no action which led to a few nuns come out in public to join a protest meeting in Kochi demanding his arrest. While Vatican removed him from the bishop post, arrest did not happen and the nuns for days together took part in the protest meeting, expressing solidarity with the aggrieved nun.
Mainstream political parties and its big leaders decided to look the other side when the agitation was on as it did not want to antagonise a `powerful vote bank’.
A section of priests tried all it could to dissociate the nuns from the agitation as also take a stand against Franco, making offers to threats. One of the nuns who participated in the agitation has also been threatened ouster, though on other flimsy grounds.
It was just two years ago that a Catholic priest was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a 16-year-old and impregnating her.
Priest Robin Vadakkumchery, who was known till then as a former managing director of a Church-run newspaper which also has the tradition of being among the oldest in Kerala, was arrested when he was on way to flee the country. The minor girl had given birth to a child which was later shifted to an orphanage.
It was only last year that four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Church were arrested on charges of blackmailing and sexually assaulting a married woman for three years. Action followed after the woman’s husband claimed that one of the priests and later his colleagues began blackmailing and sexually abusing her on the basis on her confession to one of them.
The feud between the Jacobite and Orthodox faction over possession of assets has been a long-standing one and even the Supreme Court had to reprimand the State Government for failing to resolve the issue and follow its orders.
The cases of sexual abuse come at a time when the Pope has been insisting publicly that the clergy follow the sacred path. According to the those close to the Church, wealth in the form of huge land assets and money makes the authorities powerful and there is little scope for ordinary believers to stand up against this authority. Threats in the form of social ostracisation have held the laymen together.
“If there are public protests now from within the all-powerful Church, the faithful owe it to the nuns who joined the public protest for Franco’s arrest. The nuns created history, empowering the ordinary believers that they can stand up and voice their protest against anything `unchristian’. The sort of insulation that the clergy believed it had has gone.
"There is a slow `democratic’ movement building within the different sections of the Church. This should only do good and the sins will have to be washed away. A cleansing is unavoidable,” said a social activist close to the Church.