India’s Catholic church prepares to prevent scandals

By Sanu George, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram: Catholic leaders in India are drawing up procedures to prevent scandals and tackle them if they happen, though the country has been spared the child abuse controversies rocking the church in Western countries, Christian leaders say.

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“The church is strictly a moralistic organisation, but the sad fact is that aberrations do happen. And this has happened from ancient times when even Popes have faced scandals. The church has to confess and, to start with, it has to show a little more of holiness,” said Paul Thelekkat, senior Catholic priest and spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church.

This is just not an issue of the church in the West. It is a lesson for every member of the church here right from bishops to the laity, Thelekkat told IANS.

He said the Catholics Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) is working out a procedure for handling scandals.

“I am told that this new standardised procedure would be ready soon. Guidelines will cover complex matters like dealing with psychological, civil and legal issues,” said Thelekkat.

Christians in Kerala account for around 23 per cent of the 32 million population. The Catholic community accounts for more than 50 percent of the Christians in the state, followed by the Syrian Orthodox church. There are at least half a dozen other churches.

The Catholic church in the state is passing through difficult times, though there has been no child abuse scandal.

It has seen two priests and a nun being arrested for murdering Sister Abhaya, a bishop losing his job, a nun committing suicide, and another one landing up in a mental hospital. Last but not the least, there was a student studying for priesthood who ended his life after being unable to stand alleged atrocities by senior students.

“See, as and when there is a human error committed by those who have to practise high moral values, the church steps in and strict action is taken. Just because someone has done a wrong, he cannot be condemned; instead we send such people for reformation and renewal courses and a huge majority of them realise their wrongs and correct themselves,” said Thelekkat.

There are church leaders who believe some fundamental issues need to be addressed by the Catholic church.

T.J. Joshua, a senior priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church , who for long headed the seminary of the church at Kottayam, says the problem of the Catholic church is the practice of compulsory celibacy.

“I would say trying to club celibacy and priesthood is their biggest failure. Look at my church, here the rules are clear – those who are not interested to become a bishop can go on to have a family of their own,” Joshua said.

“Sex is a reality. I am not saying that scandals are not there in my church. Yes, it is there and the need of the hour is to see that we learn from the mistakes of others,” he said.

Joshua said, “What is happening in the Catholic church in the West should be a lesson for all others and (all) should learn from that.”

Known Catholic rebel Joseph Pullikunnel, who has been having a long running feud with the Catholic church in the state, said there are 24 Churches in the world and it is only the Western Catholic Church where celibacy is a must for its priests and nuns and hence the problem.

The issue in the Catholic church in Kerala is slightly different, he said.

“Look, in Kerala they are the most powerful social organisation with several institutions run by them. More than half the problem would be solved if these institutions are freed from the clutches of priests,” Pullikunnel asserted.

“And another thing is that unlike in the West, homosexuality is very rare and it is the relationships between priests and nuns that is a problem here,” he claimed.

(Sanu George can be contacted at [email protected])