Appointing non-Dalit bishop to Salem diocese irks Dalit Christians

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By DCD Reporter

Salem: The Dalit priests, religious and the laity of Tamil Nadu Catholic Church are disappointed over the appointment of the non-Dalit bishop to the diocese of Salem.

On May 31, Pope Francis appointed Fr. Arulselvam Rayappan of the clergy of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, as Bishop of Salem. 

The bishop-elect is presently professor and director of the Centre for Canon Law Studies at St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, and a judge of the Archdiocesan Tribunal of Pondicherry.

The news disappointed Dalit Catholics of Tamil Nadu and they have expressed their dissatisfaction. The Dalit Christians have been demanding Dalit bishops in the vacant dioceses of Tamil Nadu for a long time as there is only one bishop from the Dalit community where the majority is the Dalit Christian origin.

There have been protests and peaceful rallies before the second wave of COVID-19. Even in November, the lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore organized a rally and the Dalit priests sat in for a peaceful dialogue after the late Archbishop Emeritus Anandarayar sent his resignation to the Holy See.

After the same agitation of demanding justice took place when Bishop Peter Abir was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of Pondicherry–Cuddalore when there are bishops in the nearby dioceses of Tamil Nadu. 

The Dalit Christians still had the hope that a priest from the Dalit community would be appointed but to their dismay, Father Rayappan has been appointed for the diocese of Salem where there is 60 percent of the Catholics are Dalits.

The majority of the dioceses in Tamil Nadu are under the leadership of bishops from a particular dominant caste group and again the appointment of a priest from the same caste group disappoints the Dalit Christians.

Is it not the Church promote equality and justice following the footsteps of Jesus Christ? It shows that the apathy of the hierarchy of the Church towards the concerns of the Dalits who are the majority in the Church in Tamil Nadu. The Dalit Christians are totally upset with the decision of the Vatican. 

Dalit lay leaders have given many memoranda, letters and protests requesting and demanding the Apostolic Nuncio, Propaganda Fidei, Bishops and the Vatican but if they are not going to listen to Dalits Christians, who would demand a separate rite for the Dalits like Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rights in India under the leadership of the Pope.

The Vatican continuous to ignore the petitions of the Dalit Christians and to listen only to those in the hierarchy who occupies the majority of the decision-making places in the Church.

Does caste and money and influence play a vital role in the appointment of the bishops are the Holy Spirit in whom Christians believe that He guides the Church? It seems that the Dalits are purposely ignored, discriminated and side-lined by the Cardinals, Bishops and the bishops’ councils in India.

If the situation of ignorance continues, the Dalit Christians in India would demand a Dalit rite where they will have their own leadership. They will go with all the resources and would form a separate rite. The Dalit Christians in the new rite can help them to promote their culture and traditions and they will be respected and treated with equality.