Caste-biased clergy ruined Dalit Catholics: Franklin Caesar Thomas

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New Delhi: Dalit groups such as the National Council of Dalit Christians have been demanding human dignity and equality within the Church. On March 10, the council urged Pope Francis to create a separate ritual Church for Dalit Catholics to end their centuries-old discrimination.

Council coordinator Franklin Caesar Thomas spoke to Matters India about their new demands. Excerpts

Matters India: Could you elaborate your demand for a separate rite for Dalit Catholics?

Franklin Caesar Thomas: As per the Code of canons of Oriental Churches, 1990, Title 2 Churches Sui Iuris and Rites, Cannon 28 (i) and (ii), Dalit Catholic Christians are having the indigenous/separate Dalit liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living and the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris. So, the Dalit Catholic rite ought to be treated and stated/ announced by the Holy Father Pope/ Holy See as per their tradition of the Dalit Catholic Christians.

The Samaritan/present untouchable Dalit Catholic Christians—a social outcaste group—is held up by Jesus and Vatican/Holy See as the example of brotherly love toward one’s neighbor. In this parable, as well as throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is compassionate to the marginalized: Samaritans, Dalit Christian Gentiles, Dalit Christian women, Dalit Christian children, and other marginalized regarded as outcastes.

Why do Dalit Catholics need a rite?

Pope John Paul II in his many addresses to “ad limina” visits of Catholic bishops from India has told them that Christians must reject divisions based on caste, saying such prejudice “denies the human dignity of entire groups of people.”

Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India, An Ethical Imperative to Build Inclusive Communities, Year, 2016 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. VII. Recommendations, 98th Point follows.

“B. That Practices of Untouchability, Discrimination, and Exclusion be forthwith abolished:

a. Time-bound action plans are to be initiated by every diocese to abolish all forms of practices of untouchability, discrimination, and exclusion, especially in places of worship and burial grounds.” The ruling dominant caste non- Dalit Bishops could not able to curb the untouchability practice for the past many hundred Years.

Chapter, Status of Dalit Christians, paragraph No, 25, Page No. 15 says as follows:

“…There is wider acceptance that the practice of untouchability and discrimination against Dalits exists in the Church and there is a need to address these issues urgently…”

The non- Dalit Bishops’ controlled hegemony did not succeed to curb the above said untouchability/ caste discrimination oriented/ linked sin and the crime for the past many centuries.

In Tamil Nadu State, the Archdiocese of Pondicherry – Cuddalore (Founded in 1886), Tiruchirapalli (Founded in 1846), Salem (Founded 1930), Kuzhithurai (Founded in 2014), Kumbakonam (Founded 1899), Tanjore (Founded in 1952), Sivagangai (Founded 1987) Dioceses had not sent Dalit priest’s names to Holy See as candidates for the Bishopric/Episcopal head preliminary selection process, it is nothing but the caste discriminatory/ untouchability mindset, the above Dioceses’ Bishop Chairs afraid and deny to allow the Dalit Priests to be selected as Bishops and to sit on it.

Pontifical Mission Society Human Rights Office, Missio 2010, Page No: 55, Postfach 10 12 48, D-52012 Aachen.

On the contradiction of being Dalit Christians

“Even when our Church leaders go abroad, as we hear from the funding agencies and Church organizations, they speak only about the poverty of the Dalits but deny the existence of the caste system and caste discrimination in Tamil Nadu. Even the funds raised abroad on behalf of the Dalits have not been spent for their upliftment. The 2005/06 Foreign Contribution Regulation accounts indicate that the Church spent only 0.12 percent and 0.32 percent for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe welfare respectively (cf. The Hindustan Times, 4 November 2006).”

Thus the human dignity and the wealth of the Dalit Catholic marginalized Christian people were ruined for many centuries by the non-Dalit clergies’ caste hegemony and the caste/untouchability linked prejudice.

If the Holy See approves the Dalit Catholic rite, it has nothing to do with segregation, the recognizing and even creating Dalit institutions, in India especially, is not segregation. Segregation is there when the dominant Caste Catholic people and some dominant caste clergies exclude Dalit Catholics. Indian Dalit Catholics are creating things rite for themselves. It is not segregation.

As said by Pope Francis, “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root.”

The Pope ought to approve a new separate Dalit Catholic rite, it is the proof that each people can pray to the God of Jesus Christ from its cultural riches and expressions without altering the unity of the Catholic faith, precisely to propose norms for adaptation to the character and traditions of various Dalit Catholic Christian people.

As per the data of the Holy See web site, 80 percent of the Indian Catholics are from the Dalit Catholic community people, as on date, though many thousands of Dalit Catholic Christians Priests are there who are above 35 Years, who inherit proper theological, general education, moral character, spiritual capacity, without respecting Canon Law 378, Section No. 1, in the Bishopric/ Episcopal candidates’ preliminary selection process, purposefully, the dominant Caste/ non- Dalit Bishops are neglecting the qualified Dalit community Priests’ names in the preliminary selection by disrespecting the teaching of Christ, Holy Father Pope, Holy See’s commandments, Indian law, and the International law in a rebellious ways. That is why as on date in Tamil Nadu’s 18 Dioceses, 1 Bishop from the Dalit community is serving as Bishop. The non- Dalit/ dominant Castes Bishops had identified only 10 non- Dalit Priests as the candidates for the Bishopric/ Episcopal candidates and sent it to the Office of the Holy Father Pope for the past 14 consecutive years, Holy See also had endorsed the caste biased identification, thus for the past 14 Years, no Dalit community Bishop was elected as Bishop, in the name of divine secret, this untouchability/ caste discrimination linked to divine profane is done against humanity and Almighty God. In this way, throughout India in the whole Catholic Church, as on date, in a negligible manner, 12 Dalit Christian Bishops are serving from the Dalit community.

Will the rite resolve the caste discrimination?

Surely, Dalit rite could surely resolve and remove the caste discrimination forthwith very speedily. Since the control would be in the hands of the committed independent Dalit Catholic Dalit Bishops and all the devotees would be exclusively from the Dalit community, surely there would not be any problem regarding double Cemetery as per the Caste, double hearse human dead body carrying Vehicle as per the Caste, segregation in the Church festivals and worshipping, and so on, because the Dalit Catholic people only be there as devotees like Syro- Malankara Catholic Church and the Syro- Malabar Catholic Church people, non- Dalit people and Clergies’ aggression would not be there. The above said two rite, Syro- Malabar Catholic Church has 63 Bishops (for 42,51,339 devotees) and the Syro- Malankara Catholic Church has 14 Bishops (for 4,58,015 devotees). In the same way, the Holy See will select only Dalit Catholic Priests as Bishops as per the recommendation of the Dalit hierarchy without any caste biased. As per the population of the 10 Million Dalit Catholics, many numbers Dalit Catholic Bishops would be there. The Indian Constitution Article 25’s religious freedom would also, grow along with social service towards Dalit Christians and other marginalized people.

Did you get any response?

Yes we got response from the media.

Any response from the Vatican or the Indian hierarchy?

There has been no official response from the Indian Church and the Vatican as of date. Here and there, inside the Indian Catholic Church, priests and faithful demand separate rite. For example, when some Dalit priests of Pondicherry-Cuddalore archdiocese met the archbishop of Madurai, they had informed him that the people are demanding separate Rite under the approval of the Pope because there was no effort taken by the Church to eradicate untouchability practice and the stumbling block/ caste barrier put by the Church for elevating the Dalit priests as bishops.

Credit: Matters India

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