Caste discrimination in Indian Church to reach Apostolic Signatura

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By DCD Reporter

Dalit Christians are the majority in the Catholic Church in India. But their participation in the level of leadership in the diocesan administration as well as in religious orders is minimum and at the higher levels, it is almost nil.

Dalits are about 12 million out of 19 million members of the Catholic Church. However, among the major superiors, priests and religious, Dalit Christians are not proportionately represented. It is pertinent to note that the first bishop from the Dalit community was appointed in 1977. At present, there are 12 bishops from the Dalit community. In recent years, there is an increase in vocations from Dalit communities.

Caste discrimination is not just the top story of today in the Indian Church. The Dalits are discriminated and the Dalit Christians inside the Church.

Caste attitude runs through the blood of many Indian Christians and could not be overthrown. The Dalit Christians who have struggled centuries have reached the Vatican to speak up about their problems. 

They have sent their concerns to various platforms from the local ordinary to the Vatican but there is no much improvement so far. So the Dalit Catholics appealed to the Apostolic Signatura to make an inquiry in the appointment of bishops in Tamil Nadu where Dalits are neglected.

An 11-member team of Dalit Christians from the Catholic dioceses of Trichirappalli and Thanjavur urged the Apostolic Signatura to take action against the discriminatory practices that exist in the Catholic Church in India especially in the Catholic Church of Tamil Nadu. 

The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Latin: Supremum Tribunal Signaturae Apostolicae) is the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church (apart from the pope himself, who as a supreme ecclesiastical judge is the final point of appeal for any ecclesiastical judgment). In addition, it oversees the administration of justice in the church. 

The Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (since 8 November 2014) is Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, who replaced Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. The Secretary (since 16 July 2016) is Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, who replaced Archbishop Frans Daneels

After many approaches to the Vatican, Propaganda Fide, Apostolic Nunciature, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council by meeting/requesting them personally and sending many letters, but there is no positive oral or written response from them, bemoan petitioners. 

In India total Christian population is 27.8 million; among them, 20 million are following the Roman Catholic denomination. As per the Holy See/ Vatican’s Website, 16 million Christians are from the Scheduled Castes communities/Dalit Catholic Christian communities throughout India are mentioned in the letter.

These people are socially, educationally, culturally, and economically backward arising out of the traditional practice of untouchability practice which is prevailing/existing in the larger society and among the Indian Catholics.  

In the appointment of the Bishops, the Catholic Church says that the bishops are appointed and blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. But there are no Dalit bishops appointed in the past 14 years. Even the recent appointment to the diocese of Tiruchirappalli proves it, said Sathish Kumar, one of the petitioners from Akalanganallur village of Kumbakonam diocese.

“The Church is acting against Christ himself and the laws of the Church in the appointment of bishops. We are Christians for 200 years. In the 122nd history of the Kumbakonam diocese, there is not even a Bishop from the Dalit Community is appointed,” he said.

The priests are chosen by God but the Church hierarchy does not choose the people from the Dalit community.

The Code of Canon Law 378 is outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfill the office in question; 2. Of good reputation; 3. At least thirty-five years old; 4. Ordained to the presbyterate for at least five years; 5. In possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines.

The Dalit priests having all these qualities are not appointed as bishops. 

“We hope to get support and a good solution from the Apostolic Signatura. In our appeal, we have quoted the 10 and 8 points program of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. And the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has given the Dalit Empowerment policy. All these documents are well-written but not implemented,” said A. Martin, a life member of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC).

As per the Indian Constitutional Mandate Article 17, “untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden, and the enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offense punishable following the law,” whereas, the above said CBCI, CCBI authorities and all the 18 Bishops of the Catholic Dioceses of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are purposefully/ willfully allowing the visible and invisible forms of caste discrimination in the Church. 

The church controls Christian burial grounds and also the government allotted Christian burial grounds, where the untouchability based discriminatory practice is perpetuated against, the Christians of Scheduled Castes Origin/Dalit Catholic Christians, as they are forced to bury their dead human bodies in segregated places, in the same burial ground but not on par with the caste Catholics.  

During the time of All Soul’s Day prayer timings (day for remembering the dead souls collectively and having prayers), the parish priests/presbyters perform separate prayers one for the Christians of Scheduled Castes Origin/ Dalit Catholics and others for the dominant, the so-called high castes Catholics. 

Dr. G. Mathew of Eraiyur, Cuddalore-Pondicherry Archdiocese, Tamil Nadu had put a lot of effort and collected the details of the places throughout Tamil Nadu and Puducherry concerning the caste a discriminatory practice that exists in most of the Roman Catholic Church controlled burial grounds/sepulchers.

In some parishes/pastorates of the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Catholic Church, under the control of the priests, two human dead bodies carrying mobile vehicles/hearse (vehicles carried/ pulled by human beings) are maintained. One mobile vehicle is purposefully allotted/given by the Church administration only for the usage of the Christians of Scheduled Castes Origin/Dalit Catholic Christians community people and another is exclusively maintained/given by the Church authorities only for the usage of the dominant/ the so-called high caste Catholics. 

Action plan for the Integrated Development of Catholic Dalits in Tamil Nadu by Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council (TNBC) and Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry Catholic Religious of India (TNPCRI) says, “In places of worship and burial grounds Christians of Scheduled Castes origin should be treated on a footing of equality and there should be no discrimination.”

Even after declaring such a statement, the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and the 18 Catholic Bishops of Tamil Nadu, India have not done/taken any useful steps for eradicating unethical double cemetery and the double the body carrying human pulling/carrying vehicles’ usage, that is one for the usage of the Christians of Scheduled Castes origin people/Dalit Catholics and another for the so-called dominant caste Catholic Christians’ usage. 

Also, as per the action plan, they are responsible for executing the above-said plan and monitor the situation. Please see the declaration of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, TNBC, SC/ ST Commission, “Action plan for the integrated development of Catholic Dalits in Tamil Nadu.

When the bishops’ vacancies arise in dioceses, there lies a preliminary selection a system that authorizes the Council of Bishops to select names and forward the same to the Church hierarchy. Using this as an opportunity all the Catholic Bishops of Tamil Nadu, India is picking up the names based on caste prejudice and send it for getting the approval of the Vatican/Holy See/Pope through the Apostolic Nuncio, Apostolic Nunciature, New Delhi. 

The present CBCI, as authorities of the Conference of Bishops’ of India, did not send the names of the qualified Christians of SC origin/ Dalit Catholic community priests’ names to the Holy See/Vatican as Bishopric preliminary candidates though provision is there as per the above said Canon Law 377 subsection 2.

The present Bishop-elect of Salem Diocese was selected with prejudice caste mindset, influence and caste affiliation with nepotism by his relatives, the demised Archbishop of Cuddalore-Pondicherry Diocese and the present Apostolic Administrator of the same Cuddalore-Pondicherry Diocese, the above said three persons are a blood relative to each other. 

As per the Canon Law Sections 478 sub-section 2, Section 492 sub-section 3, and Section 1448 sub-sections 1, 2, based on nepotism and caste affiliation, the blood relative of the demised Bishop and the present Apostolic Administrator was recommended and elected as Bishop of Salem Diocese; the above said two authorities of the Church paved the way and played/done prejudice recommendation, which is against the Canon Law and the Indian Law.

Though many hundreds of theologically, morally, educationally very good and sound

Presbyters are there from the Catholic Christians of Scheduled Castes origin/Dalit Catholic Christian community, Caste clergies and Bishops are purposefully avoiding them, to sustain exclusive casteist setup, and most of the present Bishops from respondents/all the authorities CBCI, CCBI and all the 18 individual Bishops of Tamil Nadu, India are purposefully denying to recommend the names of the Catholic Christians of SC Origin community Priests’/Dalit Catholic Christian Priests’ to the Apostolic Nunciature Office/Holy See/Vatican because of the invisible and visible forms of caste prejudice mindset. 

Most of the above said Church organisations do not want to obey the above-said mandate of their own Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Special envoy of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the mandate of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and Pope and the Vatican.  

The exclusionary caste discriminatory practice in the divine spiritual duty is violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, as it has the impact of casting a stigma on Catholic Christians of Scheduled Castes origin Community Priests/Presbyters as they are polluted, which has a huge psychological impact on them and undermines their dignity under Article 21.

The exclusionary practice is violative of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution as it is a direct form of “untouchability”. Excluding theologically, educationally, and morally good Catholics of Scheduled Castes origin community priests/presbyters from the preliminary Bishopric candidates’ selection process for becoming bishops, based on imaginary caste mindset/ discrimination is a form of ‘untouchability.’

This Article 17 is enforceable both against non-State as well as State actors. The dignity of the downtrodden marginalized Christians, which is an emanation process of Article 15 of the Indian Constitution and found in Article 21, cannot be disassociated from the exercise of religious freedom by saying that the bishops’ selection is a secret process, thus the caste prejudice should not be motivated in the bishop candidates’ selection process. 

Dalit leadership is not sufficiently recognized and promoted. Instead of nurturing and cherishing leadership from below, in some instances, the traditional casteist approach is adopted to divide the faithful by some vested interest groups.”

The team humbly requested the Holy See’s authority to eradicate the above said discriminatory practice forthwith by taking practical steps and order them to wipe out all the discriminatory practices forthwith with the Holy See’s/ Apostolic Nunciature, New Delhi’s supervision and with the scrutiny of the non-Indian Cardinal level authority’s strict supervision within the stipulated shortest time duration.

To prevent the caste-based biased prejudice-oriented Bishopric candidates’ selection by neglecting/discarding the thousands of qualified Dalit Catholic clergies’ names to be identified, selected and sent to the Apostolic Nunciature.

Check the reality of the candidates’ names which were recommended to the Holy See by the Tamil Nadu-Puducherry Catholic Bishops with caste prejudice mindset for filling the position of the present existing four vacancies of Bishops. Pass orders to all the Catholic Bishops of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry for not to do/allow the caste discriminatory preliminary candidates selection for the present Bishopric position of Vellore diocese, Cuddalore-Pondicherry diocese, Kuzhithurai (Kulithurai) diocese, Sivagangai, and the forthcoming Bishop vacancies of Kumbakonam diocese and Tanjore (Thanjavur) diocese of Tamil Nadu, so that many hundreds of educationally, morally and spiritually excellent Dalit Catholic Priests’ candidature would not be neglected in the Bishopric candidates selection the process to become Bishops in Tamil Nadu.

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