By DCD Reporter
Pondicherry: Experts of 16 national and state-level Dalit movements report that there is discrimination in the transfers and appointments of Dalit priests in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore.
The fact-finding report was released on March 2 in Puducherry Tamil Sangam. The Dalit priests in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry staged a peaceful dialogue on December 1, 2020, to end discrimination against the ongoing age-old discrimination of the Dalits in the Archdiocese.
As many as 25 priests stayed in the Bishop’s House when Archbishop Antony Anandarayar went on a sudden leave without fulfilling the promises he made to the Dalit priests that he would appoint Fr. Albert Felix as the procurator of the Archdiocese.
A fact-finding team was constituted from the Tamilnadu Dalit Christian Coalition (TDCC) which consists of 16 National and State level Movements to find out the reasons and background for the sit-in.
The team met and had discussions with Archbishop Anandarayar; the Vicar General, Msgr. A. Arulanandam; Fr. A. J. Philomon Doss, a member of the College of Consultors; and the Dalit Priests who were involved in the ‘Sit in’.
The team has been demanding that Dalit Bishops be appointed, especially in the present vacancies in six Dioceses, and vacancies to be created shortly in two Dioceses in the 18 Catholic Dioceses in Tamil Nadu, in which there is now only one Dalit Bishop.
The team found that
The sit-in was the culmination of long years of discrimination and pain suffered by the Dalit priests who were appealing for equality, dignity, and nondiscrimination in being denied funds for the development of their parishes; how they were humiliated when settling bills and
claiming reimbursements; denial of extensions after retirement; and being deprived of more than 43 appointments to offices, institutions, parishes and positions in Archdiocese.
The immediate reasons for the sit-in were that the promises made for appointing a Dalit priest as procurator; and the transfers of the Dalit priests to some of the parishes were not honoured by the Archbishop. The College of Consultors writing to the Nuncio objecting to the appointment of a Dalit priest as procurator further precipitated matters.
No action was taken by the Church authorities at the Archdiocese, Nuncio and Vatican on the several letters of appeal written by the Dalit priests.
Dalit Policies of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council which provide steps for nondiscriminatory practices and the development of Dalits and Dalit Priests have not been implemented in the Archdiocese.
Discrimination based on caste in any manner is a violation of Article 17 of the Constitution of India; and against Canon laws Canon 208, Canon 222 §2, Canon 223 §1; as well as the policies and provisions of international bodies, covenants and mechanisms.
The Archbishop has provided scholarships for some Dalit students and appointed Dalits and Dalit priests to some of the key positions. However, details were not provided of whether these were proportionate to the around 70% of the Dalits in the Archdiocese; or the 36% of the 73 Dalit priests out of the total of around 200 priests in the Archdiocese.
There is a good relationship between the Dalit and non-Dalit Priests in the Diocese; who agree with the demands of the Dalit Priests but differ with how they are made. They also recommended the following
The promise of appointing a Dalit priest as procurator; and the transfers of the Dalit priests to some of the parishes be immediately honoured without making lame justifications.
Ms. Assumptha Premalatha, Founder, Social Equality Alliance, Tamilnadu, Ms. R. Anierose from All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF), Tamil Nadu, Dr. Richard Devadoss, National Convener, National Dalit Christian Watch (NDCW), Dr. V.A. Rameshnathan, General Secretary, National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ – NCDHR), Advocate
Franklin Caesar Thomas, Founder, National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC),
Practicing Advocate Supreme Court of India, Advocate Rev. Dr. Vincent
Manoharan, Founder and Former National Convener of NDCW and Dr. G. Mathew,
Convener of International Council for Christian Justice and the fact-finding team took the lead to release this report.