Nepotism, casteism haunt appointment of bishops in Tamil Nadu

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By DCD Reporter

The appointment of a non-Dalit priest as the bishop of Salem has created a commotion in the Church in Tamil Nadu where the majority are Dalit Christians.

The Dalit Empowerment Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) declares caste discrimination is a grave sin so it must be eradicated at all levels.

The Dalit Christians should be given proportionate representation in the decision-making body of the Church. But every time a bishop is appointed, it is always priests belonging to the dominant caste community are raised to Episcopate.

For the past 14 years, there have been no bishops appointed from the Dalit community. Many Dalit movements have addressed this issue in the media and sent letters from the local level to the Vatican.

“All our efforts are ignored and the Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu are continued to be discriminated,” said Advocate Bhaskaran from Madurai, Tamil Nadu and a member of Alternative Front for Dalit Christian Liberation (AFDCL).

Pope Francis appointed Father Arulselvam Rayappan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore, as the new bishop of Salem on May 31.

The bishop-elect Father Rayappan is the first cousin of Bishop Peter Abir, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore. It is believed that with his recommendation Father Rayappan is appointed in the same province. Nepotism and casteism destroy equality and justice preached by Jesus.

Canon 478 addresses the requisite qualities for those diocesan priests who are elevated to the positions of Vicar General (a mandatory office in every diocese, as per c. 475), or Episcopal Vicar (an optional position that not every diocese has, c. 476). When selecting priests to hold either of these offices, a diocesan bishop cannot choose anybody who is related to him, up to the fourth degree (c. 478.2).

Paragraph three of c. 492 adds that anyone related to the bishop up to the fourth degree of consanguinity is to be excluded. … even if one of the bishop’s siblings, nieces or nephews, or aunts or uncles is a well-known accountant or is an attorney with great experience in (let’s say) real-estate law, he/she cannot sit on the diocesan finance committee.

Canon 1448…Paragraph one notes that a judge cannot hear a case that involves any of his family members up to the fourth degree of consanguinity. (In fact, this particular canon is even broader, including also relationships by affinity, which means that the judge is also banned from hearing cases concerning his in-laws [c. 109].) 

The Catholic Church which is the Church of Jesus cannot be dirtied by the casteist attitude in the selection of the bishops rather it should promote equality and take the side of the poor and the marginalized.

The appointment of a non-Dalit bishop to the Catholic diocese of Salem despite a demand for Dalit Christian bishops in the vacancies in Tamil Nadu is totally dictatorial and undemocratic, says Dr. Richard Devadoss  said.

The voice of the majority Dalit Christians in the Roman Catholic Church should be respected. If the same trend of appointing non-Dalit bishops continues, the demand for a separate rite for Dalit Christians will become louder and democratic, said Dr. Richard Devadoss, convenor of  National Dalit Christian (NDCW). 

NDCW is a national organization based in Delhi with its presence in more than ten states in India.

The caste bias of the Indian Church is perpetuated by the Vatican as it is overcrowded by the caste-based Christians of India in the form of Cardinals, in the form of various officials sitting there who are preventing Dalits to become the bishops within the Indian Church, said Rev. Vincent Manoharan, the founder and the former convenor of NDCW.

“Dalit Christians demanded Dalit Bishops get official support for their demand of equitable church only. If the church is equitable and its high offices are sincere enough to make the church equitable, we are ready to accept the ‘Holy Spirit’s Selection of Bishops from Dominant Caste only,’” he said.

Let the Church and its institutions are equitable according to the recommendations of the CBCI approved Dalit Policy 2016, says Paul Robinson, a Dalit Christian activist.

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