In a letter dated March 9, Bishop of Idukki Mar John Nellikunnel wrote, "as spiritual leaders of people, we should not take any position favouring any sides."

Bishop of Idukki asks priests to stay away from taking sides during elections
news Church Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 12:17

As Kerala’s poll date approaches on April 23, Bishop of Idukki Mar John Nellikunnel is urging priests within the diocese to refrain from participating in election-related propaganda, statements and meetings. In a letter dated March 9 that TNM has accessed, Mar John wrote, “As parliament election is approaching there are anxieties, taking sides and sometimes inappropriate verbal exchanges. These things will harm us all."

In light of upcoming parliamentary elections, Mar John Nellikunnel wrote, “As spiritual leaders of our people, we should not take any position favouring any sides. Our people do not want us to be actively involved in election politics in the present context.”

He went on to write that people were “intelligent enough to decide in elections.” The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council would also issue guidelines for priests to follow, he noted.

The church in Kerala is seen as carrying significant political clout, so much so that major parties, including Congress, CPI (M) and BJP tend to seek guidance from church leaders. In the past, the church has stated its allegiance for certain political parties, and has asked parishioners to vote on those lines.

The Kerala government has also been criticised for stalling the implementation of the Church Act, which would put a Devasom-like administrative structure to preside over the church in Kerala. The Act has been widely denounced by most church denominations in what’s seen as a government takeover of the church’s functioning.

Mar John’s letter is noteworthy as his predecessor was actively involved in politics. During the 2014 elections, former Idukki Bishop Mar Mathew Anikkuzhikkatil took a strong stand against former MP PT Thomas, who had supported the Gadgil report on the Western Ghats. The report, which called for strict environmental measures to protect the ranges from human activity, was widely panned by the church leaders for failing to consider the livelihoods of thousands of Catholic farmers living in these areas.

The Congress later denied the ticket to PT Thomas for the Idukki constituency and gave it instead to Dean Kuriakose, the state president of the Youth Congress.

During the election campaign, Mar Mathew strongly criticised UDF candidate Dean Kuriakose when the latter visited the bishop's house, seeking his support for the Lok Sabha polls. But Mar Mathew slammed the candidate in the presence of the media, saying, "The leaders visit us only to seek votes. And after assuming power, they forget us.”

"The Congress leaders are totally arrogant. Do they have any honesty?” the bishop asked.

Mar Mathew’s words attracted major flak against the Catholic Church, but the bishop did not take back his statement.

High Range Samrakshana Samithi (HRSS), a people’s movement within the Catholic Church, openly supported LDF-backed independent candidate Joice George in the 2014 election. Meanwhile Fr Sebastian Kochupurakal, a priest belonging to Idukki diocese is the HRSS convenor. The group has already announced its support for Joice George, who is contesting again for the Idukki seat.

Edited by Nikhita Venugopal

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