In an open letter to Bishop Jacob Manthodath, Forum for Justice and Peace extended support to Fr Vattoly and questioned the letter that sought an explanation from the priest.

Christian collective condemns warning letter to priest who opposed Bishop Franco
news Controversy Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 16:29

Days after the Syro Malabar Church warned its senior priest, Father Augustine Vattoly, of punitive action for organising a dharna at the Thiruvananthapuram Secretariat in the name of ‘Save our Sisters’, Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM) wrote an open letter to Bishop Jacob Manthodath, the Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, condemning his warning letter to Fr Vattoly. FORUM, in its letter, extended support to Fr Vattoly and questioned the letter that sought an explanation from him.

“The main reason for issuing the threatening letter appears to be Fr Vattoly’s initiative to organise a dharna in front of the Secretariat, Trivandrum on November 14, demanding that the bail granted to the rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal be cancelled,” wrote Forum for Justice and Peace, a collective of nuns and priests of Catholic Church, formed in 1987. On November 12, Bishop Jacob issued a two-page letter to Fr Vattoly, alleging that his various actions have violated the Canon Law and that disciplinary actions will be taken against him. It is learned that in his reply letter, Fr Vattoly quoted words from Bible and various Encyclical letters issued by various Popes including Pope Francis.

According to the open letter, dated November 27, the members of the Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM) were shocked to learn about the warning letter issued to Fr Augustine Vattoly.

“The crime of Fr Vattoly is that he took a stand to support a nun who says that she is a victim of the misdeeds of Bishop Franco Mulakkal. If the bishops of Kerala can give their unconditional support with finance and influence to Franco Mulakkal why not Fr Vattoly and his friends give support to the nun who is left alone? In fact, as a genuine follower of Jesus, you should have congratulated and supported Fr Augustine Vattoly for his prophetic stand.”

FORUM pointed out that when the institutional interests of the Church were hurt by the government policies, the leaders had asked the priests, nuns and the laity to take to the streets and shout slogans against the government. It said that the church leaders justified the protest to protect the institutional interests of the Church. “When the members of the Church come to know that something is rotten within the Church, don't they have the right to protest? Freedom of expression is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen,” it read.

The collective pointed out that Fr Vattoly and his friends were helping a victim of sexual abuse to get justice. “How can it “seriously injure the good of the Church” and cause scandal among the faithful?” notes the letter, which is signed by Fr Jacob Peenikaparambil, national convener, and Sr Manju Kulapuram, national secretary of FORUM.

The letter also quoted the Union of International Superiors General (UISG) statement in the open letter:  “Abuse in all forms: sexual, verbal, emotional, or any inappropriate use of power within a relationship diminishes the dignity and healthy development of the person who is victimised. We stand by those courageous women and men who have reported abuse to the authorities. We condemn those who support the culture of silence and secrecy, often under the guise of “protection” of an institution’s reputation or naming it “part of one’s culture”.  We advocate transparent civil and criminal reporting of abuse whether within religious congregations, at the parish or diocesan levels, or in any public arena.”

According to FORUM, the Bishop Jacob Manthodath’s warning letter is an attempt to silence “prophetic voice within the Church”.

“The history of the Catholic Church is a witness to the fact that the Church became corrupt and stinking in the middle ages due to the absence of prophetic voices. Killing prophetic voices will impoverish the Church. Hence we request you to withdraw the warning letter issued to Fr Augustine Vattoly. We express our solidarity with Fr Augustine Vattoly and extend our wholehearted support to him," the letter added.

Speaking to TNM, Fr Augustine Vattoly says, “I have submitted my reply to Apostolic Administrator Jacob Manathodath's letter. I had conducted the protests to herald the glory of the Catholic church.”

However, it is learned that the priests belonging to Ernakulam-Angamali archdiocese have expressed their full support to Fr Augustine Vattoly. Recently, a group of priests belonging to the diocese visited Apostolic Administrator Mar Jacob Manathodath and requested him to withdraw the disciplinary actions against Fr Vattoly.

“Now that Fr Vattoly has submitted his reply, we hope the apostolic administrator will stop the disciplinary actions against Fr Vattoly,” a senior priest belonging to Ernakulam- Angamali archdiocese told TNM.

Augustine Vattoly was a whistleblower actively involved in exposing irregularities in a land deal done by the church under Cardinal Mar Alencherry. The priest has also been at the forefront of seeking justice for the survivor nun and other nuns who protested against Franco. He is also the convener of ‘Save Our Sisters Forum’, which led the protest by the nuns against Bishop Franco in Kochi.

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