Those in Kerala who want to reform the Catholic church in the state say that anti-Muslim comments are being made in an attempt to divert attention from the real issues faced by the church.

Christian Priest pixabay image
news Controversy Friday, September 17, 2021 - 16:59

Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, the Bishop of the Pala Diocese may have at some point preached any of these verses from the bible–  "Do not judge lest you be judged”, "Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool" or even "You shall reap what you sow”. Yet, in his address during Eight Day Lent at Kuravilangad Church in Kottayam in the first week of September, he said that Christian youngsters were being targeted by Muslims through “love and narcotic Jihad”. In a video, Bishop Kallarangatt is heard saying that Christian women are falling prey to "love and narcotic jihad" in Kerala and wherever arms cannot be used, extremists are using these methods to destroy youngsters belonging to other religions.

In the wake of the comments made by the Pala Bishop, Father Jijo Kurian, a philanthropist and Capuchin priest from Idukki wrote in a Facebook post, "Like any common Muslim here, in future every Christian will also be responsible to prove their secularism. That is where the leadership is dragging them."

This is not the first time the Catholic church in Kerala has indulged in hate speech and passed anti-Muslim comments. Those in the state who have been closely observing the ideological shift in the church, say that ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party formed the Union government some Catholic church heads and believers have slowly turned into Sangh Parivar sympathisers.

After the Bishop's statements, many church leaders and political leaders blatantly supported him. While some Muslim organisations marched towards the Bishop’s house in Pala in protest of his statements on September 11, the next day a group of Catholic believers held a march in support of the Bishop. Felix Pullookkaran of the Joint Christian Council, a reformation movement of the Catholic church, asks,"What if these two groups who held protests meet in the streets one day. It can result in a communal riot, where people kill each other. Is that what the Bishop wants?”

Moreover, many ask what proof the Bishop had to raise such provoking allegations against the Muslim community. And why now has the Catholic church, which has been known to be a supporter of the Congress party, had an ideological shift or did they ever have an ideology at all?

To distract and divert attention

Indulekha Joseph, a lawyer and member of the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement (KCRM) says that the Catholic leaders who spew hatred are opportunists who don't have any ideology of their own. "They go with the politics that are beneficial for them. The church has huge wealth and it serves their need to go with Sangh Parivar interests as they can hide all their illegal wealth accumulations," she alleges.

She also says that these comments are also made to divert people's attention by playing a victim card. "There are many allegations the church faces currently, including corruption and sexual offences,” she says.

In ​​2018, Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Syro-Malabar Church was accused of rape. A nun had filed a complaint with Kuravilangad police and he was arrested in September 2018. However, many religious leaders including representatives of the Pala Diocese visited him in jail and extended their support to him. In October 2018, Bishop Franco was given conditional bail. He was again arrested in July 2020 and was let out on bail in August that year.

The nun alleges that she was raped and sexually exploited 14 times by Bishop Franco since May 2014. But, no church leaders came out in support of her.

It could be cases like this that the church is trying to distract from. “So they need to divert people’s attention. Also in the future if they are accused of any wrongdoing they can put the blame on Muslims, saying it is a conspiracy by them to malign the name of the church," adds Indulekha.

Felix Pullookkaran also says that religious leaders can easily mobilise Christian extremist groups who are known to spread hate speech online. And there is fear that the church could use them for their personal gains.

Echoing this, Indulekha points out that some church leaders are using a group of people within the church who are fanatical in their views. "These leaders are mobilising a support group inside the church. The believers who are blindly in support of these communal thoughts stick together and support the church and spread islamophobia," she says, hinting that it is a conspiracy by the leaders so that they hide their dirty affairs behind these believers who hold extremist thoughts.

Insecurity over survival

Felix adds that another reason for the hate speech and the need to divert attention is that many of the Christian religious leaders are insecure and worried after the enquiry against KP Yohannan, the self proclaimed Bishop of Believer's Eastern Church, over his illegal financial dealings.

"It was after the raids and cases against Yohannan, that all these bishops and priests who were involved in economic offences became insecure," he adds.

He alleges that some of the prominent leaders of the church have come to an understanding with the BJP. "We believe that all these leaders, under the leadership of Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, met the Prime Minister for assurance in this understanding. When the church moves to the extreme right, it benefits the BJP in Kerala," he says.

In January 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Cardinal Oswald Gracias, an Indian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of the Latin Church, Mumbai; Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church; and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.

Felix affirms the allegation that the church has many things to hide. He brings up the case against Bishop Alencherry, who faces serious charges in a controversial land deal, and calls it the tip of the iceberg. "Illegal land dealings, economic offences, encroachments and there are many more things to hide," he adds.

READ: Kerala police register case against Cardinal George Alencherry in land deal

Read: Setback for Kerala church head: Cardinal Alencherry to face trial in alleged land scam

 Divide and conquer policy 

"We have heard the story of fighting goats and jackals. Here the goats are the minority communities of Kerala, which is a huge obstacle to BJP or any Sangh group looking to set roots in the state. So they are trying the age old trick of  invoking enmity. Greedy community leaders here easily fall for it," Felix observes.

He says that the KP Yohannan issue was a hook that BJP used in Kerala, and the Catholic leaders latched on to it. He said that the BJP hopes that by getting Christian votes they can find a hold Kerala, which is otherwise impossible in the present scenario.

Felix also adds that in the Kerala Catholic church if a Bishop speaks something poisonous many others second it even though they know that the statement is outrageous. "They won't voice a contrary opinion within the church. They won't criticise each other. That will also benefit these fanatical believers, and they think they have the support of the entire church" he said.

Another reason for the shift in the church’s ideology may be the dwindling congregation. Indulekha says the church fears losing supporters. "When people start thinking in a progressive way, the church loses their support. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the number of church goers also reduced. This also urged them to invoke communalism so at least some people with fanatic thoughts would stick together," she says.

Father Jijo Kurian says in his Facebook post, "The church has failed in bringing a group of youngsters who can lead conversations based on science and think irrespective of religion or politics. Our seminaries give a group of priests who have idle thoughts. The church oust the believers who are capable of internal criticism," he writes.

Moreover, many point to the irony of the church worrying about conversions, considering Christianity is a religion where mass conversions have taken place in the past. A priest from Thrissur district, who did not want to be named, says, "Let them bring out the data of women getting converted to other religions because of marriage. Also, we need data on how many others including Dalits were getting converted to Christianity in the last decades. By analysing all the data one should prove that there is a jihad here, only after that can they pass such irresponsible statements. I am sure they won’t look into getting the data because it would be digging their own grave."


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