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Convert Crisis Into Opportunity

Convert Crisis Into Opportunity

The Church in India is undergoing a difficult situation due to internal problems, particularly the scandals rocking the Kerala Church. The media that always seek sensational news, have been highlighting the allegations of sexual abuse against the Bishop of Jalandhar and five Syrian Orthodox priests for the last three weeks, causing great scandal to the Christian faithful and tarnishing the image of the Church before the followers of other faiths. Hope the higher authorities in the Church will take immediate steps to ascertain the truth and take action against those who are guilty. At the same time this is an occasion for the Catholic Church in India to make a deep introspection and bring about the needed changes within it to face the new challenges.

The Second Vatican Council was a watershed in the history of the Catholic Church, as it initiated a series of urgently needed changes. Unfortunately, in course of time the conservative elements within the Church has not only stalled the changes but also took the Church back to the pre-Second Vatican era in many respects. Pope Francis with prophetic zeal has taken the initiative to resume the renewal process started by the Second Vatican Council. It is sad to note that the Church leaders in India have been very slow to respond to the initiatives of Pope Francis. The present crisis should motivate the Church leaders and the faithful to bring about the needed changes without delay.

One essential change needed in the Church is a paradigm shift from becoming devotees of Jesus to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The slogan of Second Vatican Council was going back to the roots i.e. the Gospels and the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Accordingly, the Second Vatican Council initiated many radical changes in its thinking and approach. Church in India also underwent many radical changes in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, a reversal began to take place from the 1990s. Simultaneously during the last three decades India witnessed a spurt in religiosity in all religions in the form of new rituals, new devotions, building huge worship centres, surge in pilgrimages etc. Mira Nanda in her book, The God Markets says that this resurgence in Hinduism is with the support of the government and corporate sector and she calls it “state-temple-corporate complex”.

The Catholic Church in India is not an exception to this surge in religious fervour. Retreats centres and prayer houses have multiplied; new devotions are introduced; and pilgrimages are promoted as religious tourism by the Church personnel. At the same time, practice of Christian values like justice, respect for human dignity and human rights, sensitivity, raising voice against injustice and exploitation etc. have taken a back seat. Less focus on the practice of the values of Jesus could be the reason for the increasing aberrations and scandals in the Church. Religiosity in general promotes commercialization of religion. Hence there is an urgent need for focusing on the practice of the values of Jesus as envisaged in the Sermon on the Mount. The ultimate goal of pastoral care and catechism should be building the capacity of the Catholic faithful to live according to the values and principles of Jesus and present themselves as role models rather than making them ritualistic.     

Competitive religiosity is found not only among the followers of different religions but also within the Indian Church among the three rites. Madness for multiplying church buildings is the result of this competitive religiosity. Building opulent churches is also the result of competitive religiosity. Most of the existing churches in the North India are used mainly on Sundays and that too for a few hours. Still some rite fanatics are forcing the faithful to contribute money for building parallel churches. While many Catholic families don’t have a house of their own, they are compelled to contribute for the construction of new church in competition with the existing church of another rite. This is not less than a crime.

The goal of evangelization should be building a society (Kingdom of God) as envisaged by Jesus of Nazareth. Kingdom of God is a situation where all human beings are accepted as sons and daughters of one and the same God and live in love and harmony with equal rights, dignity and opportunity. The Church personnel must be able to create an environment of the Kingdom of God wherever they are, whether it is school, hospital or social work centre. An open, inclusive and participatory style of living and functioning will definitely distinguish the Church personnel from others and the non-Christians will come to know that the priests and nuns practice what they preach. This is genuine evangelization. Increasing number is not evangelization; but enhancing the quality of human life is evangelization.

Genuine evangelization involves individual as well as social transformation in view of the Kingdom of God. Social evils like exploitation, corruption, practice of untouchability, gender discrimination, discrimination based on caste or religion etc. are against the values of the Kingdom of God. Hence binging about change in the unjust and oppressive social structures is also an essential dimension of evangelization. This requires prophetic action on the part of the Church personnel and Church as an organization.

The Church in India needs another paradigm shift from Institutional expansion to increasing the effectiveness of the existing institutions and services. The craze for institutional expansion in competition with others often leads to corrupt practices. It is observed in many dioceses that the diocesan authorities are competing with the religious congregations in starting educational institutions. A fall out of the competition to start educational institutions is the erosion of the quality in the existing institutions and services. Many religious congregations are facing severe crunch of vocations; still their main concern is institutional expansion. As a result, persons of competence and quality are not available for leading the existing institutions. Because of the overriding focus on running the institutions the availability of the priests and religious to the people is very much reduced.

A paradigm shift is also needed in the church personnel from service providers to leaders, animators and facilitators. Large majority of the priests and religious are caught up in their own institutional set up and busy with administration. Often they are not able to interact with the civil society. The strategy advocated by Jesus is becoming the salt of the society in order to transform it from within. As salt loses its identity and become part and parcel of the food materials, the priests and religious also have to become part and parcel of the society and transform the society from within. In order to play the role of salt the Church personnel have to join organizations and institutions other than those of the Catholic Church. The Church personnel who are heads of Church owned institutions and organization also have to join the civil society organizations and play leadership role in order to influence the society with the values and principles of Jesus.

The Catholic Church in India has to move towards a participatory style of functioning. Bishops and priests are to become accountable not only to the government, but also to the people of God. Appropriate systems and processes are to be put in place to ensure participation, transparency and accountability. The Church has to liberate itself from the distortion that happened at the time of Emperor Constantine and accept the style of Jesus of Nazareth.

In order to make the administration of the Church more transparent and accountable the audited statement of account of the parishes should be published in the parish bulletin. In the same way the annual report and the audited statement of account of the dioceses shall be published in the diocesan publications. The account and the budget of each diocese shall be presented at the Pastoral Council meeting and get feedback from the representatives of the faithful. The wealth and property of the diocese belong to the people of God and not to the bishop and the priests. Bishops and priests are only custodians or watchmen with regard to the property of the Church.  

Women should be involved as equal partners at all levels of Church administration. Denial of priesthood to women should not be a stumbling block for their participation in the administration of the Church. They shall be made heads of various departments at the diocesan level and heads of the institutions managed by the dioceses. Keeping them subservient to men could be one of the reasons for their exploitation.

If the Church in India is to face boldly the challenge from the Hindutva Tsunami it has to be strengthened internally by undergoing transformation at various levels. The above mentioned paradigm shifts can strengthen the Church in India. Hence the present crisis within the Catholic Church is to be converted into an opportunity for its renewal and reinvention.   

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)