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Is The Church In Goa Trying To Influence Voters?

Is The Church In Goa Trying To Influence Voters?

As Goa prepares to vote for the assembly elections, there has been cases of interest, where priests are witnessed openly canvassing for specific candidates from the pulpit. 

During the Christmas Eve Mass, the parish priest of St. Michael’s parish, Taleigao, Goa, Fr. Mariano Conceicao openly encouraged his parishioners to cast their vote for Atanasio (Babush) & his wife Jennifer Monserrate. 

Fr. Conceicao tried to justifiy his announcement by claiming that he wasn’t “promoting any party or election candidates” in particular but he was “acknowledging” the work done for the parish by the couple who are planning to contest for the upcoming state elections.

However in his own words recorded in the video, Fr. Conceicao appealed to the congregation to vote for the couple and bring them back to power with a thumping majority.  He opined that this could be the best Christmas gift for the couple, as they have assisted the parish in different ways.

A few days after this pulpit endorsement, Archbishop-Patriarch Filipe Neri Ferrao, of Goa, emphasized during a public function that the Church in Goa will guide the people to exercise their civic right and vote according to their conscience. He said, “We do issue guidelines to our faithful on how to exercise their franchise and thus fulfill one of their sacred civic duties; these guidelines are read out in our churches, but they never mention the name of any candidate or political party.”

Justifying a meeting with government officials, Archbishop Ferrao added, “Secondly, our institutions work under the law of the Church, but also under the law of the land. For their optimal functioning, there is a need of maintaining regular contact with the government authorities. It is regrettable that sometimes such contacts are not understood in their proper context and are even criticized in the public square.”

On 22 December, Fr. Zeferino D’souza was seen engaging in a high level BJP meeting, which was attended by Nitin Gadkari and Manohar Parrikar.  This move aroused speculations of the Church’s role in influencing the vote, although Fr. D’souza denied all speculations, and affirmed that the meeting was just for a couple of minutes to meet the defense minister Parrikar, regarding an educational issue.

Another parish in Cuncolim, Goa, had released a newsletter endorsing the candidacy of Joaquim Alemao, currently contesting as an independent candidate. Highlighting the work carried in the past by the candidate, the parish priest endorsed his candidacy.

History shows that “politics from the pulpit” is rampant in Goa; priests endorse candidates irrespective of their parties.  Political analysts had observed that the Catholic Church in Goa played a key role to influence the vote in favour of the BJP during the 2012 assembly elections.

However the big political debate continues within the Church, as to where the line is drawn for clergy, when it comes to endorsing any particular candidate for the elections. A priest from Goa, who did not wish to be identified, said, “Although the official stance of the archdiocese for this election is to encourage the people to vote as per their conscience and for the right candidate, but there are a number of priests within the archdiocese who have openly canvassed from the pulpit for particular candidates and parties.” He further said, “These candidates have secured these endorsements after “doing favours” for the parish, as in the case of Taleigao.”  

Supporting Fr. Conceicao’s announcement, Jude D’cruz from Panjim, said, “I don’t see anything wrong with priests endorsing certain candidates because priests are citizens themselves and have a right to vote, hence they are free to endorse any candidate for elections.” 

History has shown that the Church in Goa plays a very important role on political issues.  Priests are usually treated with a great deal of respect, and in most cases what they speak is “gospel truth’’. However, considering the current political scenario there seems to be a growing change among the average Goan Catholics, and they now refuse to be influenced by the opinion of their parish priests. 

A voter from Panjim, who did not wish to be identified, said, “I did watch the video of Fr. Conceicao but despite his opinion, I don’t think I would waste my vote for Babush and his wife, and I will cast my vote for the right candidate based on my assessment, even if they are considered new to the political arena.”

A source from the priestly fraternity of Goa said, “While it is evident that priests are openly supporting and endorsing certain candidates, it is also very prevalent that politicians are playing the religious card to influence the voters.”  He added, “If we look at the timing of this election, it is just after Christmas, and politicians convey their Christmas greetings, through digital and print media; I also wonder if any of them know the true meaning of the religious festival or are just doing it for the emotional appeal.” Citing certain examples, he said, “One candidate had released an audio cd comprising of Christmas carols, of course the candidate’s name and titles were prominent on the cover; another party released a video on social media, greeting the Catholics on Christmas; I am glad that the Supreme Court has recently passed a judgment prohibiting the use of religion for canvassing in the elections. I do hope our priests follow this judgment orelse it could be trouble for the Church.”

If the archdiocese of Goa had issued a directive not to particularly endorse any candidate or party, then the priest is duty bound to carry the directive as an act of holy obedience to his bishop.  It is time for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India to issue guidelines to all bishops and priests, all over India, strictly prohibiting them from canvasing for candidates, failing which there could be serious repercussions.

(Published on 09th January 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 2)#