Church in India approaches BJP to protect its interests
The growing closeness between the Church and the BJP is a puzzling reality today. The rise of the party to power in Goa and the northeastern states with large Christian populations is presented as a model to emulate in Kerala. The underlying Islamophobia within the Syrian Christian community of Kerala is being exploited, with the clergy playing a key role in setting the scene. What has led to this change of mind in recent years for the Church, long regarded as the anathema of the Sangh Parivar? As India marks the fifth anniversary of demonetization, there appears to be an unlikely link between the two.
The Catholic Church in India is a conglomerate of trusts and charitable corporations, incorporated under laws dating back to 1886-87, with poor bookkeeping and accounting practices. Although religious activities are not taxable in India, many of these trusts conduct business activities without paying taxes, thus flouting the law.
In 2016, even before demonetization was announced, Christian reform movements reported violations of the standards of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act by various Kerala dioceses and anomalies in their financial statements. It may not be a coincidence that Kerala’s senior clergy lined up to meet Home Secretary Amit Shah during his visit to Kerala in 2017, in marked departure from the past, after the case got worse. It was also around this time that controversial land deals involving Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, fell into the public domain. The BJP has steadily engaged with the Church since then, but there was a crucial problem: The laity were not under the control of the clergy and would not change voting preferences overnight.
This is how the scarecrow of the “jihad of love” came in handy as the grievances of the Syrian Christian community on the economic front had to be channeled. The Church was at the forefront of pointing fingers at Muslims and it has gradually borne fruit, as evidenced by the growing rift between the two communities in Kerala.
The Catholic Church in India has a documented history dating back to AD 300, and it is believed to have been established by Saint Thomas the Apostle. Until the Synod of Diamper in 1599, when the Portuguese Padroado with his presence in Kochi subjugated the native Christians of Saint Thomas, they were in communion with the Eastern Church (Persian Church) and followed the Chaldean tradition. A decade after the Oath of the Coonan Cross of 1653, when the Christians of Saint Thomas “Nasrani” broke with Portuguese control, the Pope directly initiated reconciliation with the Nasranis through the intermediary of the Carmelite brothers. As a result, 84 of the 116 churches in Kerala come under the purview of the Holy See, essentially constituting the Syro-Malabar Church today.
Madre De Deus Church, Thiruvananthapuram
Today, the Catholic Church of Kerala is made up of Syro-Malabar, Latin and Syro-Malankar rites in close coordination with each other. In recent times, a liturgical schism has developed between the liberal and conservative sections of the dominant Syro-Malabar Church. The conservative section headed by the Archdiocese of Changanacherry wants the Church to return to its Chaldean roots and abandon some of the practices adopted from the Latin rite. In 1992, the Pope elevated the Syro-Malabar Church to the rank of Sui iuris or a major archiepiscopal church with its seat of power in Ernakulam-Angamaly, leading to a standoff between the powerful Archdiocese of Changanacherry and the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
The schism had deepened in the mid-1990s when the conservative Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry attempted to become Cardinal Antony Padiyara’s successor and was thwarted by collective resistance from the clergy in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. After the relative calm during Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil’s tenure (1999-2011), things turned sour when George Alencherry, born in Changanacherry, succeeded the former as Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, making him l de facto Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar. Church.
As head of the Syro-Malabar Church and proxy for the conservative faction, Cardinal Alencherry found himself in a quagmire as he tried to consolidate his powers. For example, his lack of influence in guiding the editorial position of Deepika, Kerala’s oldest daily newspaper, established in 1887, was sought by making an offer for its actions. It was only a matter of time before the Pope elevated the Syro-Malabar Church to the rank of Patriarchate and bestowed on it the title of Patriarch, making the Syro-Malabar Church virtually independent from Vatican jurisdiction. . The questionable real estate transactions undertaken by Cardinal Alencherry and the strong resistance of part of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly with the support of the laity ultimately played a spoilsport, leading to the withdrawal of Cardinal Alencherry from its administrative privileges.
There is a delightful irony in the conservative section of the Syro-Malabar Church which romanticizes its Chaldean traditions and yearns to return to its past. During the days when the Nasranis were either independent or in fellowship with the Eastern Church from 300 to 1599, the clergy were not actively involved in the administration of the Church and were primarily concerned with spiritual welfare. from the community. The deacons and archdeacons managed the finances and the administration of the wealth of the independent churches on behalf of the palliyogams (parish council). To this day, the churches that did not align with Rome in the 1660s – the Jacobite, Orthodox, and Marthoma factions – continue this practice. While there are downsides to secularism exercising control over independent churches, as evidenced by the power struggle between the Orthodox and Jacobites, primarily for wealth, it would at least make the system more transparent and would not turn the clergy into businessmen.
A bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church invoked the “parable of the talents” (Matthew 25: 14-30) when this writer raised this question in an informal conversation, extrapolating the story to the materialistic realm while claiming biblical sanction for engaging in such practices. Today, a senior priest in the Catholic Church has a mandate to engage in both spiritual and materialistic activities, and his sphere of influence widens as he ascends in the hierarchy in as vicars general and bishops. The idea is to expand their influence by creating institutions, but this comes at a cost as the missionary zeal of the clergy is abandoned in the process.
On August 12, the Kerala High Court ordered an investigation into land transactions involving Cardinal Alencherry, which led the Kerala Police to form a team and the Directorate of Enforcement to initiate proceedings against the prelate. The income tax department had previously fined 2.5 million rupees in this regard. The BJP appears to be slowing down on a slew of petitions, including right-to-know revelations, as it has great use in keeping the pot simmering until its goals are met in Kerala.
Demonetization may have missed many targets, but the BJP has used it as a tool to keep the Church on a leash. It is in the interests of the BJP to keep the sword of Damocles hanging rather than slamming down like it did with small fry such as KP Yohannan of Believers’ Church. The upcoming elections in Goa will be a test for the Church as Christians have come under targeted attacks in recent times. Meanwhile, the BJP is keen to forge a direct alliance with the Church of Kerala as the state is ripe for the picking.
(Opinions expressed are personal)
Anand Kochukudy is a freelance journalist based in Kerala