Catholic Church And The Subservient Secularism Of Indian State

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jan 17, 2022 04:46 PM +05:30 IST
Catholic Church And The Subservient Secularism Of Indian State Bishop Franco Mulakkal. (Twitter)
  • Indian secularism has become an unwitting accomplice to the abuse that the church has unleashed on its victims in India.

The judgement in the sessions court in Kerala in the 2018 nun rape case in which the accused, ‘Bishop’ Franco Mulakkal, has been acquitted, is an extremely disturbing development at various levels.

This is not the first time that accusations of abuse in the church have been treated with legal kid-gloves in India. And this is not going to be the last. But the implications this has for the future of woman and child safety in India are disastrous to say the least.

In post-independent India, the Catholic church has constantly been strengthening itself in terms of institution building, networking with power structures and real estate. Today, the church is arguably the single largest religious network with enormous political and social power. No Hindu organisation can come anywhere close to the Catholic church in terms of the power it exercises over the state institutions of secular India.

At the same time, in principle, the Catholic church is a transnational religious institution that aims to make the secular authority subservient to its religious authority, wherever possible.

In the West, it is mostly impossible given the strong secular nature of the institutions and rivalry from the non-Catholic churches and international denominations like the Anglican and Lutheran. But in post-colonial countries like India, where the Catholic church is in a combat-mission mode, it seeks to subvert or co-opt the secular authority as much as possible.

This has made the church enjoy in India almost the same clout it enjoyed in pre-secular West. Accepting the supremacy of the church is part of the worldview of the powerful English-educated elite in India. To the English-educated elite, the Indian civilisation is somehow inherently deficient and the Western civilisation, as well as Christianity, remove that deficiencies. So what may be considered as the crimes of the church would be treated as mistakes in India; individual human failings not to be confused with the institutional nature of the church which is benign and a blessing to India.

This is not the first time such an attitude has revealed itself in the secular institutions of India. From the state machinery to the media houses — all of them have shown abject submissiveness to the power of the church.

In 1992, when the Sister Abhaya murder case erupted in the headlines, remember how the Kerala state CB-CID declared it as suicide. There were charges of the CB-CID tampering with the evidence and even pressure from inside CBI to close the case as a case of suicide. It was only in 2020, after 28 years that a CBI court, on 22 December, found Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy to be guilty of murder.

But there will be appeals and when justice is finally delivered, it might be too late, unless the church decides that the defendants need not appeal further. Simply put, the church decides which of its victims should be compensated and which need not be compensated, and there seems to be an unwritten agreement with the will of the church in the secular establishment of India.

The Sister Abhaya case and the present Franco Mulakkal case might be sensational, but they are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The case that should have shaken the conscience of the Indian state should have been the Kannur rape case.

It was in 2019, after two years of filing a complaint, that a rapist Catholic priest, who impregnated a minor girl, was convicted by the Thalassery POCSO court in Kerala, based on DNA evidence. The power of the church over the believers' family was such that the father of the victim was made to own up the heinous crime. Not only that, the girl who had been raped several times by the priest was not even told that she is carrying his child and was made to undergo an operation in a church-run hospital for the child's birth under the pretext of an appendicitis operation. Just the fact that the church could pull off such a cover-up shows the unbearably inhuman nature of the crime against that innocent minor.

The child born was admitted to an orphanage, again run by the Catholic church. In other words, the child abuser was being strongly supported by a professional powerful network within the church.

This case ought to have blown the lid off the institutionalised abuse of the church. Yet there has been silence — a strongly inert silence.

The POCSO court ultimately convicted only the priest and acquitted other church functionaries. One can be sure that even the final conviction of the priest would take years if not decades with appeals and other delaying tactics at which the church is adept.

The absence of national outrage over this case shows that we prefer to treat this as just a 'sex scandal' but not as a symptom of a deeper, institutionalised disease. Western media like the BBC, CNN and the New York Times, which record virtually even a cracked window pane in a remote church as ‘persecution of Christians’ in India, prefer to remain silent with respect to the crime against Indians by the church.

This omission and absence of media spotlight should show the inherent pro-church bias that exists in the secular media of the West as well as that of India.

For the Vatican head-quartered empire of the Roman Catholic Church, the abuse of Indian Christians is not as serious an issue. This is pragmatic theo-racism practised by the church, without saying so openly. And it's a historical outcome of theo-colonialism. The church is bringing a 'higher truth'. It is bringing the "love of Jesus to Godless heathens who are suffering moral deficiency". Surely, a few abuses could be suffered in silence by the converted heathens? Surely, a few forbidden carnal privileges could be allowed for those who labour to bring the message of Jesus to the heathen in their darkness?

Contrast this with the way a Hindu sanyasi would be depicted if caught in a scandal. Apart from swift and strong state action, there would be cartoons, jokes, stand-up acts, movies, spoofs and even advertisements. But when was the last time one saw any artist in India talking about the rampant and institutionalised child-abuse in the church?

The kid-gloves treatment that one sees with respect to the sexual and psychological abuse issues in the churches of India is a continuation of the deeper malaise of theo-colonialism. One need not have officially converted to suffer from it.

We Indians need to first cure and heal our collective psyche of theo-colonialism — the deeply held belief that the church is an institution of peace, justice and love. Historically, it has been more an institution of power, abuse, exploitation and oppression.

It has done course-correction in the West. But in the Indian context, it is a throwback to the dark times. Unfortunately, Indian secularism has singularly failed in liberating itself from theo-colonialism and has become an unwitting accomplice to the abuse that the church has unleashed on its Indian victims.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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