Priests ordered to pull out of India's elections
One cleric already suspended, second suspension likely
A Catholic priest in India has been suspended and another is facing suspension for failing to withdraw as candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Church officials have told the two priests in southern India not to participate, but both men have chosen to press on with their political ambitions.
Father M.T. Stephen of the Trivandrun archdiocese, who is running as an independent candidate in Kerala, was suspended after refusing to end his candidacy, said Fr. Eugine H. Pereira, archdiocesan vicar general.
"We had directed him to withdraw from the election," Fr. Pereira told ucanews.com.
Canon law 285.3 states that clergy are forbidden from holding public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power.
Campaign posters of Fr. Stephen in priestly dress are on display throughout his district. About 50 volunteers are campaigning for him as India prepares to go to the polls on April 10 to elect members to the lower house of Parliament.
Fr. Stephen, 50, said he is running for elected office because the mainstream political parties have failed to protect the interests of the common man.
“I’ve been fighting for the cause of the poor ever since I became a priest. During the last 24 years of my priesthood, I led agitations for the poor and was jailed twice,” he said, adding that he has been on leave from parish duties since February.
In southern Tamil Nadu state, Fr. M.P. Jesuraj, a prominent anti-nuclear activist, is seeking a lower house seat in the Tirunelveli constituency, representing the newly formed Common Man’s Party.
Media reports last week said Bishop Jude Paulraji of Palayamkottai has asked Jesuraj to withdraw from the election. If the priest continues with the election, he could be suspended from priestly duties.
“I had sought permission from the bishop but he told me that I am not supposed to join the political fray,” Fr. Jesuraj told ucanews.com.
He said he was not told at that time that he would be suspended.
Fr. Jesuraj, 40, said that his supporters had asked him to participate in elections to help close the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, which local residents fear will contaminate the area and destroy the waterways used by fishermen.
The priest was one of the leaders of the movement against the nuclear power plant in Idinthakarai village.
"People are more important than church leaders in my spiritual life," he said.
"Since 2008, my life has been different from a priest. We were fighting a war against injustice. So we will get justice only when we could make our entry into Indian parliament where laws are made. So this election is crucial for me and my people."
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