Indian bishop resigns to serve village parish

Bishop was noted for his simple lifestyle, approachability and closeness to mostly village people in Salem Diocese
Indian bishop resigns to serve village parish

Bishop Sebastianappan Singaroyan, noted for his simplicity, visits a parish on a motorbike a year ago. He resigned as bishop of Salem Diocese in Tamil Nadu state and now lives in a village parish. (Photo supplied)

A Catholic bishop in southern India noted for his simplicity has resigned and is now assisting a village parish in a "shocking" development for local priests and Catholics.

Bishop Sebastianappan Singaroyan resigned as bishop of Salem Diocese in Tamil Nadu state. He now lives in a parish in the same diocese, helping out its main priest.

"It is a shocking development that our bishop has resigned," said Swamy Dass, a Catholic leader and teacher in a diocesan school, on March 12.

The 68-year-old prelate, who was bishop for 19 years, resigned when he had seven more years to arrive at his canonical retirement age of 75.

The Indian bishops' conference in a note on March 9 said Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop Singaroyan and appointed Bishop Lawrence Pius Dorairaj of Dharmapuri as apostolic administrator of the diocese. It did not give any reason for the retirement.

However, in a March 9 letter to the clergy, religious and laity, Bishop Singaroyan said he retired because of health reasons but did not elaborate.

Bishop Singaroyan, who was ordained bishop of Salem in October 2000, asked his priest not to mention his name in Eucharistic prayers anymore. He also thanked all the religious and priests for their cooperation with him.

"It is unbelievable that Bishop Singaroyan has demitted his office without any warning," Dass told UCA News.

People's bishop

The retired bishop was popularly known as a "people's bishop" for his simple lifestyle, approachability and closeness to mostly village people in the diocese.

Father Gregory Rajan, a former member of the diocesan council, told UCA News on March 12 that the resignation came without warning.

"I was in a state of shock when the bishop announced his resignation at a surprise meeting. He made a difference to the lives of the people. He was also a model of a simple lifestyle for priests, religious and all Catholics," he said.

He mostly used public transport such as buses and trains or rode a motorcycle. He always had vegetarian food and avoided expensive clothing or footwear.

"He shunned all kinds of luxuries and comfort," Father Rajan said. "Even though he had an official car, he rarely used it. We had only seen him wearing shoes in photos when he visited the Vatican."

He said the bishop insisted parish priests not prepare any special food for him during pastoral visits. "The best part of his love for his priests was that he never used any facility or luxury that his priests could not afford," he said.

Bishop Singaroyan currently lives at a parish's substation in Karpur.

Parish priest Father Arulappan said the bishop "is so simple that he still continues to meet people who went to him. He also expressed willingness to serve the people if required in the small parish." 

He had visited all the Catholic families in the diocese during his time as bishop, Father Arulappan told UCA News on March 12.

The diocese has about 89,000 Catholics in 60 parishes.

Bishop Singaroyan refused to comment on his situation, saying now he "lives a private life."

The former bishop "poses a big challenge" to all bishops in India "who lead a king-like life," said Shaiju Antony, a Catholic leader in neighboring Kerala state, in a social media post.

Bishop Singaroyan holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University and a master's degree in the local Tamil language. He also holds two other master's degrees.

He was a professor of theology and director of pastoral ministry at Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Coimbatore, and chairman of the Indian bishops' Commission for Proclamation from 2011 to 2015. 

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