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Indian court rejects bishop’s plea on Mass change

Prelate was questioning its jurisdiction on Catholic matters over petition seeking Mass in a local language
Indian Catholic devotees pray as deacons bless them at the shrine of Our Lady of Health in Hyderabad on September 8, 2019

Indian Catholic devotees pray as deacons bless them at the shrine of Our Lady of Health in Hyderabad on September 8, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 07, 2023 07:43 AM GMT
Updated: June 07, 2023 09:58 AM GMT

A southern Indian state's top court has dismissed an appeal by a Catholic bishop challenging the jurisdiction of a civil court on Catholic religious matters.

The Karnataka High Court, while turning down the appeal by Bishop Anthony Swamy of Chikmangalur, ruled that a civil court can take up Catholic religious matters, and observed that Canon Law, which the prelate said he is empowered to deal with, has no statutory powers in India.

The court was hearing a petition by four Catholics from Chikmangalur diocese in Karnataka to have at least one Mass on Sundays and other feast days in their local Konkani language, an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Konkan region along India’s western coast.

“It is true the High Court has dismissed our appeal. We will have to study the order in detail before deciding a future course of action,” said V. T. Thomas, a lawyer for the diocese.

“The High Court has only asserted the right of a civil court to deal with Catholic religious matters and it has not made any reference to the dispute in question,” he told UCA News on June 6.

"When it comes to the legality of Canon Law, the life of every Catholic is governed by it for all practical purposes, " he noted.

Among the 42 parishes in the diocese, the dispute is centered around only three churches, including the cathedral.

The majority of the faithful in St. Joseph Cathedral Church, Christ the King Church, Jyoti Nagar, and Holy Family Church, Vijayapura, are Konkani-speaking.

The language row started in 2006 when the then bishop, John Baptist Sequeira, asked parishes to follow the state’s official Kannada language for liturgical purposes, including Eucharistic Mass.

However, over the years, parishes adopted other languages, including Konkani.  More than 65 percent of some 40,000 Catholics in Chikmangalur, speak Konkani, just as most others in the southwestern part of Karnataka.

“We had requested Bishop Swamy to permit us to have at least one Mass on Sundays and other feast days in our native language — Konkani — but he is not ready,” said Steven Lobo, one of the four petitioners.

“When the bishop turned down our formal request, we filed a case in 2017 in a trial court in Chikmangalur, Lobo told UCA News on June 6.

The court dismissed their plea, agreeing with the contention of the bishop that a civil court has no powers to take up faith-based matters of a Catholic, which come under Canon Law.

Subsequently, an appeal was filed with the chief judicial magistrate's court, which in March 2020 reversed the trial court order, asserting that the civil court has jurisdiction to hear Catholic religious matters.

The diocese, led by Swamy, appealed against this order in the top court in the state, which dismissed the appeal on May 26.

“We will soon file a fresh application before the bishop with a copy of the high court order to accept our demand,” Lobo asserted.

“I don’t understand why the bishop is so adamant when other parishes are having Mass in Konkani,” said Stanley D’Silva, a Catholic layman.

A diocesan official, who did not want to be named, said the diocese was not interested in fighting against its people and has no plan to appeal against the order of the Karnataka High Court.

“Going for an appeal against the High Court order may not be feasible as other parishes are already having Mass in Konkani. Secondly, it is too expensive and not worth fighting against the people in the current circumstances in the country,” he said.

Swamy told UCA News on June 7, "I will decide about the future course of action after consulting my legal team."

“We are not interested in any litigation. We only want the bishop to permit us to have one Konkani Mass every Sunday and other feast days. We do not want to disturb anyone,” Lobo said.

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16 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
as a person whose mother tongue is konkanni, i fully support the konkanni speaking people of chikmangalur. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE MASS IF THE PEOPLE CANNOT FULLY PARTICIPATE IN IT? does the idiotic/racist bishop want people to behave like sheep and go to mass ONLY BECAUSE THE CHURCH SAID SO, otherwise it is a sin? CHRISTIANS DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH ON SUNDAYS! not attending mass on sundays is NOT A SIN! the church leaders want you attend because if you dont, they will run out of money and will have to close the church...IT IS A BUSINESS!
TERESA RODRIGUES
I totally agree with you Mr.Mascaranhas. Konkani is the local language, and mass in Konkani doesn't cause any loss to the parish. Rather it will benefit the parish as the Sunday collection from the Konkani speaking people will add to the income of the parish.
BLAISE GOMES
The Catholic Church is only worried about the Sunday COLLECTION. For Cardinals and Bishops MONEY is their God. They are not worried about what is the need of the Local people. All they can see is MONEY.... MONEY..... MONEY.....
PRATHAP
Yes, absolutely true.. This religion heads are cruel, savages, sanguinary attitude and sexual monsters. All these type of characters they have. And, another comedy is these fake priest's will lecture ethics and moral values in addition to that God said like this. I don't want comment more irregularies and unnatural activities of churches and followers. May God protect the people from this cruel, crooked monsters.
ANONYMOUS
1) The mass is not about the people. It is the worship of God. While I agree that there should be a mass in Konkani (I'm a catholic who speaks konkani), I'm also a faithful catholic that submits to the authority of the bishop, which was given to him by the apostles and God. 2) Not attending Sunday mass IS a sin. Mass is an obligation on Sunday. Please educate yourself so that you don't lead people away.
JOHN CUTINHO
Dear brother gathering of church is exhorted in Bible. Pls. Read book of Hebrews in the Bible. And God can count it as sin if not gathered. And mainly worship service is conducted not to collect money but to praise and worship God. Offering is collected as it is God's right to have to take care of expenses. Even Jesus accepted offering and HE said poor will have always among you but you will not have ME always. However even I believe bishop's decision was not wise to not have konkani mass.
SUNNY FERNANDES
Sad that the laity in the Catholic Church in India today have to knock the doors of judiciary to hear their plea. Pleas which fall deaf on the ears of the Catholic Chirch leadership or their self styled belief that they can decide what is best for the laity. Citing Canon Law which has shamelessly not yet defrocked Franco Mullakal but only accepted his resignation from the post as a Bishop. Did the Pope need to.wait for his resignation. Clergy like him.need to be shoved into a Canon and shot into space, preferably another Universe It's high time that white jokers in Rome don't decide who should be leaders of the Catholic faith in India. Rome decides to make changes in prayers and we like sheep need to follow. Could that be the reason the laity is referred to as sheep. Rome wants money from.India for upkeep of holy places in the Holy Land and the laity pay. What about Churches in Indoa that are in a dilapated condition? They eant money for Pope's office expense called as Peter's Pence. Does the Pope's office need money from India for to maintain his lavish lifestyle? Call it Judas Pence as Rome and its slave clergy are crucifying the Catholic Church.
JOHN CUTINHO
That is why all should look at Jesus and Bible not Rome.
PRAVEEN PEREIRA
Just be patient in what you ask.....God has his own way of working in silence..let us all pray to change the mind of Bishop. When the judgement day comes even Bishop will not be able to speak a word, because this comes straight from God. You'll will soon see konkani mass celebrated in your parishes Believe in GOD and keep praying
JACKSON CASTELINO
Better to Return to The Mass of Our Ancestors (The Traditional Latin Mass) , All the Problems will be solved
DOMINIC SAVIO
I agree with you that everyone should start learning Latin,so that masses can be offered in Latin language,iam of a doubt that we Indians really accept foreign language,like we have already following Foreign language English.
RAPHAEL DSOUZA
In defense of the Bishop it may be said that "today it is demand for mass in konkani, tomorrow it could be Tamil and next day Malayalam. How the demands could be fulfilled?. However, if there was no such constraints and a large part of community wanted it I see no reason why the Bishop should have allowed the matter to go to court. Now if he doesn't appear this will become a precedent for courts to interfere with Catholic religious rights. That will be the greater worry.
CHHOTEBHAI
It is important that the laity are aware of their rights and don't allow themselves to be steamrolled. Language is meant for communication. If the vast majority of the believers are of a particular language it is common sense to have the liturgy in that language. SDecondly, language is not a matter of faith or morals, it is a civic right. Hence in this instance civil law must prevail over Canon Law.
JOHN CUTINHO
First of all the civil court has no right to adjudicate a matter which is of doctrine, belief or rule in a faith system. For example if the people file case to change the Godhead in Christian faith the civil court cannot say u believe in 2 persons in Godhead instead of 3. It is church's right to draft rules. Secondly Bible clearly says in Corinnthians that the church disputes should never go to unbelieving civil courts. But they have to solve among themselves so church members were not correct in approaching the civil court. They should have approached the higher authority in catholic religion by waiting patiently. However even Bishop is not justified in rejecting their request of konkani mass. Even though we face injustice in churches there is ONE TRUE AND LIVING GOD of Christians who judges righteously. This has set a bad example. They could have left their local church in an extreme situation. Sad that Catholic church is rapidly loosing faith in God and Bible.
INACIO VAZ
The language of Konkan region is Konkani. Why refuse the mass in their language. If they run short of Konkani speaking priests then ask the neighbouring state dioceses of Goa to help out ????
JOHN MASCARENHAS
i can understand the different views expressed. some are wise enough not be be dumb sheep of the church. some still want to play dumb sheep. let me explain: the old testament, was written by the jews for the jews...comes directly from their torah, where many a story are exaggerated to create an impact and about morals. no where in the new testament is there mention of church gatherings on sundays and that it is a sin not to attend. this is what the church leaders have invented so as to gather their sheep and keep a watch over them. it is a good practice to take time off from our daily lives and to gather together to thank and praise god, but not doing so.... IS NOT A SIN! during the corona crisis, people stayed at home and prayed and IT WAS NOT A SIN. many were very disturbed that they could not attend mass in church, as they were the dumb sheep who believed that god was present only in the church, that they had to repeat the church laid down prayers to pray to god and that priests are required to feel the presence of god. MAY GOD ENLIGHTEN THEM. GOD IS EVERYWHERE, in ourselves/homes/schools/streets/offices. WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD AND WE MUST RESPECT OURSELVES AND OTHERS AS CHILDREN OF GOD. AS CHILDREN OF GOD, WE MUST BEHAVE AS SUCH. we do not need to attend church on sundays or seek intervention of the priests to pray to god. WE MUST PRAY TO GOD JUST LIKE WE TALK TO OUR PARENTS, AS WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD. go to church if you want to out of love for god, BUT DONT GO TO CHURCH BECAUSE YOUR PRIEST TOLD YOU THAT IF YOU DONT, IT IS A SIN. if your priest is educated enough and not a liar, he will agree with my comments.
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