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The Church and fighting corruption

Plagued in India by immorality and bribery, repentance is required for renewal

The Church and fighting corruption
Father Varghese Alengaden, Indore

February 8, 2012

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It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Church in India is plagued with corruption and immorality. Often the terms corruption and immorality are used in a narrow sense.  Corruption often refers to politicians and government officials who are involved in scams, petty officials who take a bribe or anyone who make purchases without cash memos to avoid paying taxes. In short, a host of infractions are called corruption that might not seem too extreme. Even religious persons who give 20 to 30 percent commission to get government projects meant to help the poor are called corrupt, though they might not consider themselves indulging in corruption. Preparing false accounts to avoid tax and diverting funds earmarked for one project to other activities also are not considered corruption and immorality. Theologians and preachers of morality find excuses, or cite the “principle of double effect” to convert these immoral acts into routine compulsions and adjustments. Collecting money for social work and evangelization from funding agencies through projects and using it for all kinds of purpose are justified. I was surprised to receive an invitation from a regional Conference of Religious India unit to conduct a seminar on corruption. I was wondering about the reaction I would receive after my sessions. The organizers must have thought that I would present facts and figures of the corruption at the government level and urge the participants to express solidarity with anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare. Though the seminar did not take place due to my unavailability, the invitation gave me an opportunity to reflect on corruption and immorality. Though some church personnel and organizations pledge their support to Anna Hazare and team in their fight against corruption, how would they see what is happening within the church in different parts of the country?  Have the Church personnel in India enough credibility to fight corruption? The Church in India is obsessed with rituals and rules to safeguard moral theology and dogmatic statements prepared in the context of foreign society. Despite four years of intense theological studies on moral theology in the seminary why is there so much financial irregularities and misappropriation of funds by the clergy and religious? Why should the auditors be bribed to cover up the false accounts and misappropriation of funds by the clergy? Why don’t church personnel have the patience to get government works projects through the proper channel? If our charity works and social works for the poor cannot be done through just and truthful methods, why don’t we have the courage and conviction to abandon such works? Why should the disciples of Christ lose their “saltiness” only to be treated with disrespect by corrupt officials and politicians? The greed for money, land and power blind the clergy and church leaders so that they fail to judge issues and events from the perspective of Jesus. They not only cause scandals but are dragged to the courts. Even after the court accuses them of wrongdoing, they do not accept their wrongs. They stubbornly hold that Church laws are more important than the civil  laws and the judgment of courts. This was what happened in the notorious case related to the land dispute and ownership of a school between the CMC convent in Narackal and the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. In the war for land and property the parties concerned failed to practice the teachings of Christ, while they went on worshiping him daily. They also dragged simple faithful into this ugly conflict. Though I had been following the case at Narackal for the last two years, I went to make an on the spot study only recently.  Apart from meeting the church leaders I had a long conversation with six nuns who refused to accept the injustice and clergy domination. Though they have won the case in Kerala High court and Supreme Court in New Delhi, they are most willing to go back to their parent convent at any time. When I asked them if they were willing to go back to their congregation and reconcile after the spirit of Christ,  Sister Annie Jaise, the principal of the High School  and  the spokesperson of the group  replied promptly: “ Father, we have joined the CMC  congregation and we want to die in that congregation. We are not possessive of this school and land. We are ready to go back to our convent at any moment provided our superiors give us assurance that they will not surrender to unjust compromise. They should not give away the land and the high school which were purchased with our money. The courts have proved our claim.” What the 88-year-old Sister Josephine said was relevant: “This land was purchased  many years ago with the money our parents had given to the convent as patrimony. Why should anyone claim it unjustly?” This senior Sister remained with the small group of Sisters who refused to accept an unjust and immoral order to leave the convent and hand over the school and property to the diocese. I was inspired by the spirituality of this small group of empowered nuns. This is the singular example of prophetic nuns who dared to challenge the Church hierarchy and clergy while remaining within the Church. They continue to live their consecrated life wearing the religious habit and following all the religious practices. They go for daily Mass in the nearby Latin rite parish since they experienced hostility from the Syro-Malabar parish. Land disputes between congregations and dioceses are common in the church. The law of reconciliation and teachings of Christ are conveniently kept away to protect the imperial interest of the institutional Church. Yet the priestly class continue preaching reconciliation and formulating various kinds of laws to control the people. The sincere efforts of Swami Sadanand in fasting and prayer also were condemned by the hierarchy as rebellion. Instead, malicious propaganda was made against a saintly prophet like Swami Sadanand through the church media and official circulars. When Church personnel indulge in malicious propaganda against authentic prophets through the pulpit, their saltiness gets lost and they become hired servants, not good shepherds. Instead of adding taste and preserving the society, they get absorbed into the ocean of corruption. The priestly class is upset when prophets stand up and challenge their hypocrisy. They cry, anathema sit! Often I have been accused of being too negative in my preaching and writings without verifying the truth. Editors were persuaded not to publish my writings. The hierarchy too has expressed concern about my activities in their closed-door discussions. Many of them even spoke in public to keep me away from the formal church programs as the Islamic fundamentalists do to Salman Rushdie. When self-criticism and challenges are not allowed, what difference do we find between the Church leadership and Islamic Taliban, which issues edicts against anyone who speaks or writes the truth? Criticism is to be welcomed if any organization has to grow. Prophets bear witness to truth and they may not accept beliefs if they fail scientific verification. Spirituality promotes truth. Hence Jesus declared, “Truth will set you free.” The Church in India is plagued with various corruption and immoralities. It is like a house eaten by white ants which is shining from outside and weak and hollow from within.  Will the Church leadership dare to renew it through an honest introspection asking the basic question: “If Christ were here what would he do? What is the heart of Christ? What is the mind of Christ?” Prophets cannot be silenced by excommunication and murder. From the blood of one prophet a hundred others will be born. The best way is: “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand”! That is the starting point of renewal.
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