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Updated: February 11, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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The newly appointed auxiliary bishop of Delhi archdiocese says that resolving inter-rite problems and encouraging the permanent diaconate will be his top priorities in the nation´s capital.

Father Anil T.J. Couto, 46, Delhi´s episcopal vicar, was appointed auxiliary bishop of Delhi Jan. 17 by Pope John Paul II.

The bishop-designate, whose consecration is scheduled for March 11 at New Delhi´s Sacred Heart Cathedral, expressed "wonder" at the Indian hierarchy´s hesitancy to ordain permanent lay deacons.

The Church could entrust so much of its work to these deacons, who would act as a "link" between the laity and the hierarchy, he told UCA News.

While promising to form permanent deacons for Delhi archdiocese, he admitted to feeling at a loss in the absence of "clear directives" from the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI).

"My heart goes out to bring more laypeople in really running the Church," he said, adding that he would strengthen the laity´s role in the local Church.

Bishop-designate Couto also said he "foresees" liturgical rite problems in Latin-rite Delhi archdiocese, which allows Masses in the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites for Catholics from the southern state of Kerala.

This practice, he said, has led to the existence of "parallel Churches" within the archdiocese and several related concerns. People often do not know who gets the Mass collection and seem to hold divided loyalties, noted the bishop-designate, a native of the southwestern state of Goa.

He bemoaned that Catholics stick to cultural, regional and linguistic "identities" but blamed priests and bishops for "instigating" such divisions.

"I want reconciliation and not unnecessary tensions and fights," said the Church official, expressing hope that inter-rite rivalry in the archdiocese would be "finally settled."

However, he wants the Oriental rites to preserve their identity, instead of being "absorbed or swamped" by the dominant Latin rite. He also voiced support for giving the Syrian-rite Churches all the help they need to develop.

According to Bishop-designate Couto, the division of rites has led to "fanaticism" among Indian Catholics.

The future auxiliary said he was "fully open" to women´s increased role in Church affairs. The Church, he said, has "a good percentage of women" to take up functions now reserved for men should the magisterium endorse this.

Ordaining women would be "a step forward in the full flowering of the Church," he added.

Bishop-designate Couto called for Rome´s intervention to settle the tussle between the CBCI and the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), but he cautioned against steps that "create more problems" than they solve.

While the CBCI comprises bishops of all three rites, the CCBI represents the numerically larger Latin rite and claims itself as the only legal episcopal conference. The Oriental Churches have only synods.

India has 143 dioceses and 115 of them follow the Latin rite. There are 24 Syro-Malabar and four Syro-Malankara dioceses.

The bishop-designate said that as auxiliary he would introduce "creative ministries" for interreligious dialogue and social development through which the Church can really become a sign of the Kingdom in places not yet explored.

The Goa native who joined Delhi archdiocese in 1977 as a seminarian said he opted to serve in Delhi as it had fewer priests and many challenges.

He jokingly confessed to "grumbling as a priest" over "differences" with his previous archbishops, but promised to "define" his new status to unite, support and encourage priests "to true brotherhood."

Delhi archdiocese is headed by Archbishop Vincent Concessao, who was Delhi auxiliary 1995-1998 before becoming archbishop of Agra. He was transferred back to Delhi last September after the death of Archbishop Alan de Lastic.


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