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UCA News

India

Archbishop questions credibility of commission investigating attacks

Updated: March 26, 2009 09:29 AM GMT
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A government commission investigating attacks on Christians in Karnataka last year is taking a "prejudiced approach," says the leader of the Catholic Church in the southern Indian state. Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, in a March 21 press release, charged that witnesses testifying on the anti-Christian violence that occurred in September were asked "confusing" questions. The commission, he added, also allowed media persons into its sessions, who drew unverified conclusions from proceedings. The prelate was responding to news reports that a priest who testified on March 11 had said that the Church promotes "idol worship" to attract Hindu converts. The reports led to a media debate. The state government headed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people´s party) set up the commission headed by B.K. Somashekhar, a retired judge of the state High Court, to investigate attacks on 24 churches in September 2008. Hindu militants were said to have vandalized churches and prayer halls, destroyed bibles, prayer books, crosses and crucifixes, and desecrated the Blessed Sacrament. Hindu radical groups often accuse Christians of converting Hindus through force and allurement. The commission began its probe in the second week of January and is expected to submit its report in six months. The sittings were completed in Mangalore and Udupi districts, where most of the attacks took place. Father Joseph Menezes, pastor of Bangalore´s St. James Church, was one of the witnesses, and the priest mentioned in the news reports. He was attacked and some statues in his church destroyed. Speaking to UCA News on March 24, the priest said he became a "scapegoat" as he was asked to give only "yes or no" answers. "They asked me if the Bible permits idol worship, I said no." The commission asked him if churches have statues and "whether Hindus are attracted to these." "I said yes," said the priest. "It was their conclusion that the churches keep idols to attract Hindus and convert Hindus." Father Menezes, 51, said the entire interrogation used the same method. "I was confused and harassed by highly prejudiced and carefully drafted questions," he admitted. Some media persons present there reported it "as they wanted," he added. Father Adolph Washington, public relations officer of Bangalore archdiocese, told UCA News all the commission members were Hindus, and some are reportedly members of Hindu radical groups. Somashekhar is assisted by six other people, who accompany him at the hearings but have no power to make decisions. He was not available for comments. Archbishop Moras said the commission takes a "prejudiced approach" and makes baseless conclusions. It does not crosscheck "the real teaching and practice" of the Catholic Church and creates "misunderstanding and discord between Hindus and Christians." He insisted that the Church does not worship idols. The prelate also said Christians know their constitutional right to "profess, practice and propagate" a religion of their choice. "The Church will continue to proclaim her faith without hurting the faith or sentiments of the people of other religions."

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