Atlanta Convention and….
വളര്ന്നു or പിളര്ന്നു പന്തലിക്കുന്ന CMC in US?
This is only to help place the on-going discussion on Atlanta Convention in the proper context. The official perspective was given by Fr.Sebastian Vethanath. He gives credit for what is achieved – ‘an experience of unity, growth and strength’ — first to the hard work of 59 priests under Bishop Angadiath resulting in the setting up of 29 parishes, 39 mission stations with a strength of one lakh faithful, and secondly to the laity who collaborated with them and to over thousand teachers who train over 6000 young minds in the rudiments of Faith.
The laity perspective was given by Sri Chacko Kalarickal. Drawing abundantly from his over 30 years of life and study in US as a writer of three books on Church reform, he exposed the sad plight of the laity used by the clergy as a ladder to climb to top positions of power and prestige, then kicking them off with the command: “pray, pay and obey.”
A critique of both was given by Sri Jose Padannamakkal, a well informed person who has been working in a New York Library for over 30 years and other commentators. Sri Jose seems to have literally demolished the claims about unity, growth and strength. The heading he gave to his piece, പിളര്ന്നു പന്തലിക്കുന്ന, not വളര്ന്നു, I thought, was a master stroke, highlighting the central issue – the sore spot and aching malaise -- in the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) in US.
Division and Infights
It is this division and in-flight in the SMC between a reform minded group of laity supported by a few priests, and an army of yes-men of the status quo opposing it at any cost, that struck me already in 2011, as unbelievable and totally unacceptable to any one who has a modicum of love for the SMC. A house divided against itself cannot stand. So is it going to pieces as one group was vociferous in saying: “We will bring the Syromalabar in US to Zero?”
How and when did all this high pitch conflict start in US? It did, with the Church going after the Mammon of Iniquity. The craze for money and lack of transparency or audited account in the building of the present Bellwood (some call it Hellwood) Cathedral completed on July 5th 2008, but the audited accounts apparently still not given made honest people demanding it suspect some thing very fishy, You can see this dog fight still going on if you click open the two blogs: http://syromalabarvoice.blogspot.in and http://syromalabarfaith.blogspot.in/ both reportedly started after the completion of the Cathedral. That was the last feather on this camel’s back to break.
Already for three years people in Chennai – Catholic association leaders and elderly priests known for their spirituality were asking this scribe to write and high light the money craze of the Ayanavaram based SMC in Chennai. For proof I have still with me the letter of the spiritual director of Poonamallee Semnary an instance of extorting Rs.10,000/- as fees for a certificate for a free status (something to be given for free) for the marriage of his nephew in Chennai. He was pleading with me: “James do something so that we may not be punished with a Syromalabar Diocese in Chennai.” I showed that letter and told what he said to Cardinal Alancherry also. I still refused to throw stones into the hornets nest – the SMC-Latin Diocese imbroglio -- in Chennai. Instead I demanded more proof from Catholic Association people and others in Chennai,asking them to hasten slowly only.
Fire Ball in Chicago
But when I saw what was happening in the Fire Ball (Theepantham) as the fighting blog spots in Chicago are called, and heard the news of the St. Alphonsa Church in Koppel, which had to be consecrated under police protection and received even a request from Fr. Adapoor sj who wrote about the scandal in Mangalam and requested me to write a detailed story in English for the whole world to know, I decided and wrote that article: Faith Crowds & Rite Colonies? on SMC on Feb.20/2011 in Indian Currents, Delhi, its substance being: ”Church is fellowship not groupism, to rule is to serve, not lording it over,evangelisation is not colonisation, harvesting of souls is not Palli krishi for $ Koithu, cross is for crucifying self not others, any Rite is all right to pray.” It is available in my website and of Almayasabdam.
This was simultaneously published in many websites in US which attracted many concerned Syromalabarians in New York and elsewhere. Subsequently at the initiative of Thomas Thomas, a founding member of the SM Catholic Congress and Thomas Koovalloore and other internet friends whom I never met in person till last June, a Telephone Conference was arranged to discuss the pestering issues and a 12 point suggestion was made. They were sent to Ernakulam Archiepiscopal office in the first week of March 2011. Since not even an acknowledgement was forthcoming friends in New York requested me to personally hand over them to Cardinal Alancherry and three bishops in Ernakulam last year, which I did and got Bishop Puthur to send an acknowledgement to Koovalloor in N.York.
That gives you a lively picture of the deep rooted division in the SMC. It is not an experience of unity in mind and heart claimed by Fr. Sebastian. Just one more instance of Division within Division. This was my latest discovery during my stay in Chicago from Feb. to June end this year. As a tail, I too had to attend a baptism function. I said tail, because, my daughters being known singers used to be invited to sing at such parties and I too went as I could not be left alone in the house. A journalist writer in Malayalam spotted me since I happened to be known as a writer in English in many websites in US and wanted to talk to me in private. But first he wanted to find out if my position was for or against the problem pestering him.
Knanaya Valcano Bursting
So he said: “We have a problem in our Knanaya Community. Those who marry from outside are expelled. What do you think of it?” Only then I knew I was attending a Knanaya Baptism and the whole crowd was from Kottayam diocese settled in Chicago, quite a lot of them. So I asked him: “Are you Catholics? Do you know its meaning? If so how can you exclude any one from your community?” He was overjoyed because he knew I was against endogamy. As he was looking for some one who could write a few articles in English for the wider public he asked, if I could help. I told him: “It is ok for me to be harsh and critical about SMC which I cannot stop loving as my mother, although I tear her to pieces when she behaves like a habitual prostitute. No one will misunderstand me, but if I start taking sides on Endogamy in Kottayam diocese, people will start attributing motives and will rebuke me. But I shall not fail to defend the Catholic cause if and when occasions arise, as I have many Knanaya friends (never thought of them Knanaya but only as friends) who support my writings about the SMC.”
He was more than happy, promised to provided all authentic documents from the Vatican and to come and meet me with his friends in Chicago. In fact a bunch of five people came, one of them my neighbor in Palai, whom for the first time I recognized as a Knanaya. “James I used to bring rubber sheets to your elder brother’s shop to sell them. How is Appachan?” he asked me. I said he went to heaven last year. Then he said: “I married from outside and they expelled me from the Church”.
They then introduced me into their wider inner circle of friends who hold monthly meetings to fight the menace of Endogamy. Those friends from Chicago regularly call me and put me in touch with their base in Kottayam . As a result some of them are coming to see me as if I can do something about it through my writing. What I am driving at is that there are not only divisions galore in the SMC but also deeper, venomous and burning divisions, scorching like lava from a volcano in Kottayam diocese, which after all is part of SMC. Therefore they have two Vicar Generals in Chicago, one to handle the flow of lava from Kottayam and another to handle explosions in the SMC. Hence my expression: Divisions within division. Though they make hell of a noise, sober minds call it a tempest in a tea cup.
Divided We Stand?
I hope we don’t need more proof for divisions in the SMC. Its strength seems to be: ”Divided we stand, united we fall” like the Kerala Congress, increasing and multiplying through division. The gospel story is repeated over and over again. The hierarchy is slow to understand, more often sleeping than awake to see and guide. What It needs is a lady like Mary Magadaline to wake up the hierarchy to get it moving as on Easter dawn. Kalarickal and Padannamakkel are doing excellent work with a host of commentators but where are the fairer sex, the women folk among the laity who make up half the Catholic Population? I shall stop with one more fact because: “facts are sacred and opinions are free” in any sound journalism. No one can deny facts, opinions, any one can.
After the central committee meeting of the Knanites in down town Chicago I was being brought back home by an elderly very open minded Knanite in his 80s. On reaching his home he insisted that I go in with him for just a cup of tea, being 4 pm at the time. The topic of sin some how became the central point of discussion, and since all in the house including the fairer sex seemed to be in the know of advanced thinking on the subject I asked: “What is sin? Sin is the creation of Canon Law. That is what I heard a soap box orator say years ago at Hyde park corner in London. The biggest contribution of the Catholic Church has been to burden humanity with the guilt of sin, to make the laity bend down before the priestly class slavishly to get rid of it.
Of course we all make blunders, big and small, like a child learning to walk by falling down and getting up, but never commit what they call a moral sin for which weighty matter, full knowledge and full freedom are required. Long ago as editor of New Leader I wrote: “I still have to find that smart guy who is capable of committing a Mortal sin. Essence of virtue and vice consists in the simple principle of using or being useful to people. Using people is vice, being useful to peace is virtue. (Paropakarame Punyam, papame parapeedanam.) etc.
As I was trying to leave, the lady in house rushed to me with an open book with her finger pointing to something Jesus said. Someone had asked Jesus: What about Sin? And he replied: “There is no such thing called sin.” Yes I saw it written there. I got the book and looked on its cover and found it written: “Gospel according to Mary Magdaline.” But for her showing it, I would have never seen or read it. This is just to say some of our women folk are far ahead of men in reading and researching both among the clergy and laity.
But the unthought-of fact is there was no such division, never a concept of a two tier membership, one higher and the other lower, in the Jesus community made up of brothers, sisters and friends only. All were equals. As for Jesus, he was a layman in our terminology from birth to death and never belonged to the priestly class which he detested, He never dreamt of any of a priestly class after him to take over. Hence he ordained none as his follower.
That is another hot potato – lack of solid biblical base for priesthood – too hard to swallow for diehard believers in the post Constantine imperial model of the church only. In the apostolic community in the first two centuries question of priesthood never arose as members with different charismas were deputed as leaders in the community, but without the over lording presence of a priestly class anywhere. Hence this is also something to think over for those who are in the “control and command positions” of the Atlanta Convention, especially for those who sing Hosanna to them and those who shout: Crucify, Crucify!