“Can corruption be banished from the Indian Church?”: A decidedly striking title. But what is even more striking is who wrote and published the article.
The person who posed the question regarding
corruption and misuse of money, not just outside the Christian community
but also within it, is no anti-clericalist.
It is the well known Indian
Catholic journalist, John Dayal and his article was published on Asia’s most important Catholic news website, UCANews.
The way Dayal – who is secretary of the All India
Christian Council – sees it, is simple: we can all see how much energy
Francis is putting into condemning corruption, we hear him speak out
against the idolatry of money and we are all witness to the reforms that
are underway to achieve greater financial transparency in the Vatican.
But doesn’t all this also lead the Church in India to examine its
conscience? The corruption issue is one of the most contentious issues
in this big Asian country: A law that would allow members of parliament
convicted of corruption and given sentences that are not final to
continue working in politics is being hotly debated. A way to get around
the laws passed at the height of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption
movement. Anna Hazare is a controversial Hindu activist who presents
himself as the new Ghandi.
In actual fact, corruption is widespread in India
and extends beyond the political sphere.
“One of the untold sad stories
of recent times in India is the corruption within churches who
distributed aid following the pogrom against Christians in Orissa in
2007 and 2008. Some took cash from donors and walked away with it;
others diverted funds to unrelated projects, splashed out on new SUVs or
refurbished their own houses with money “saved” from rebuilding the
devastated huts of the Dalits and the Tribals. No police complaints have
been registered, and it remains something confined to the rumour mill.
Since it was not government money, official agencies cannot confront the
allegations unless someone files a complaint. But it highlights a
pervasive problem in India that doesn’t spare the Catholic Church,”
The fact that he mentioned the events in Orissa is
important: Condemnations of violence against Christians came chiefly
from Dayal and he followed the legal battles for justice personally. All
this therefore indicates that he experienced the events he refers to,
“Corruption, mismanagement of lands, buildings and
institutions, and the integrity of church personnel handling money at
all levels have become a major issue in a growing section of the
Protestant and Independent churches across India,” Dayal wrote. Although
it is true that fewer accusations are made against the Indian Catholic
Church and its NGOs than other Catholic Churches and institutions, all
one needs to do is delve a little deeper into the definition of
corruption to see that the picture really isn’t perfect. “If the
definition were to cover, as it should, bribes given by Church
functionaries and religious persons to gain government permission for
projects, the figures could really shoot up”, the Indian journalist
To illustrate how deep-felt the corruption problem
is becoming, Dayal mentioned a “movement initiated by a group of
Christian businessmen from various cities in the state.”
what they have seen, the group four years ago began Operation Nehemiah,
which seeks to awaken the Church to the rot that is slowly setting in.
Three major consultations have taken place to develop a code of conduct
and transparency, both personal and corporate, to check, control and
eventually weed out every shadow of doubt in the handling of money and
The rules in this code are aimed at fixing evils committed
and reconciling those who have committed acts of corruption. They aim to
do this in the spirit of the faith.
Dayal concluded his article by saying that “it is
still too early to assess if such initiatives are mere pipe dreams of a
few honest men and women, or whether they can become the sinew of a
larger movement. But it is quite clear that if the Church does not cleanse itself of corruption, the government’s agencies may enter the scene. And that will not do anyone any good”.