Friday, December 28, 2012

Church needs to change: Archbishop Couto

A Goan-born archbishop, who will be installed as the new head of the influential Delhi Archdiocese on January 20, has stressed the need for the Catholic Church in India to change with times.
Archbishop Anil Couto, who previously served as Bishop of Jalandhar in Punjab, has also voiced strong political and social views, claiming that the UPA2 government has not been able to deliver on its promises to the nation in general and “seems to be ending with a whimper.”
In a lengthy interview to Joanna Sugden, a Delhi-based freelancer for the Wall Street Journal, he opines that the UPA2 government has been reeling under the pressures of a "coalition" and hence, has not been able to deliver on its promises to the nation in general and to the Christian community in particular.
"They play the vote bank policy of pleasing and appeasing many other communities and caste groups because of their aggressive stance, but the Christians are always ignored because they are never aggressive,” said Archbishop Couto, who hails from Pomburpa.
“The UPA2 began with a flourish, but seems to be ending with a whimper. The burden of corruption scams one after another has been weighing too heavily on its shoulders and the Government is just dragging itself up to the finishing line of 2014 elections," added Archbishop Couto, who, incidentally, was in Goa earlier this month as the main celebrant at the feast mass of St Francis Xavier in Old Goa.
On the challenges faced by the Catholic Church in India, he sees the liberal culture of the West is slowly overtaking the more conservative value system that India was known for and which was the backbone of the Indian culture.
He regrets: "The Catholic Church is not exempt from this negative influence especially in the mega cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The middle class of the Catholic Church is very much prey to the Western consumerist values."
Some other problems Archbishop Couto cited include: the rampant corruption in public life; the growing rift between the rich and the poor which affects the Catholic Church too; the caste system which is entrenched in the Indian social fabric and the Indian psyche; the religious and cultural pluralism within which the Christian community finds itself.
The absolute minority situation of the Christian community is also a 
challenge as is the general hostility towards the Christian community whipped up by the Sangh Parivar, he noted, pointing out the harassment, intimidation and downright persecution of the Christian community in some parts of India and anti-conversion bills which prevent the propagation of the Christian faith with freedom as some of the major challenges faced by the Catholic Church in India.
"Within the Church, division among Christians is an issue, particularly the growth of the independent Pentecostal churches and the hitherto unsolved issue of reservations to Dalits of Christian origin," Archbishop Couto pointed out.
Asked what is the biggest problem faced by Catholics in India, he said: "It's our lack of presence in public life in general and the political arena in particular and our inability to influence the policies of the Government is the biggest problem faced by the Catholic in India."
Archbishop Couto regrets that the Catholics and Christians do not have a voice anywhere in the Government.
He goes on to stress that "the Catholic Church in India needs to shed its fear complex, which springs from her minority situation, which makes her shy and withdrawn, and come out into the open to play a more constructive role in nation building through involvement of the laity in politics and other sectors of public life.
"The hierarchy needs to give a clear pastoral direction in one united voice to the faithful with regard to the burning issues of social justice and human rights, moral issues such as that of corruption in public life, gay marriages, bio-ethical issues as that of contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization etc.
"Their voice needs to be heard by the Government especially on critical occasions when the media tend to hype an issue to national heights with veiled attack on the Catholic Church (e.g. recent death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland allegedly due to abortion denied by a “catholic” country)."
On the role of women in the Church, he says they have to play a leadership role in the Church on par with men, but according to their own feminine giftedness.
Pointing out that the Catholic Church in India has drawn up a policy with regard to the role of women in Church and society at the General Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in February 2008, he notes that this policy is being gradually implemented in all the dioceses of India.