Unholy goings-on cloud Kerala’s churches

December 23rd, 2008 - 12:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 23 (IANS) Christian priests being arrested for murder, a nun committing suicide, another alleging torture in a convent… 2008 has been full of unsavoury incidents for churches in Kerala, except for one historic moment - the sainthood of Sister Alphonsa.Christians in Kerala account for around 23 percent of the 32 million population, of which the Catholic community accounts for more than 50 percent, followed by the Syrian Orthodox Church, and then come at least half a dozen other churches.

The most laudable event for Christians in Kerala and in the country was when Sister Alphonsa was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct 12, making her the first Indian woman to be sainted.

The first incident to tarnish the church was when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), investigating the 16-year-old murder mystery of Sister Abhaya, arrested two priests and a nun for the crime. Sister Abhaya, a resident of Pious X Hostel, was found dead in the well of the Kottayam convent March 27, 1992.

On Nov 19, the 13th team of the CBI set up to probe the case - after 12 earlier teams failed - arrested Father Jose Putarika, 56, a former Malayalam professor at the Kottayam college where Abhaya studied, Father Thomas Kottor, 61, the Diocesan chancellor of the Catholic Church at Kottayam, and Sister Seffi, who was a resident of the convent when the incident took place.

Another instance that the Catholic church would like to forget is of a bishop being asked to step down. In October, Pope Benedict XVI placed on suspension John Thattumkal, 58, the bishop of the Latin Diocese here, after a major row over his “adopting” a woman in her mid-30s.

Another instance is of Thanku Brother, who heads the Kottayam-based ‘Heavenly Feast’, a decade-old new generation church. The priest, who faces a court case under the Wildlife Act after the head of a deer was found in his home, was targetted by Hindu groups, which alleged that his church stood on government land and there were no proper documents.

He is alleged to have paid the state-run Doordarshan television money to run a programme on him and information about the programme’s schedule was advertised widely in newspapers. However, Thanku Brother’s television interview early this month was cancelled after several Hindu groups asked the Doordarshan office not to telecast the programme.

In August, Pappachan, a cook who works with the Bishop’s house at Kollam, alleged that his daughter, nun Anupa Mary, an inmate at the St Mary’s Convent at Kollam, had committed suicide after she was tortured in the convent. The police are investigating the case.

Pappachan has alleged that his daughter took the extreme step after she was tortured, including sexual exploitation, by senior nuns in the convent.

Another case which saw the stock of the church take a nose dive was when the relatives of Treesa Thomas, a 59-year-old nun in Kerala, went public in November saying that she has been forcibly kept in mental hospitals for over a month to stop her from publishing details of “undesirable goings-on” in her convent.

Treesa, a nun at the Divine Mary Convent at Anchal in Kollam district, 50 km from here, was first admitted to a private hospital in Idukki district in October and then shifted to the Government Mental Hospital here on the grounds that she is mentally unstable.

Fr. Stephen Alathara, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference, says the church is worried about the latest goings-on.

“But in the last 2,000 years of Christianity, the church has faced several ups and downs and they have emerged stronger after every downslide. Likewise in Kerala, the church is faced with external and internal issues and the silver lining is that after every downslide we have seen the laity come closer more than ever before,” Alathara told IANS.

He referred to the church taking to the streets against a Class 7 Social Science text book, which according to the Christian community, was vague, anti-religion, injected communist ideology into young minds and distorted the rich history of the country.

“We are supremely confident that like in the past, the church will come out unscathed and be more stronger,” said Alathara.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

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