Catholic Dalits in India’s Tamil Nadu state staged a demonstration on Tuesday, March 29, to demand the resignation of the head of the local Catholic bishops’ council for allegedly overlooking Dalits in the appointment of a prelate for the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore.
Protesting with black flags and sporting black badges outside the Collectorate’s office in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state, the protesters demanded that the apostolic nuncio to India, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, revoke the appointment of Bishop Francis Kalist and appoint a Dalit archbishop instead.
The Dalits also sought the resignation of Archbishop George Anthonysamy, chairman of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, for allegedly not considering a Dalit to be archbishop of the predominantly Dalit archdiocese.
The Dalits vowed not to allow the consecration of Archbishop-designate Kalist.
Bishop Francis Kalist of Meerut City in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has been appointed new metropolitan archbishop of the province, to the dismay of Dalit Catholics, on March 19.
For months, Dalit groups have been appealing to Catholic Church leaders to appoint a Dalit archbishop, even meeting with the apostolic nuncio to India early this year.
M Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, which organized the protest, said that it was the fifth time that a non-Dalit bishop was appointed to head the archdiocese.
“If the Church continues with caste discrimination policy, then we would appeal to the federal government to enact suitable laws to end discrimination in the Church and also to ban the apostolic nunciature in India, which is promoting untouchability,” said John.
“We have appealed to the pope several times, but are not sure if our messages reached him,” he said, adding that the Dalits will continue efforts to bring the issue to the pontiff.
He said that by denying the Dalits “their due in appointment of bishops,” the Indian Church is “disrespecting” the Constitution while “deceiving” the government and the people.
John said the local Church has been “ignoring” the Holy Father’s call for equality toward the oppressed and marginalized.
“The pope’s ambassador is also acting in support of them and following caste discrimination,” he said. “He should quit his post and India if he cannot follow the Indian Constitution that mandates equal rights for all groups,” said the Dalit leader.
At least 64 percent of Catholics in India are Dalits, while in Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry, up to 75 percent of the Catholic population are Dalits.
Of the 180 Catholic bishops and 31 archbishops in the country, only 11 bishops and two archbishops are Dalits. Only one of the 17 bishops in Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry is a Dalit.
The Dalit Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India states that Dalit Catholics should be given 64 percent representation in the Church’s leadership.
The protesters said this policy remains on paper with the Church hierarchy not implementing it.
“The Dalit people in India have seen the dawn of the day ever since the adoption of the Constitution,” said John. “But the Dalit Christian people are yet to see the dawn of the day in the Catholic Church in India,” he added.
The Archdiocese of Pondicherry, which used to be the Karnatic Mission (Pondicherry), was established in 1776.
In 1836 it became the Vicariate Apostolic of Pondicherry. It was elevated to Archdiocese of Pondicherry in 1886 and the name was changed into Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore in 1953.
There are 3,99,461 Catholic faithful, 105 parishes, 187 diocesan clergy, 84 religious priests, 1,035 religious sisters and 311 educational institutions in the archdiocese, according to the latest census.