Abp Kuriakose Bharanikulangara
My apology in public was addressed to my faithful gathered at the annual Bible Convention, which is an event where faithful of Catholic and non-Catholic churches attended. Since the last Bible Convention in October 2017, a series of scandals like the “land deal affair,” rally of the priests on the street, breaking the confession seal and the subsequent sexual abuse of priests, allegation of rape by a bishop, strike of a group of sisters, etc. On the international scenario, the punishment of an American Cardinal, the resignation of some Chilean bishops as well as in Australia, the recent sexual abuse report of the German Bishops Conference, etc. caused a great turmoil and tumult among the Catholic and non-Catholic people. That has affected the “simple faith” of many. As a pastor who feels the pulse of my sheep and who understands agony of my faithful, I thought I should evade that issue, but address it with humility and I decided to speak out.
We are all familiar with the term “pastoral solicitude” a nice theological expression. But it presupposes also a “pastoral sensitivity.” I think, this is what Pope Francis means by “smell of the sheep.” It is enough just to get from our priests a feedback from the confessional and counselling desks (if any pastor is interested). Then one will understand that how these occurrences have shaken the faith foundation of our faithful. The credibility of the Church systems and clergy seemed to have been shaken. Anybody having a pastoral sensitivity and solicitude would speak out and dare for a public apology!
My faithful who listened to that (around fifteen thousand), received those words with tears, I was told. They took it as timely and soothing to their disturbed and confused minds. Many elite laity and simple faithful in the city reacted that they were finding it frustrated and really confusing with these sort of issues and that they “were like groping in the darkness, and now could lead them to light”; my apology “could just wipe out the stain and make things clear to telling that Jesus is the foundation.”
Against this background I decided to speak out that I regretted that these things happened. I publicly apologized to the common Catholic faithful if they are scandalised and their faith is shaken because of these events in the Church.”
Quoting the recent words of Pope Francis in Estonia, I said that “I am concerned with the faith and spiritual life of our young people, of the next generation of this migrant diocese. As the Holy Father said, the sexual abuse of the Church leaders cause their faith suffer a lot…” They are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation, by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young, and simply by the passive role we assign them,” words well taken by both parents and the youth.
My homily did not end with an apology. I tried to convince my people that it is natural that in such situations many questions rise up in our minds and we are prone to doubt the conventional concept of our Christian being. But our faith should not be built on “role-models” of this or that priest or bishop or sisters. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ (1 Cor.3:11). The role model par excellence Jesus Christ. I exhorted them that it is of tantamount importance that we wake Jesus Christ, who is present in our homes and lives, and have recourse to Him for guidance in troubled times.
I have also said that “Bishop Franco and the sisters on the street are part of the Holy Catholic Church, which is the mystical body of Christ. When one part of that body is hurt others should feel the pain …”
During the homily I had called for prayers for the nation/India for a peaceful and just national election and stressed the need for maintaining the secular nature of the Indian constitution and guaranteeing the freedom of religions and worship enshrined in the Constitution. Another prayer intention was for the persecuted Christians in Indian and elsewhere in the world as well as for vocations and missions.