MUMBAI, India – A delegation of Dalit Christians said they were “highly disappointed” with a meeting with the Vatican ambassador to India.
A delegation of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) met with Italian Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli on Feb. 2.
“The Apostolic Nuncio [Vatican ambassador] was very receptive to our DCLM delegation and listened to us attentively and with concern,” said Dr. M. Mary John, the leader of the delegation.
“But there was no time for interaction and clarifications. We feel that he needs more input and clarification from us on the issue as he has taken up the office only recently,” he told Crux.
“We understand that he is aware of the problem to some extent and that is why he agreed to meet us and listened to us. But He was non-committal and evaded direct answer on the appointment of Dalit archbishop in Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Dalit bishops in Tamil Nadu in the existing vacancies. This was disappointing to us,” he said.
Dalits were formerly known as “Untouchables,” the lowest level on the Hindu caste system. In India, it is common for caste discrimination to exist even in non-Hindu religions, including Christianity.
Historically caste problems have been especially acute in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, a former French colony that was taken over by India in 1954.
Dalit Catholics Comprise about 70 percent of the Catholics in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, but there is only one Dalit bishop now among the 18 dioceses in this region.
Catholic Dalit activists were upset that a non-Dalit was appointed to be bishop of Salem in the state of Tamil Nadu last year.
According to a statement by the DCLM, appointing Dalit bishops is the only way to “put an end to the centuries and decades of exclusion and bring about a fair representation of Dalit Catholics in the Catholic hierarchy of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.”
“In his short reply to the delegation the Nuncio was only evasive on the question of casteism and caste discrimination existing against Dalits in the Catholic Church. He was also evasive and non-committal on his role as Nuncio in the recommendation and appointment of the Catholic bishops in India,” the statement said.
John said Girelli told him that he is not the one who decides the priests nominated for vacant sees, “but he only scrutinizes the names recommended by the local bishops councils and forwards to the Vatican.”
John said this answer “was not satisfactory to us.”
“He told us that we have to talk to only the Tamil Nadu Bishops Council about including and recommending the names of Dalit priests. Though he was diplomatic by saying this, we hope that he would interact the bishops here on this matter and our complaint,” John told Crux.
The DCLM statement said they “wanted to question the very process and procedure of appointing Catholic bishops in India by the Pope.”
“They categorically told the Nuncio that a situation of turmoil would arise in the Catholic Church if the caste discrimination and deprivation of Dalits in the appointment of bishops continue, especially if a non-Dalit archbishop is appointed in Pondicherry-Cuddalore archdiocese now also in the existing vacancy,” the statement continued.
John said despite the disappointing result, the still has hope the situation might change.
“We hope that he would try to know the reality and further meetings of DCLM with him and dialogue would help. We will try for that,” he told Crux.
This piece has been corrected to show the meeting took place on Feb. 2.