Tuesday, 20 March 2012

When a bishop refuses to take action...

Bishop Moses Prakasam of Nellore

When I first met Bishop Prakasam in January 2007, a few days after his installation as Bishop of Nellore, I told him about a case that was just then being reported concerning a priest in America, Fr Rodney Rodis. It had  come to light that the priest had embezzled six hundred thousand dollars (about £400,000) from parish funds to buy a property and fund a lifestyle for himself and (would you have guessed?) his 'wife' and children. 

Immediately Rodis' priestly faculties were suspended. He was subsequently convicted of embezzlement and is now serving an 18-year prison sentence. He is described in reports now as an ex-priest.

While there are certain similarities between the cases of Rodis and Arulraj, the latter case is much worse, in view of the scale of Arulraj's embezzlement (not only in terms of the amount itself, but the fact that one million pounds in India has a value far greater than it has in the US or UK), and the fact that his embezzlement was from funds donated to benefit the poorest of the poor. For heaven's sake: how much lower can you get than stealing money given to benefit disabled children who are in the most desperate need?  It also has very serious implications for the confidence that Catholics in wealthier countries can have when responding to appeals for donations from priests and religious in developing countries.

A major difference, however, is that Arulraj is still a priest who can legitimately call himself "Fr Gali Arulraj." He is not impeded from presenting himself as a priest and celebrating Mass.  And there is no indication that this state of affairs will ever change.

Bishop Prakasam has suggested that he cannot do anything until the matter is resolved in the criminal court. Apart from this being untrue in itself (as the Rodis case demonstrated), objections to Arulraj's (and Paulinraj's) behaviour go much further than the issue of their embezzlement of money.

As part of a longer email, dated 8 April 2010, to Bishop Prakasam I summarised the case against Arulraj and Paulinraj.

"In any case, it is false to suggest that the resolution of criminal charges is necessary before you can take action against your two priests.  The criminal charges against Arulraj and Paulinraj refer to such matters as their embezzlement of charitable funds, criminal conspiracy and fraud.  These charges are incidental to action required of you with respect to Arulraj, and are only partly relevant to action required of you with respect to Paulinraj.
[The Case Against Arulraj]
With respect to Arulraj, the action canonically requested (and required) of you does not depend on the resolution of the criminal case, because the grounds for action are not related to those criminal charges.  Rather, they are connected to such things as:  (i) his being publicly regarded as married, whether or not he is formally married, (ii) his having two children, for whom he has an ongoing responsibility,  with the woman who is understood to be his wife, (iii) his having separated himself from the authority of and obedience owed to the Bishop of Nellore since 1997/1998 (iii)  the unrepented violation of his sacred oaths of celibacy and obedience since 1997/1998, (iv) his simulation of working in Ongole with the permission of his bishop, as indicated by his having a chapel with the reserved Blessed Sacrament (which is not allowed without the bishop's approval), (v) his explicit declaration that the bishop had given him permission to work for his charitable organisation, in order that he could deceptively obtain funds from Catholics overseas, (vi)  his functioning as a priest since 1997/1998, especially his saying Holy Mass (publicly), which is a matter of scandal in view of the revelation that he had separated himself from his bishop and was living a family life incompatible with that of the priesthood, (vii) his malicious and untruthful allegations made publicly in print about your predecessor, Bishop Balaswamy, which are a cause of scandal.
[The Case Against Paulinraj]
With respect to Paulinraj, there are serious complaints unrelated to the criminal case in view of (i) his support for Arulraj's activities from 1997/1998, knowing that Arulraj was a priest who had separated himself from his bishop, (ii) his collaboration in Arulraj's deception that he was a priest in good standing with the diocese. Paulinraj took part in numerous conversations over the years in which I expressed concerns about the future running of the DNSSD projects if Bishop Balaswamy or his successor should transfer Arulraj to other diocesan duties.  Paulinraj was complicit in Arulraj's deception to the extent of telling me me untruthfully that  Bishop Balaswamy had visited the DNSSD projects in Ongole and that he had been impressed with them (iii)  his collaboration with Arulraj's attempt to raise money from Catholics overseas, who would not have supported him had they known he was not a priest in good standing, (iv) his collaboration with Arulraj even though he knew he had a 'wife' and children,  (v) his collaboration in the scandal of concelebrating Holy Mass with Arulraj during the period 1997/1998 - 2006, even though he knew that Arulraj had separated himself from the Bishop and was living a scandalous personal life, (vi) his own involvement with DNSSD, serving as Secretary/Treasurer, even though the Bishop had prohibited priests from holding positions of responsibility in non-diocesan charities.

Associated with the criminal case there are additional complaints with respect to Paulinraj, relating to his embezzlement of funds, criminal conspiracy, deception, fraud, etc.  The scandal, for example, of his fraudulently appealing for funds after the December 2004 tsunami would be, in itself, serious grounds for taking action against him."
In fact, Enable had made clear from the beginning of our discussions with Bishop Prakasam (as we had previously with Bishop Balaswamy) that our main concern was for the wellbeing of the disabled children we had been supporting.  We even said we would not pursue a criminal case against Arulraj and Paulinraj if only they would stand aside and enable us to continue, with the assistance of honest people in the area, to care for the children.  In my email to Bishop Prakasam I highlighted the fact that their actions were additionally reprehensible on account of their lack of concern for the wellbeing of children for whom they had assumed a responsibility:
[Using vulnerable children for financial gain and then abandoning them]
"I should just add that I have not given, above, an exhaustive list of complaints against either Arulraj or Paulinraj.  In particular, emphasis must be put on  the way that they used  hundreds of  vulnerable and disabled children for personal financial gain.  They accepted a responsbility for these children, but abandoned most of them when their misdeeds came to light. Even aside from the fact that they stole large sums of money that had been donated to help these children (not to enrich greedy priests), their behaviour after their criminal activities came to light is particularly worthy of censure.  Enable asked the two priests (particularly Paulinraj) to behave decently so that the children would not be adversely affected. However,  they refused to withdraw from the projects so that Enable could continue, with the assistance of other honest people, to provide care for the children.  In 2006 (before the problem with the priests/DNSSD emerged), Enable was providing funding for DNSSD to care for hundreds of disabled children -- for residential care, for surgical operations, for education, for scholarships, etc.  By 2007, having abandoned the vast majority of the children -- especially those with more serious disabilities, which required more attention --DNSSD had responsibility for less than 100 children, and we informed you of the first-hand evidence we had of the children receiving physical beatings as well as emotional abuse.  Hundreds of children were simply abandoned by Arulraj and Paulinraj, and the remaining few have not received adequate care.  Even if your two priests had done nothing else that was wrong, they must surely be answerable for the shameful abandonment of the children in their care, and the neglect of the remaining few (who were brought back to the institutions by Arulraj more to give the semblance of care than for the purpose of providing any real care).  The way in which the two priests used the disabled children as a business for financial gain, and subsequently abandoned or neglected them when their criminal activity was detected,  is surely among those sins listed as crying to heaven for vengeance."
To this email, like others before and after, the response was the same: nothing was done.


Bishop Prakasam's response to outragious allegations about his predecessor

During the years 2006 - 2009 Enable's UK supporters received a stream of letters from India.  Some were sent in Arulraj's name, or in the names of children or college students, seeking money.  It was obvious to all that they were written by Arulraj (not least because the Telugu-speaking children would not be able to understand let alone compose a letter written in English).  In an email, dated 9 May 2008, I informed Bishop Prakasam about a letter that made malicious allegations about his predecessor, Bishop Balaswamy.
"Even in the past week Enable's supporters have been receiving a letter, dated 24 April 2008, which was sent in the name of three students that we were supporting, but obviously it has been written and mailed by Arulraj and Paulinraj.   In addition to malicious and baseless allegations about me, the letter alleges that Enable sent £120,000 (one hundred and twenty thousand pounds) to Bishop Balaswamy for him to bribe Indian officials to take action against Arulraj.  The letter says that Bishop Balaswamy misused the whole amount and that when this was discovered he was removed from office and you were appointed in his place.  It is disgraceful that your two priests should be behind such a letter making such malicious lies about Bishop Balaswamy. They have confidence to do these things, because they expect that, as in the past, you will take no action against them.  
I ask you, please, to take heed of the grave scandal that this sort of letter is causing to our supporters, among whom are both Catholics and non-Catholics. And I ask you, please, to take heed of the grave scandal caused by your unwillingness to take proper disciplinary measures as called for by your episcopal office."
To this email, like others before and after, the response was the same: nothing was done.

Am I being so unreasonable in asking: why is the Bishop of Nellore doing nothing about this?